Your Elevator Speech… Still Working On It?

So a financial services guru, a chief operating officer, and a lawyer walk into a bar.  And a career coach asks, “What’s your elevator speech?”  And they all have the exact same one: “Um, I’m working on it.”

Picture of an elevator up button

The time to work on an elevator speech is well before you get on an elevator.

It’s actually not a joke, I know all these people and that’s what they say when I ask them. I’m working on it. Fortunately, we have an actual career coach with us today.  She has some tips not only for what goes into a good elevator speech, but even more importantly, how to get it out of your head and actually say it.

#1 goal of an elevator speech — have the listener say: Tell me more
An elevator speech is not a laundry list of your titles, responsibilities, or anything else that will have your listener excusing herself to get a drink. Never say, “I’m a lawyer,” whether you are one or not. An elevator speech (sometimes called an elevator pitch) is meant to give an inkling of what you do and encourage the listener to continue the conversation. That’s it.

How to create, and actually say, your elevator speech

  1. Can your mom understand it? Use that as your first test.  Chances are, she can’t and it is not because she isn’t intelligent.  It’s because you’re using too much jargon and relying on phrases from your overly formal resume. If your mom (or equivalent) can’t understand it, you’re the idiot.
  2. Stop being so defensive. Perhaps your long winded spiel choked with industry acronyms may be OK for someone in your industry. But for the 99.9% outside of your niche, I speak for us all when I say, “we have no idea what you’re talking about.”
  3. Have a short, medium, and long version. Approximately 5 seconds, 15 seconds, 1 minute max.  Here are some of my favorite elevator speech examples.  My accountant:  I used to work for the IRS and now I work against them. My friend who negotiates intellectual property contracts:  I’m fluent in English-to-English translation. For example, I can explain financial arcana to lawyers and marketers, explain business needs to technologists, and translate technology jargon into understandable everyday language. And finally, a classic short one for someone who is still working at the IRS:  I’m a government fundraiser.
  4. Start with a question. Career Coach, Catherine Morgan, explains this is particularly useful if you have a job that people aren’t familiar with. For example, one of her clients provided Apple with key media information before they launched the iPad. So the job-seeker starts with, “Did you notice how the iPad was everywhere in the media, all at once?”
  5. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Tailor it for your audience. An organizer I know will ask those over 40, “How much time do you spend each day looking for misplaced items?”
  6. Practice on video and in the mirror. No matter how perfect your speech is on paper, it can sound awful the first 10 times you try it out.  Ideally, video yourself and watch it back. If you can’t do that, at least practice in front of the mirror.
  7. Practice on people you will never see again. Too embarrassed to flub in front of your friends? Morgan suggests trying it out on strangers, people in line at the DMV, on the subway platform, or for your taxi driver.
  8. Test your elevator speech with supportive friends. Once you’ve rehearsed in front of the mirror and for strangers, you’re ready for feedback.  Start testing out with friends and family.
  9. Help others with their elevator speeches. The best way to learn a subject is to figure out how to teach it.

Mojo Moves

  • Right now, spend the next 15 seconds explaining what you do. Go
  • Is there a video camera on your computer? (Most Macs have one built in.)  Record yourself and watch it. Twice
  • Commit to your Accountability Wingman that you’ll follow the above nine steps

Extra special Mojo40 Bonus: Send your elevator speech to us by email in the Contact Us section.  We will pass the first 10 that we receive, to Career Coach, Catherine Morgan, who will review it for free and give professional feedback.

photo courtesy of

Got tips on creating an elevator speech?   Dish in the comments section.


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Did you enjoy this post?
  • Sharon O’Day

    Susan, the elevator pitch is one of the things so many people get wrong! Great that you and Catherine Morgan have teamed up to help them get that critical first introduction right. Well done!

  • Michelle Lee

    Thanks for the tips. I love adding new things to my elevator pitch. And I also seen a few more articles I will come back to read. As a blogger myself; I appreciate it when someone at least leaves a comment after they enjoy what has been given. So, I hope to start a new trend. If you use the info at least comment! Thank you again, great article

  • Wendy Hanlan

    I loved this! Great info from you and my pal Catherine Morgan. I had better go work on mine :) Thanks for sharing this!

  • sharon l

    Elevator pitches are tough. If someone in a totally un-related industry can understand what you do—then you have “scored”
    We all use so much jargon. Unfortunately the meaning of this jargon is not consistent across industries.
    Referencing an example of an accomplishment can be helpful.
    Good luck to all of us

    • Susan Kim

      Sharon- Great comment about jargon –it’s not consistent at all across industries. I think people use it too much as a crutch.

  • Wesley-Anne Rodrigues

    This article proved really useful to me. Also, career coach Catherine Morgan took time out and replied to me in thorough detail – I really appreciate the help! I’ll be sure to spread the word about this wonderful blog.

  • Jason

    Thanks for posting this – very useful info and a great offer for direct advice! Catherine was very helpful with a review and recommendations for my Elevator Speech. Just in time to fix it up for an ES practice workshop later the same week, where some “I don’t quite get it” feedback made complete sense. Try again.

    As Susan’s post notes “I’m working on it”, but in my case it’s in better shape and bound to improve more. Practice, edit, practice, edit some more, share, listen, edit, practice. Repeat.

    Surprise visit or call to Mom? Will she understand it? Hmmmm. Better practice and edit first.

    Thanks to all at Mojo40 for boosting my ES mojo. Thanks to Catherine for the feedback and advice.

  • RM

    Susan always offered to help me with my elevator pitch when I was unemployed – I am sure I am referenced above because I never made it very good!!! It is hard…hard to be sharp and catchy – and hard to practice. But I know how important it is. Even though I am now gratefully and happily employed, I feel the need to work on my new elevator pitch to answer the infamous – “what do do”? how do I best articulate what I do and what the company does in a concise and “real” way. Better get working on it…

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