The importance of a solid elevator speech.

What do I believe?

The importance of a solid elevator speech has always impressed me. It took me awhile but I’ve developed that 15 second reply to the question, “So, what do you do?” Or the introduction you make, “I’m Tom and I head a non-profit called the Center for Life Transitions. We help people make successful work and career transitions while exploring their spirituality. Our services include individual coaching, workshops, weekend retreats and web resources.”

I recall an earlier time when I didn’t believe in the elevator speech. Always found it stilted so I didn’t have one prepared. My attitude changed abruptly when a potential employer stopped me a third of the way into my rambling monologue about the various projects I was involved in. “Whoa”, she said, “I need to know concisely what your business is and I don’t have a lot of time. Can you do that”? “Not without preparation,” I confessed. “Exactly” was her comeback.

It takes a while to hone this speech, getting it to sound both professional and genuine. Depending on the situation, the length can vary from 15 to 45 seconds. If the person to whom you’re speaking is interested, obviously you’ll have time to elaborate. For me, I’d add:

“Job Search Courage and LifeSHIFT: Work & the Spiritual Journey are two signature programs where we teach leading career management practices as well as address spiritual ideas. This combination often provides both the inspiration and the resources they need.”

A member of our Advisory Board recently shared a TED talk on influencing others by telling them what you believe and not what you do. Maybe it has some application to a successful elevator speech. The speaker, Simon Sinek, delivers a number of convincing anecdotes on why people react more positively to hearing why we do the work we do (our beliefs) rather than what we do or have accomplished. His story on why 250,000 people showed up on the Washington D.C. mall to protest for civil rights is powerful. Simon’s point is that Dr. King gave an “I Have a Dream” speech—not an “I Have a Plan” speech.

Do potential employers and network contacts want to hear about our beliefs rather than our accomplishments? Well, some probably do, some don’t, and others want both–making this approach predictably complex. I believe, however, it’s worth trying. The key of course, as in all communications where a positive impression is the hoped for outcome, is to connect your statement to the listener’s needs or a leading idea in your field. Hopefully what you believe and what’s effective in your profession are in sync.

For example, a career counselor in a college who is networking might deliver the following:

“I believe that college students today respond best to career development services when delivered through the classroom—either as part of the larger curricula or as specific courses. In the classroom, they have the time, support and structure required to make successful decisions on college major and career as well as learn successful transition strategies. I’d be glad to provide some examples if that would be helpful.”

Speak from your heart is usually good advice and is the rationale behind Simon’s program. You can improve on that advice by using your head to make sure your speech is consistent with the needs and priorities of the listener.


Re-do your “elevator speech” integrating your beliefs with the best practices in your field. Then rehearse your delivery so that you can present yourself sincerely and articulately.

Thomas Bachhuber, Ed.D., President of the Board and Executive DirectorThomas Bachhuber, Ed.D.
President of the Board and Executive Director for The Center for Life Transitions. Tom is responsible for overall Center leadership and strategy. His individual coaching/counseling as well as workshops and retreats focus on integrating leading career development ideas with spiritual exploration. Read more.