Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Talk amongst yourselves

At least he's smiling.
I've attended my share of networking meetings over the years -- for job seekers, budding entrepreneurs, you name it. There's a meeting for everyone.

At some of these occasions people are asked to stand up and introduce themselves to the group. At others, this torture is conducted one on one, usually, at least for me, near the cookie platter.

As I listen to the words that come out of people's mouths, I wonder if they speak this way at home to the kids. "What does daddy do? I'm an energetic, results-oriented professional."

The so-called elevator pitch people share at these meetings often reminds me of the movie "Speed," in which the opening scene features a mad man trying to blow up people trapped in an elevator. There's just a whole lot of tension.

Everyone should have an elevator pitch, whether you're looking for a job (and maybe you should be, know what I mean?) or trying to start a business, or just trying to survive a neighborhood cocktail party.

I'm lucky: I'm a writer. So when people ask what I do, I say, "I'm a writer." The brilliance of this is that it produces the same response every time: "Oh, what do you write?"

That allows me to expound on whatever unfinished project comes to mind.

"I'm a writer" is about as natural as I can be. Too many people, however, think the elevator pitch has to be something expressed in impenetrable bizspeak. "I help startups maximize their social media strategies to grow their customer base..."

That's an example used by Deborah Grayson Riegel, and author and communications advisor, in a piece in Fast Company magazine.
The problem with most elevator pitches is that they get crafted on paper but not adjusted to sound like how a real person speaks. The majority come across as synthetic as an infomercial (“We help startups maximize their social media strategies to grow their customer base…But wait! There’s more!”). It’s one-way delivery system, designed to make a powerful, positive first impression, but listeners tend to feel “pitched at” rather than engaged with.
Ms. Riegel advises people to not speak the way they write and to use common, simple language:
“I help individuals, couples, and families make sound financial plans so that they don’t outlive their money” may read well on a website, but doesn’t sound the way people really talk. When speaking, you might start with, “I’m a financial planner, and I make sure my clients don’t outlive their money.” Much more compelling, genuine and even fun. 
Your organization’s mission statement may talk about serving “the growing population of at-risk adolescents” but most people would say “kids who are at risk” in regular conversation. So say that.
"Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other," Mark Twain said, "so we can have some conversation."

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