Sunday, 3 February 2013

LIKE 42: Elevator speeches OR you’re stuck in a lift when…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when you get a chance encounter with the very person you want to meet you won’t be looking your best or able to come out with that witty, concise statement that gets the person you’ve met wanting to know more – until they’ve walked away from you that is.

LIKE 42 was set to change all that and prepare us (the attendees of London Information and Knowledge Exchange events) for such an occurrence. I first heard about elevator speeches at the SLA Conference in Chicago and wanted to find out a bit more so I was very pleased when the monthly events’ organisers took on my suggestion to cover the topic.

An elevator speech is based on the premise that one day, in a serendipitous fashion, you will find yourself in a lift with the head/director/ultimate of the powers that be and are able to grab their attention for the 30 seconds or so that it takes to reach your destination to persuade them that you (or your team/product) are worth knowing more about.
The Willis Tower in Chicago has an extremely quick lift which makes your ears pop - this makes erudite conversations quite tricky.
Suzanne Wheatley from Sue Hill Recruitment, led the session in a breezy, engaging and entertaining manner in the hour before our dinner arrived. After introducing the topic, we had to practise our handshakes. Everyone hates a limp or bone-crushing handshake so we were told to go around the room and shake four people’s hands. There were a few lingerers but nothing too bad as I guess we were all on best handshake behaviour. After a staring competition to emphasise the importance of eye contact, we were then asked to say some tongue twisters. These were to help us speak clearly, at varying speeds and without gabbling and stumbling over words. I think it worked. I can sometimes speak too quietly or too quickly but reading out the tongue twisters helped me understand what it actually feels like to take pauses, breathe and enunciate properly.

Our final task before practising our speech was to write it. We could choose to talk about ourselves, a team or system which needed promoting, or LIKE. As I’ve been trying to ‘sell’ Talis Aspire (reading list management software) at work with varied success rates I chose to focus on this. To create a successful elevator pitch, we were told, it must include the following:
  • an aim or problem we could solve
  •  a unique selling point or the benefits of the solution
  •  a closing question so the conversation can continue at a later date.

When practising our speeches I completely ran out of time and forgot to ask my question – much practise is obviously needed! However, I now realise that not only do I need to cut out the waffle I need to get some hard facts or statistics to back up my arguments. It has definitely given me something to work with.

Thank you Suzanne and LIKE. Suzanne has also written her own post about the event.


  1. Thanks for blogging this event! I wanted to go but couldn't make it.

    I've been discussing Open Access with academics quite a lot recently, and is definitely something I need to work on - explaining it and at the same time, selling it's benefits. The 3 aspects of an elevator pitch will help me frame my explanations from now on.

  2. Thanks for your comments and I'm glad you have found it useful. Good luck with your open access conversations - they can be a little tricky!