Perfecting the Elevator Speech

I was lounging poolside at my health club when the gal next to me asked that question that we all get: “So what is it that you do? Are you into computahs?”

This is really a variation on the “elevator speech” we all wrestle to develop, but you need to define your business in such a way that ANYbody can understand it not just a conference table full of venture capitalists.

It was one of those clarifying moments as I struggled to find the right words. What would she understand? What could she relate to?

I took a stab at it.

“You know the Internet?” I asked.

“Yeah, yeah… like America Online and Amazon. Yeah, I know about the Internet. My kids are always on it.”

“OK, well, my company helps other companies learn how to market themselves on the Internet. How to advertise. How to get themselves known. How to open up a store so they can sell their products through the Net and not just a physical store.”

“So how do you do that?” She seemed to be getting it.

“We have a daily trade magazine. Just like the industry you are in (she owned a tanning parlor that was, in fact, quite successful) has trade rags. Only difference is, we deliver our magazine by email, or you can read it on the web.”

A sparkle in her eye. She was getting it!

“We deliver it every business day. And it’s written by people in the biz FOR people in the biz. They talk about what works for them and what doesn’t. We run six or seven articles per day on various aspects of online marketing.”

“Cool… so do I pay for this?”

“Nope, it’s free.”

“So how do you make any money?”

“The people who read it also spend a lot of money to successfully market themselves online. Advertisers want to get in front of them. So they pay us to get their ads in front of our audience.”

Let’s stop here.

Within about a minute and a half, I was able to convey in about the most basic terms as you can get our core business strategy, our audience and what it needs, and our revenue model. All to a person who has nothing to do with the Net.

You probably find yourself at industry conferences, events, and mixers answering the same questions, and you may have developed a good rap that sounds pretty good to your ears.

Let me be completely honest with you. I can’t tell you how often I’ve spoken to site publishers at industry events, asking them about their business models, etc., and I usually ended up glassy eyed, having NO idea what they were talking about. I got lost somewhere in the buzzwords and the feature set and never quite got to the part where we talk about a fundamental need or problem that is being addressed by this site.

What is wonderful about meeting people who are totally offline entities and telling them about your business is that you have no choice but to reduce it to its essence. You may have to pause, reflect, stammer, and go through a few false starts before you get there. But if you can do that, and do it in a way that people actually GET what you are talking about, you might have an easier time looking at how well your site delivers on what it is supposed to deliver. You’ll find your conversations with potential sponsors, advertisers, and investors go much smoother than they have before.

So I have a homework assignment for you…

This weekend, get away from your computer and go somewhere where you HAVE to mingle with people who have no clue about the Internet. Stay AWAY from Starbucks! Hang with some people who haven’t a clue, and see if you can define what you do simply and quickly. Look for signs of understanding. See if they get it.

If they don’t, then you blew it this weekend. Get back to your office Monday morning, and begin to rethink what you are doing.

If YOU can’t make it clear, who can?

Related reading