Writing Your Elevator Speech: Individual Branding for Personal and Professional Success

I recently did a presentation for a group of Young Professionals that are part of a local Chamber of Commerce on how to create and deliver effective “elevator speeches.” Elevator speeches are those brief introductions that we’re all called upon to give from time to time, particularly in networking situations when we’re asked: “What do you do?”

For business owners, consultants and business leaders in any field, the opportunity to deliver an “elevator speech” is an opportunity to support your desired brand perception. We often fail to think of it that way, though–instead, we tend to think of it as simply a requirement to provide some general information about what it is we do.

Interestingly, as I worked on the presentation for this group it became very clear to me that just as when thinking about organizational brand impact, individually we have an opportunity to define and manage our personal brands. The steps are very similar to the steps I take when working with clients on branding-related issues. They are:

  • Identify the specific target audience — or audiences — you wish to influence. You may have more than one and, depending on those target audiences, you may need more than one elevator speech.
  • Based on one of these specific target audiences, identify your desired brand (or personality). How do you wish to be perceived by others? I generally recommend making a list of about 10 words or phrases that describe your “desired brand.”
  • Identify how you are currently perceived by your target audience. This is somewhat more challenging from a personal standpoint than when doing branding for a product or organization (where we could hold focus groups, interview or conduct surveys), but it can be done. Some suggestions: ask trusted friends and colleagues; if in a work setting arrange for a group meeting with other colleagues where all could give and get input – even in an anonymous way – by passing around a sheet of paper with your name at the top and asking others to write down their impressions of you.
  • Identify the gaps. Based on how you would like to be perceived and how you are currently perceived identify the gaps and prioritize areas of improvement.

In terms of actually creating the “copy” for your elevator speech, it’s important to start “with the end in mind.” In what way do you wish to influence or impact your audience? What do you want them to think or believe about you? Importantly, just as when attempting to “sell” a product or service, this influence should be framed from the standpoint of benefits to them — it’s not (and never is) about you. It’s always about what’s important to them (your audience)! So, just as when advertising any product or service, you want to turn your “features” (from the list you developed earlier) into “benefits” – “what’s in it for them?”

So, for instance, my “elevator” speech when I’m in front of an audience that may represent prospects for my marketing consulting services goes something like this: “I help clients achieve their business objectives by working with them to develop strategic solutions to their marketing challenges.” Not about me and my background or expertise, but about what I can do for them.

Here’s another key point that may be somewhat intimidating: individuals attempting to develop or refine their “brand presence” are faced with the same challenges that service organizations face when attempting to manage their brands. Service organizations–and individuals–are multi-faceted; it’s more challenge to create a successful brand image for them than it is for tangible products. You need to know that your “brand” is influenced not only by what you say, but by how you look–the clothes you wear, the car you drive, your office decor, your web site, your online communications, etc., etc., etc.

The next time you’re faced with the question: “What do you do?,” you’ll be prepared with a relevant elevator speech designed to convey the benefits you provide to a specific target audience, that is supported by all of the myriad other elements that make you, you.

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