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'Elevator speech' can give business a lift

  • Article by: HARVEY MACKAY
  • June 5, 2011 - 2:44 PM

If you were given a 180-second opportunity to change your business forever, would you be prepared to do it on a moment's notice? You would if you learn about the elevator speech as defined by Terri Sjodin in her new book, "Small Message, Big Impact."

The book's subtitle, "How to Put the Power of the Elevator Speech to Work for You," gets right to the point: the three minutes or so that you have to introduce your product or service to a potential customer.

In meet-and-greet situations, we have a unique opportunity to start a business relationship. Knowing how to use those few minutes to your best advantage is a skill that is essential to getting to the next level. Are you prepared for this challenge?

Terri Sjodin just became your best friend. "Small Message, Big Impact" is an extremely practical guide that is clearly written and packed full of terrific examples.

I've known Terri for a long time, and I am a big fan of her work. As a professional speaker, I can vouch for the wisdom she shares. The way she presents the information makes it easy to absorb. In fact, each of the chapters becomes an elevator speech on its own, because she takes just the right amount of time to get the ideas across.

Sjodin defines the elevator speech this way: "A brief presentation that introduces a product, service, philosophy, or an idea. The name suggests the notion that the message should be delivered in the time span of an elevator ride, up to about three minutes. Its general purpose is to intrigue and inspire a listener to want to hear more of the presenter's complete proposition in the near future."

Working with that time constraint, you begin to realize that every word is significant. You can't ramble or veer off message, or your presentation loses focus and becomes small talk. That's where the value of her advice is most apparent: getting to the point without getting stuck on the details.

"Your goal is to be both informative and persuasive, pairing rock-solid information with compelling arguments," Sjodin says. "If you are too informative, nothing happens. If you are too aggressive, nothing happens. Find a balance and you'll see results."

Drawing on the work of Professor Alan Monroe, Sjodin works through the steps of Monroe's Motivated Sequence which describes the normal sequence of human thinking: attention, need, satisfaction, visualization and action. She translates this scholarly work into language that anyone can understand and apply to their specific situation.

With useful examples and step-by-step outlines, she takes the mystery out of what makes an effective message and how to best use those precious three minutes.

Really outstanding speakers typically meet three benchmarks, she says.

Case: "They have built solid persuasive cases, employing clean, logical arguments and evidence to support their message."

Creativity: "Their illustrations of the talking points are really creative. They have blended thoughtful analysis and storyboarding to craft intriguing and interesting messages."

Delivery: "They present their messages in their own authentic voices. There's no boring professional mode; they aren't canned Stepford people. Their presentation style is genuine, and people sense the truth in their delivery."

Sjodin offers the 10 basic steps to developing an elevator speech, and provides an outline worksheet that can be adapted for any situation.

She emphasizes the importance of practice and evaluating your performance. She includes a thorough speech evaluation form that allows readers to assess their progress and effectiveness.

The creative approach Sjodin takes sets her book apart from so many other advice books. Borrowing from MIT meteorologist Edward Lorenz, she starts with "the butterfly effect," the notion that a massive storm might have its roots in the faraway flapping of a tiny butterfly's wings.

"Assume that one tiny presentation at the outset of your journey could ultimately result in the fruition of your short- and long-term plans," she says, "and the magic of the Elevator Speech Effect can begin to generate a positive ripple effect forward. The motivation you use to put yourself out there is the potential to attain your goals and dreams."

Mackay's Moral: A great elevator speech can take you all the way to the top.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to harvey@mackay.com. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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