Crafting an Elevator Speech That Works

After another networking event and two conversations introducing my business to other consultants this week, I woke up this morning determined to stop doing such a lousy job with my elevator speech. I know the importance of a clear mission statement, a strong brand identity and an engaging elevator speech. I’ve read the books, done the training, and still I stumble.

I don’t take any comfort in knowing that most people struggle with their elevator speech. But there may be some learning for all of us in this struggle. In about 30 seconds or so, a good elevator speech has to do a lot:

  • Connect your business or organization to something the listener understands. Your words in effect help the brain organize this new information into a useable category.
  • Create the possibility that what you do can meet a need the listener has or will have. This means you have to place the listener’s needs in the story.
  • Engage the listener to begin a relationship. The faster you can get into a dialogue the more effective you will be in delivering the rest of your elevator speech. You have to be prepared to re-order the elements to flow with the dialogue.
  • Differentiate you from the rest of the possible ways to meet this need. Your integrity and promise have to come through in the words you choose.
  • And the best test is the Mom Test. I live in a town where I hear professionals say quite often, my mother doesn’t understand what I do. There’s a reason for this. Most of us fall back on inside jargon to explain our jobs—a language Mom may not know. So a good elevator speech is one your Mom might share with her friends and family to explain why she is proud of you.

I crafted a new elevator speech, included below as a example. It will need field-testing to see if it creates understanding and interest better than my past attempts. I am avoiding saying I am a consultant because too many people think they don't need anything in that category. I prefer to avoid getting immediately filed in a mental category entitled things I don't want. Instead I’ve tried to explain what I do in terms of needs I know my prospective clients have.

The question in the second sentence is designed to start the dialogue and the order of the sentences that follow will change based on how people answer my question. I hope you can hear the promises I am making about collaboration and trust. The statement is not jargon-free but perhaps the words I have used are common enough for most people.

The real test will be in live situations. One trainer advised rehearsing your speech many times until it just flows in all sorts of situations. That’s good advice I plan to follow. So if you see me any time soon, ask me what I do. Below is the elevator speech I will try to deliver. Please tell me if you get it and if we can collaborate in leading change.

I support leaders who want to lead changes in their organization to execute their vision. Where do you need to lead change?

I can work with you to respond to strategic issues. I can help your board set new goals and priorities through your strategic plan. I work with senior teams to innovate or improve major programs and signature initiatives. You can trust me to facilitate high stakes conversations to support your goals. I can coach you to develop the culture and competencies to align your organization’s identity with your vision. We are collaborators in leading these changes.

Data Driven to Do Nothing that Matters

It’s been one of those months where the phrase “data-driven” just keeps popping up in conversations to the point where I am both irritated and intrigued.

Irritated because I suspect some of these people are just claiming they use data because the experts tell them they should. Irritated because I know very few organizations ask good questions, have the right metrics or systematically use all their expensive data.

Intrigued because I am starting to wonder how much data we really need to make good decisions. Intrigued because I suspect no matter how loud the numbers may scream, tough decisions still require wisdom and leadership.

Data driven strategies is number 3 on the short list of things remarkable associations do, according to ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership’s landmark research study, 7 Measures of Success. No wonder everyone wants to become data driven. This book advises that remarkable associations continuously track member needs and issues as well as the wider environment, analyze that data, and then decide what to do about it.

But what if it isn’t even the right data? Associations track how many members or customers they have, but they rarely probe for any measures of engagement. Too many organizations simply ask how satisfied people are with their products and services, rather than did they achieve their intended purpose. They measure progress against their strategic plan as if it is a to-do list of tasks to be completed rather than strategies to accomplish real outcomes.

I’m drowning in some of that data right now to help an association board make smarter decisions about the stewardship of its resources. This association has been asking better questions than most do. This association asked how valuable each product and service is in advancing the member’s career, promoting the profession or contributing to society. These are all dimensions of the association’s mission and vision. The association also tried to quantify the level of effort by adding up staff and volunteer time, direct expenditures, and judging the degree of difficulty.

Now I’ve got the entire portfolio of products and services arrayed on a stewardship matrix. It presents a very striking picture of the association. We could talk about the patterns and insights for an entire board retreat and probably will because this board has looked at less elegant versions of similar data before. Its leaders would be the first to admit they have sidestepped the tough decisions too long. I’ll have to report back on how well they did this time. This road to hell is always paved with good intentions until the small constituencies who care object to the change.

So the next time I hear an organization leader say we’re data driven, maybe I will have the courage to ask: what is your data driving you to do? Is it even the right data to drive the outcomes you want?

If all you really have is numbers on a spreadsheet, no sense of what really matters, and little courage to act, nothing will change except finding a new management mantra of the month to substitute for leadership.

A 100 Year Forecast Defined by Constraints Is an Uninspiring Future

Forecasting is essentially an intuitive mix of historical patterns, plausible possibilities and imagination. The title of George Friedman’s new book, The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century, is an attention grabber for anyone who finds forecasting the next five to ten years enough of a challenge.

In this geopolitical forecast, Friedman asserts the 21st century will be like all other centuries--shaped by the permanent human condition and the constraints that geography places on individuals and communities. He concludes “that the United States—far from being on the verge of decline—has actually just begun its ascent.” Since at best he describes us as an adolescent nation, this is no reason for us to celebrate and plenty of reason for the rest of the world to be wary.

The arc of his narrative is quite dramatic from the decline of China to the rising influence of Japan in Asia, Poland in Europe and Turkey among the Islamic nations. His final forecast is Mexico’s late century challenge of US dominance of North America. Along the way he delivers a convincing account of these drivers of change:

  • The strategic importance of sea power and North America’s access to two oceans.
  • A significant shift of war and alternative energy development into space.
  • Falling birth rates and aging populations that constrain human resources.

In the epilogue, Friedman explains his core methodology as simply looking at the constraints placed on individuals and nations and understanding how they will be forced to behave and the unintended consequences of their actions. This forecasting method seems to have a troubling unintended consequence of its own. Friedman offers a cynical assessment of the values that could shape our future.

He doesn’t consider another plausible possibility: millions of individuals with personal connections to one another might drive different choices than nation state actors limited to the moves on some strategic chessboard. The greatest constraint on Friedman’s forecasting is a failure to imagine that individuals and nations might choose a vision larger than survival and self-interest. Indeed together they might generate new opportunities and values. This is the forecast that Willis Harman and other futurists have called the global mind change. Our human condition is transformed through increased awareness of our interdependence and shared aspirations.

Friedman might well be correct in forecasting the 21st century will be the American century but how the US and other countries behave in his future account is as troubling as any feared future scenario. When people and organizations confront their feared future, they often become motivated to move toward a future they do want. Let’s hope Friedman’s 100-year forecast works the same way. Once we have enough self-awareness to see how plausible his future is, may we be inspired to embrace our better nature and break free of these failed patterns of human history.