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Elevator Speeches: No Magic Beans

Jane posted a note about elevator speeches last week.  Here’s some additional process that puts the elevator speech into context.

Elevator
Over the past few years we have heard a lot about the special role of elevator speeches – those sound bites when you have the ear of a key decision maker or influencer for a few floors. We’re told to craft a few short stories or facts and install them in the heads of these folks. Then, magically, good things could happen. There are even many examples of where this strategy worked. I love this tactic, but let’s remember that it’s just a micro-skill and we can’t leave our communication strategies up to chance encounters. Let’s learn how to make our own magical moments. What would be steps to moving into deeper conversations with our decision-makers and key influencers? There are two simple things we need to know first.

 

How do ideas grow?

Sometimes new ideas look like they arrive fully blown. They don’t. People follow a very specific process whereby they come to accept new ideas. It’s a simple five step process. First, you need to have the awareness that some product, process or concept exists. Advertising and PR helps here. Then, and don’t neglect this step, they have to be interested in it. This isn’t always the case. If you’re not interested in reality TV, no amount of awareness activities will engage you in the next step, evaluation. This is your first major yes/no step. Will I invest any more energy in knowing more about this idea by researching or trying it? Would I even invest as little energy as typing the word into Google? Getting to trial moves your target audience of decision-makers from evaluation to the point where they can make a decision about adoption. So, understand this short process: awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, adoption.  It’s known by the initialism, AIDA.  When you ask someone with power to adopt your ideas, invest time and effort in supporting, financing or discussing them, without filling in the first four steps, you’re more likely to fail.

This process can happen very fast. For example, a new chocolate bar with an exciting flavour can get from awareness through adoption in seconds. I just discovered dark chocolate M&M’s. Time from awareness to stomach – minutes! Now, suppose the new ideas are a suite of complex processes and technologies like 3D printing, digital experiences, or intranet repositories. We’ll see the market taking years to absorb and integrate the solutions promise here.

Second tip: Your idea needs to have five qualities to be more easily acceptable to the people you desire to invest their enterprise’s energy and money in. Overall, the idea’s benefits must be visible in some way. This visibility can be tangible or intangible but it’s best to make sure you can speak to all five. First, your innovation should be able to demonstrate a relative advantage over how things are done now. It should be compatible with current behaviors or show steps that lay a path from the old ways to the new. Compatibility with current modes was why bank machines started on the outside of banks instead of in more convenient places. The relative advantage was that you had 24/7 access to your account. Complexity is an issue for markets. How can you make something less complex than the way it’s done now? Online banking is arguably less complex, but only after the target client has acquired the technology, web skills and done the account set-up. Hence, we see slower than desired adoption for the banks and new competitors who aren’t anchored in legacy systems. Trialability is a key strategy. It was easy to try M&M’s. I even paid for the privilege. The same is not necessarily true for OpenURL fulltext access, mobile apps or targeted federated search.  Lastly, observability is an important aspect of the adoption process. Can you show the change through demonstration? Can you show other users having successful experiences? Is your environment so unique that you can’t find another enterprise or a metaphor to show your innovation idea in action? Either way, by using these five insights, you are now empowered with some keys to convincing others about what makes your ideas for innovation interesting.

So, what are the next steps after you’ve baited the hook with your elevator speech – making sure you have been interesting, intriguing and included a call to action…? I like to think about these as steps in developing a new relationship. Not quite dating but still getting to know each other better.

The Starbucks Latté Chat

Nearly everyone likes one of the ubiquitous Starbucks™ beverages. Slyly insert into casual conversations, a query about what their favorite Starbucks is. Is it different in summer? Do they change their choice from morning through evening? Do they actually prefer Seattle’s Best or Tim Horton’s? Then, later, call them when you know they’ll be Jonesing for a fix and ask them out for 15 minutes and you’ll treat them to their favorite Starbucks. What do you get? 15 minutes instead of an elevator ride. It’ll be the best five bucks you ever spent. Be prepared to be social and listen and have your ideas ready too. Pick them up at their desk so you have the walking time too. And don’t put all your eggs in one basket, make sure you repeat this with influencers and decision makers.

The Hot Dog

Graduate to the Hot Dog Stand. This is perhaps an urban trick where quick lunches of NY cut fries and kosher hot dogs on the street are part of the downtown and business district cultural fabric. Maybe there’s something similar on campus or in your town. Anyway, this gives you half an hour to chat and plan together. You also get to know each other better too. Your goal might be transferring ideas, excitement and information or planning a future larger meeting. Either way, you now have a deeper relationship with people who matter. You might even make a friend but in any event you’ll have a closer colleague. You’re entering the inner circle’s orbit.

Lunch, Dinner and Social Events

As you earn the right to be part of the team, you’ll have more opportunities. Just remember not to be all business, all the time.  People want professional relationships with other people, not fellow employees.

The Meeting

Now you’re there. You have several people who matter primed to hear your big ideas in a more fulsome manner than an elevator speech or a budget line item discussion. This is your chance to shine and bring in the big guns – formal PowerPoints and handouts and a request for more consideration and alignment with the organization’s bigger strategies. You can do it. You’ve already worked the room!

Keeping the Energy Flowing

Lastly, here’s just one last piece of advice for you. This isn’t a budget strategy, it’s almost always wrong to introduce new ideas in the formal financial side of the budgeting process. That’s where cuts happen, not investments. New program investments happen throughout the year in thousands of small conversations and strategic planning meetings. Be political and keep your mind on the long term goal. Align yourself with the enterprise’s most exciting goals.

Here’s some additional links that might be helpful:

A Librarian’s Guide to the Elevator Pitch by Elyssa Kroski

Here are some resources to help you do that.

Tools:

The Harvard Business School Elevator Pitch Builder Application – Harvard Business School

15-Second Elevator Pitch Wizard – 15-SecondPitch.com

Articles:

The Perfect (Elevator) Pitch – BusinessWeek

How to Perfect an Elevator Pitch About Yourself – Harvard Business Review

The Art of the Elevator Pitch: 10 Great Tips – ReadWriteWeb

How To Craft A Job Search Elevator Pitch – Forbes

Elevator Pitch 101 – Elevator Pitch Essentials

10 Steps to Pitch Yourself and Elevate Your Career – JobsDB

How to Craft a Killer Elevator Pitch – Lifehacker

Video:

How to Perfect the Elevator Pitch

I wrote about elevator pitches and more a few years ago. Here’s a link to that article:

Beyond Elevator Speeches! A Process for Influence

by Stephen Abram, Information Outlook, November 2006

http://stephenslighthouse.com/files/IOColumn_53.pdf

Stephen

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