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Career Coach: Give Your Career a Lift with an Elevator Speech

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson wraps up the year with some helpful hints about turning a chance meeting into a strategic networking opportunity.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson.

'Tis the season of festive gatherings, parties and events where you'll have plenty of opportunities to meet new people or reconnect with those you have previously met. Be ready with a pithy, short introduction to answer that inevitable question: "So, what do you do?"If you aren't, you may miss an opportunity.

Last Sept. 24, I went to a Technology Summit in Boise, Idaho, and found myself in the elevator with Idaho's governor, Butch Otter. I had the governor to myself, but was unprepared for that opportunity. He nervously tapped his folder, and all I managed to say was, "Are you ready?" He replied, "I'm looking forward to hearing from all these innovators about what they are doing."

I had 30 seconds of gubernatorial face time and didn't take the opportunity to introduce myself. I blew it. That's what inspired me to write this article about elevator speeches, which are also often called elevator pitches.

An elevator speech is a brief introduction in which you tell what you do in an intriguing way and interest the listener enough to continue the conversation. You must get to the point quickly, in the amount of time it would take for an elevator to rise. Your introduction must be so fascinating that the person will want to stay in the elevator and ride a few more floors to hear more.

It's not likely you will use your elevator speech in an actual elevator. It is probably more likely that you will use it at a social gathering, grocery store, trade show, conference, convention or industry meeting of some kind.

An elevator speech is not a one-way communication. Your elevator speech should include what you can offer the listener. To do that, you must learn what he or she needs, so you have to ask questions and listen closely to the other person's elevator pitch.

In my case with Governor Otter, I knew his purpose for the Innovation Summit was to discover how the government could help foster the growth of businesses involved in technology and innovation. Knowing that, I could have introduced myself and told him about the media industry in Idaho and suggested that he include people from our industry in his next conference.

Your elevator speech is not an opportunity to share your life story or all the details of a new project. The elevator speech is a short introduction of who you are (what makes you unique) and how you can benefit the listener.

You might want to communicate different things to different audiences. You should have several versions prepared, geared specifically to certain potential listeners you might meet. For a potential employer you might describe your character design services. For a person who is in development, you might quickly describe a show you've created. Again, learn something about your listener first so you can tailor your speech for him or her. For example, I might have an elevator speech about my career coaching services or about my recruiting services, depending on whom I am speaking with.

When someone asks you, "So what do you do?" don't simply answer, "I'm a character designer," or "I'm a producer" or "I'm a voice actor." Answer the question by explaining how what you do can assist your conversation partner in what he or she does.

Here is one example: "Hi, I'm Mike. I create animated personalities like the kids on Fairly Odd Parents. I'm looking for a writer to team up with to develop our own shows."

Your introduction must be memorable and polished. Compose, rewrite and practice it until you can do it smoothly and naturally.

If I met someone who might need my recruiting services, I would say, "I'm Pamela Thompson. I've been called the 911 Recruiter because I help companies in emergency situations. They can call me at the last minute and I will find the right person for the job in a very short time."

We are often told that it's impolite to dominate a conversation. An elevator speech ensures that you get your point across quickly, and give your conversation partner an opportunity to do the same. Your short introduction should be a conversation starter. Pique your partner's interest and make him/her want to hear more.

Experience has taught me to practice my elevator speeches so I can say them when I am half asleep. You never know who you might meet and you'll want to be ready.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is working on perfecting several elevator speeches.  She is presenting her Career Strategies Workshop at Savannah College of Art and Design next Feb. 11 and 12th. Pamela has recruited for companies all over the world and loves meeting new people. She is a member of the Idaho Media Professionals ( You can reach her for speaking engagements, recruiting or personal career coaching at