In an episode of Office Hours, we received a question from a young person struggling with answering the question “What do you do?”
“Ever since I started running my business full time, I’ve struggled with coming up with a concise answer to the question, ‘What do you do?’. The problem is more psychological than anything. I’m very proud of what I do but whenever I tell people I’m running my own media business, I come off sounding sheepish or embarrassed in an effort to not sound full of myself or arrogant. I subconsciously tell myself that people don’t actually care what I’m doing so I play it down as much as I can.”
Having an elevator pitch and going through the process of creating one is incredibly valuable. Not just because it’s something you can use when you are talking to potential customers, but also for you to dive deep into what you do and be able to communicate that with confidence. The process can be broken down into two steps.
Take Pride in Your Work
First, take pride in your work. You don’t need to be ashamed or embarrassed about coming off too strong, arrogant, or prickly. You do great work and you love it – so own it. Don’t be afraid to let that show. If someone doesn’t like it, you don’t need them as a client anyway. But the reality is that no one is going to be turned off by your confidence.
Secondly, take the time to make a list of everything you do. Then start asking yourself questions. What do these things have in common? What’s the core? How can I define this?
Then come up with a five word explanation. Every word should be there for a reason. Get in touch with the core of your business. For example, “Media campaigns for growing businesses” or “Designs that knock your socks off”.
Then turn that into a 10 second explanation. Then a five minute version that you can use if someone is actually interested and you have the time.
Take Praxis as an example. The short version: “Praxis is a startup apprenticeship program.”
The slightly longer one is, “We take young people and we give them a professional bootcamp that teaches them all the things they need to know to succeed in the world and then a paid apprenticeship at a startup so they can put those things into practice.”
Think about scenarios when you need an elevator pitch
Once you have a basic way to communicate what you do, you can hone it even further by thinking about the different situations where you’d need your elevator pitch. Broadly, the way you communicate is different in a professional environment verses a personal one. You can and should have a different version of your pitch for each circumstance.
The first is the professional elevator pitch. This is what you say to someone who is a potential client or investor. You are trying to describe what you do in a way that will close the sale or in a way that will generate a lead.
But the real challenge for many people is the second kind – the personal elevator pitch. You’re in an Uber or around friends or at a family reunion. We don’t want people to think we’re weird or BSing them so we’re afraid of leaving something important out. One technique to use in these situations is to bate people with curiosity. If people are interested in understanding what you do at a deep level, they will ask. But if people are just asking to be nice or to move the conversation along, it’s not necessary to jump into the detailed version of your pitch.
In either situation, shift the focus of the conversation onto the other person as soon as you can. This will give you the information you need to effectively explain what you do if they are interested.
Describe what you do with honesty, and don’t panic.