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The Lost Art of Mastering a Great First Impression – Part V: The 30 Second Elevator Pitch

Ever go to a networking event and meet someone that is unwavering in their attempt to make you hear everything they’ve done in their career and what they’re looking for in their next job? OK, I’m exaggerating here, a little. But it is true. We’ve all run across those people that think it’s important you know so much about them, or else you won’t be able to effectively help them. I’m sure even I’ve done it to someone before, and I really sympathize with them now.

Now for the controversial part of the post, so get those keyboards ready and start flexing your fingers. In an elevator pitch, I’m a firm believer that LESS IS MORE! Really, they don’t call it 30 seconds for nothing.

Our firm runs the McDermott & Bull Executive Network, which includes over 1200 senior executives, both currently employed, as well as in transition. We hold networking mixers just about every month in one of our markets: Orange County, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, and I try to attend them all. During these mixers, we have either 3 or 4 rounds of structured networking, where each participant is assigned a table to attend for each 20-25 minute round of networking, with 4-5 other participants. I try to sit in on at least one round of networking to get to know some new members, and to hear about their transitions.

I’m sure it won’t shock people to know that what I find is that most people don’t know how to tell their story in 30 seconds. They feel like they need to tell about their entire careers, or at least their most recent job in painstaking (read painful) detail. I think I must have ADD, because most people lose me at “hello, my name is…” Really, I don’t want to hear about, nor can I even remember, everyone’s details about their last position or their careers. I think most people feel the same, even if they’re not willing to admit it. I don’t know how anyone can remember all that info, especially since we’ll have each person meeting 12 to 15 people over the course of an evening.

Name, rank, and serial number is really all you need, or want to give out. Seriously? Ok, maybe something different than serial number, but name and rank for sure. Instead of serial number, tell whomever you’re meeting for the first time what you’re one of the best at doing, maybe better than just about anyone else out there, and what your ideal next job should be based on your experience. I’m not saying to be arrogant, but being confident in your abilities is a good thing, and be able to back it up with experience.

I’m reminded of the time I had coffee with a good friend who had been a client of mine at a number of his past companies. He had left his most recent CEO gig with a high tech company and wanted to pick my brain on next steps for his career. When I asked him what he was looking for, he proceeded to spend about 5 minutes telling me about all he could do for a company. He threw everything in there, including the kitchen sink, I’m sure in an effort to not leave out any potentially important data.

I then asked him, “What do you think makes you better than just about anyone else, and what have you performed extremely well for your prior employers?” His response was short and very to the point, and I haven’t forgotten it in five years: “I can take a technology product from just past the development and test stage, to the manufacturing stage with ODM’s (Original Design Manufacturers) in Taiwan or China, have it built, packaged, and shipped to the U.S., Europe, and Asia through distribution, and on 6500 store shelves and in catalogs in 90 days.” WOW! Now that’s a differentiator.

If your elevator pitch attempts to tell the listener everything about you and position you for any kind of job, then you’ve failed. If it tells a very concise story about why a company would see you as a valuable solution to a problem they’re having, and one that you’re better than most at solving, then you’ve succeeded. Remember, strong branding tells as much about what you don’t do, as it does about what you do.

Have a comment? Please share it and let’s get the best ideas out to our readers.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how to position yourself for that dream job (did I say job – I meant opportunity to solve a problem).

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