You walk into an elevator and the only other person is your ideal potential boss, the chief legal officer of a Fortune 500 company.
If you think that being a lawyer means you're not in sales, think again. As Daniel Pink notes in "To Sell is Human," we are all in sales now. Still, when it comes to your career, you are selling yourself, which can feel very awkward. This is especially true for lawyers who are used to being sought out for their expertise. The first thing to understand is that, if you want to make a career move or move up in your current career, you need to learn to sell yourself. Any sales person will tell you that one of the most important items in your tool box is a good elevator pitch.
The term "elevator pitch" started with the idea of stepping into an elevator with someone you need to impress – a potential employer or client or customer – and making that impression before they get off the elevator. Today, you don't need an elevator to feel the time pressure. Networking events, work meetings, social situations or even random encounters may be your opportunity to get in front of the person who can change your career for the better. Most executives can listen faster than you can talk and they aren't interested in long stories. So, how do you make a positive impression fast? How do you develop elevator pitches that you can use anytime you get 60 seconds with a person you need to impress?
First, note that I said "pitches" not "pitch." One size does not fit all when it comes to making an impression. You need to have a few different versions of your pitch depending on who you are talking to and in what context.
Second, we are talking about making a first impression, not making a sale or landing a job. You want to make the other person sufficiently interested that they want to talk with you longer. In the longer conversation, you can share more relevant information and have a more fact-filled, substantive discussion.
I like the Wow, How, Now approach that Brian Walter developed. The Wow is a catchy, quirky statement about what you do. It should be accurate but also a little opaque. You want to intrigue the listener so that they want to know more.
For example, as an in-house legal recruiter, I might say "I help companies increase their profitability."
The How is more straightforward. In a sentence, how do you do your job and what separates you from your competition.
My example: "I find top legal talent in Latin America for multi-national companies by using my extensive network and my knowledge as a former Latin America regional counsel at a Fortune 100 company. Generally, I help my clients hire lawyers to do the job I used to do or to hire lawyers like those who used to report to me."
The Now should be a very short story that will help them remember what you've just said. It often starts with "for example." The Now should be as specific as you can be without revealing any non-public or sensitive information. If you can mention company names that the listener will know, great. If not, just be descriptive and vivid enough that the listener will remember the story.
For example, "a sports apparel company recently hired me to help them find their first Latin American lawyer. They wanted the person to be based in Panama and they didn't know anything about how to find a quality lawyer in Panama. I found several excellent lawyers for them. With the new Latin American counsel they hired, they can embark on an aggressive Latin American expansion with excellent legal guidance in-house. That allows them to minimize their legal risks and their outside counsel bills thereby helping them to grow and maintain their profitability."
To finish up, toss the conversation back to them with a question. "What do you do?" or, if you know what they do, ask them about an aspect of their business that you'd like to help them with.
As you develop your elevator pitches, keep in mind these common mistakes so you can avoid them:
1. Not knowing when to stop talking and show an interest in the other person. Instead of just filling all of the available time with your words, make your pitch and stop talking. Ask the other person what they do or, if you know what they do, ask a question that will get them talking about what you want to talk about. Your goal is to start a conversation, not just deliver a sales pitch.
2. Using too much jargon. Use simple language and short sentences. Avoid acronyms. Make it easier to follow and remember.
3. Sounding too sales-y. You want to sound conversational, not like a salesperson.
4. Lacking confidence. Whatever you say in your elevator pitch, you need to believe it yourself and convey that through your tone of voice and body language. This is not the time for either bravado or for false modesty.
5. No next step. Every elevator pitch should end with an agreed next step. It should be modest – invite the person for coffee or ask if it's ok for you to email them your resume and set up a call. At a minimum, you want to exchange business cards. Without a next step, your elevator pitch is not likely to lead to anything concrete.
If you want this year to be the year you get a new job or make a change in your career, develop some good elevator pitches. Then go out there and press the "up" button.
Barrett S. Avigdor, Esq. is Managing Director for Latin America, a member of Major, Lindsey & Africa's In-House Practice Group, and based in the firm's San Diego office. A certified executive coach and trainer, Barrett has worked with attorneys around the world to help them enhance their professional performance and create a life they enjoy by utilizing emotional intelligence and their individual strengths. She is the co-author of the best-seller "What Happy Working Mothers Know" (Wiley 2009). Barrett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.