“Even the biggest ideas in the world start with the smallest of conversations. Say something.”
“So, what do you do?”
“Um, I’m in sales. What about you?”
“I’m an accountant.”
Sounds like the start of a mouthwatering conversation, eh?
I’ve never liked this question, especially since it’s one of the first things that often gets brought up in a new conversation. It assumes you are your job (which you’re not) and it opens a topic most people don’t enjoy talking about.
But here’s the beauty – you can answer it any way you want.
It’s the perfect chance to test out your ideas. So is just about every interaction.
Why answer “I’m in sales,” if what you’re actually excited about is your side project to help people find confidence through fitness (or whatever)? Hiding behind a label that doesn’t represent who you are does no good for anyone – and certainly not for your chances of making your difference in the world.
Instead, treat every interaction as a micro experiment – an opportunity for discovery.
That’s where your elevator pitch comes in.
Everyone needs one, and it’s not just about some pitch to get investors and customers. It’s simply a way for all of us to share and test our assumptions and ideas in real time with the people we might be able to serve.
Important: You don’t even need a specific grand idea or vision – at least not at first. You just need to get in the habit of sharing the things that excite you. And give them a chance to lead to the places you’d never expect.
Every person you meet and discussion you have is an opportunity for discovery, if you decide to treat it that way.
Here are 4 steps to crafting, testing and perfecting your ‘everyday’ elevator pitch:
1. Create a minimal viable pitch.
Don’t over-think this. For starters, we want to have an interesting response to the “what do you do” question. You could write and rewrite your pitch until your pen runs dry, but it’s next to useless until you get it out in front of someone. All you need is enough to test. Ideally, have a few versions ready to go.
Your pitch (and follow-up discussion) should answer some or all of the below:
- What am I excited about?
- Why am I excited about it?
- How will it help people? Who does it serve?
- How does it uniquely tie into my story, passions, talents and/or experience?
- Why do I care and why should the world care? (Watch my interview with Simon Sinek for a review on the importance of Starting With Why.)
The real goal of our pitch is to talk about something you’re excited about and get a feel for how others react to it.
These days my response to “What do you do?” goes something like this:
“I have a business that helps people find and do work they’re excited about.” And lately I’ve been adding “and surround themselves with the people who make it possible.” Then I might mention that we have virtual and in-person communities all over the world. Or I could take it a totally different direction, depending on their reaction.
I don’t mention anything about a blog or even a website. That wouldn’t tell them anything. I just leave the focus on what I actually care about and how and why I’m trying to help people. Usually that’s enough to pique their interest enough to ask a few more questions. Then we might get into specifics.
Take a few minutes to answer the questions above and sketch out a minimum viable pitch. Keep it to 1-2 sentences, 4 max.
If you’re totally drawing a blank on what you’re excited about, here are two resources to check out:
- The Speak Like a Pro virtual conference where I recently spoke. Access details here and more info below.
- Our First Steps to Doing Work You Love workshop
2. Test it – a lot.
This is where the real learning happens. What seems crystal clear to you while hiding behind your whiteboard or notebook is often anything but for those around you.
We assume people will “get it” like we do. That’s almost never true. And the more you share ideas with others, the more you’ll realize this and have a chance at explaining things in a way that actually connects.
Treat every interaction as a testing ground. Experiment with friends, family, colleagues, peers and mentors. Just realize that their relationship to you makes them biased, which can be good if it keeps them from sugarcoating feedback, but bad if they can’t offer good constructive criticism.
Then get in front of as many unbiased strangers as possible. If you know the specific type of people you’re trying to serve, spend as much time with them as you can. What really matters is getting the idea out of your head and into the world as soon and as often as possible.
Notice the way they react to your first sentence or two. Do eyes glaze over or do they lean in with excitement?
Also get virtual with it: Share it on your blog, Twitter, Facebook or whatever social channel you prefer. Post it on our LYL Facebook group. Ask for feedback and compile as many responses as possible.
3. Rapid prototype it in real time.
Do this as in-the-moment as possible. If your first pitch clearly doesn’t resonate, then modify the next few sentences. Try to keep going until something connects.
If you’re at a party or event, you could rapid prototype this dozens of times in a night, and you’ll learn more than months of spinning an idea around in your own head. Have a few modified pitches you want to test and have fun with it.
Then as soon as your conversation is done or event is over, take a mental note or write down a few ideas about what connected and what didn’t. What confused them? When did their eyes go glossy? When did they lean in, smile, raise their eyebrows and ask for more info?
4. Refine, repeat and “perfect”.
Steps 1-3 are a constant cycle. I still find myself explaining things in different ways depending on who I’m talking to or what I’m working on. I still get the blank “I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about” stare every now and again. I welcome it. I learn from it. Then I test out something different.
It’ll never be perfect. That’s the fun part. Every interaction with the people you’re trying to serve is a new data point. What you thought you knew last week is probably slightly different than what you believe you know now, which may be altogether different a year from now.
Constantly create, test, learn, refine, repeat, and it’s pretty tough to fail.
Embrace the Never-Ending Experiment
LYL just turned three, and I’m still learning like crazy from all of you.
Over the past couple weeks, I’ve done 17 one-on-one user interviews with some of LYL’s most dedicated readers and customers. I spent 30-40 minutes on Skype with each of them hearing their story, finding out what they’re trying to achieve and listening to their current struggles, all to see how LYL could best serve them going forward. (This post was inspired by Mike, one of the LYLer’s I chatted with).
Their responses (along with hundreds of yours from surveys, comments, etc.) will determine the next phase of LYL, and of course, the way we communicate our value (i.e. our elevator pitch) through future articles, tools and the new LYL website we’re working on.
It’s been incredibly enlightening and a ton of fun – I cannot wait to share what’s to come!
For LYL, it’s always been a constant refinement process. Create, test, learn, refine, repeat. You tell me what you need and we do our best to provide it. That’s the beauty of having an open line of communication with the people you’re trying to serve.
And the reality is that everyone has that opportunity, at least on a micro scale. You might not have a global audience of thousands (yet), but you do have people to interact with every day. Bounce your ideas off of them. Test your hypotheses.
Start identifying yourself with who you want to be and the difference you want to make.
Stop responding in a way you’re not proud of.
Get in the habit of talking about the ideas that set you on fire.
Just because you work a sales job you can’t wait to leave doesn’t mean you ever have to talk about it.
No one wants to hear about a job you don’t care about, anyway. We want to be surprised, to be inspired, to have an unforgettable conversation. You can show up with an answer that shuts a conversation down or share an idea that lights it up. That is your responsibility – and an incredible opportunity.
If you want to live a life pursing work and ideas that excite you, then you have to get in the habit of talking about exciting things.
You have to start identifying yourself as the person who pursues things you care about.
The more you represent that to others, the more you represent it to yourself. And the more committed you’ll become. Just like a person who’s known for being a health nut wants to be seen drinking a kale smoothie, not scarfing a chili dog. If you become known as the person building towards things that matter to you, that’s how you’ll show up in the world.
Every interaction is an opportunity to end up somewhere you never imagined when you started.
Even the biggest ideas in the world start with the smallest of conversations.
So…what do you do?
Leave us a comment with your minimum viable pitch – anything goes, and try not to over-think it!
And if you need more help, learn how to ‘Speak Like a Pro’…
I recently participated in a virtual conference on How to Speak Like a Pro. There were presentations from 25 influencers, business leaders and TED Speakers. My topic was “How to Give a TEDx Talk that Goes Viral,” where I cover what I think helped my TEDx talk get over 1.6 million views (and counting) and rank in the top 20 of over 40,000 talks.
Nothing has transformed my career or the LYL movement more than taking the stage and learning how to present an idea. There’s also probably no faster way to becoming a trusted expert and getting people to happily pay you for your talents and passions, so I know this topic is huge for many of you. And so much of it starts with the elevator pitch.
As a speaker I’ll get a small commission if you decide to join, and you know I only recommend things I believe will make a huge difference for you all. This is one of them.
Image credit: Taken on a backpacking trip in Sequoia National Park last weekend, as I got a little perspective from General Sherman. By volume, it’s the largest known living tree on earth.28 awesome comments