1-on-1: Targeted Talking Points

Speaker and trainer Terri Sjodin specializes in helping professionals sharpen their persuasive speaking skills. Her ability to connect with audiences and provide relevant, savvy sales strategies and real-world advice has made her a popular keynote speaker on Capitol Hill, as well as with Fortune 500 companies, academic leaders and industry associations. Sjodin is the author of New Sales Speak: The 9 Biggest Sales Presentation Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. Her newest book, Small Message Big Impact: How to Put the Power of the Elevator Effect to Work for You, will be released this summer.

Here, she shares tips for crafting a short, powerful message that just might help you connect with your next big client.

SUCCESS: As a trainer, you’ve focused on teaching presentation skills. Why is your next book focused on elevator speeches?
Terri Sjodin: It used to be pithy to say elevator speech, but the concept has really morphed so much from what an elevator speech was to what it is today.

We are all required to communicate our messages in a shorter period of time. For example, when my mom’s speaking on behalf of her philanthropic organization to solicit donations, if she gets the ear of a CEO, she might get five minutes with him. If you are in pharmaceutical sales, you have maybe three to five minutes with a surgeon. Regardless of your profession, you are required to communicate your message concisely and quickly.

How do you define a modern elevator speech?
TS: It’s a brief message, communicated in 30 seconds to three minutes. Its sole purpose is to intrigue the listener and, hopefully, obtain additional time for the speaker in the future.

You’re not closing a deal in 30 seconds. What you’re really trying to do is introduce yourself in a classy, calm, elegant way. You’re supposed to intrigue the listener enough so they say, “Gosh, that was clever (or witty or creative). You said a couple of things that I’d like to know more about. Yes, let’s sit down and have a conversation.” That’s really the job of an elevator speech.

How or when can people use an elevator speech?
TS: Imagine you’re in the airport. You’re waiting for your next flight, checking your BlackBerry, reading the paper, when you see a CEO you’ve been wanting to meet. We’ve all had that moment when we see the person we’d love to approach, we’d love to speak to. Instead, we start the self-talk: I’m not going to go up to them; they’ll think I’m a stalker. At that moment, most people will just let the opportunity pass.

Some people might have the guts to walk up to them, but they don’t know how to segue from, “Hi, how’s it going?” into what it is that they really want to say. Then there’s that next group of people who are too aggressive. They start pitching in that moment. They’re the ones we’re all afraid we’ll become. I tell those people, “Don’t scare the bunny!” This is an innocent prospect. We’re not supposed to frighten them; we’re supposed to strike up a casual conversation, hopefully intrigue them enough to set up the next appointment time and then move on.

But that scenario is only one way to use this concept. For example, Ronald Reagan was really the master of using small messages with big impact. He kept more than 30 4-inch by 6-inch note cards with him. They had his talking points on everything from Social Security to the world economy to the Cold War. Depending on where he was going and who he would be talking to, he’d flip through the cards, find the most relevant talking points for that group and tuck the rest of the cards away. He was known as the great communicator, but really he was just very well prepared with small messages that he wove together to create big impact.

That’s what we have to do. Our job as business professionals is to access the nuggets of information that will be most interesting to the listener and deliver them… off the cuff sometimes. Wouldn’t it be fascinating if everybody took the time to craft their own 4" x 6" cards with their elevator speech of their most compelling arguments?

How do you wrap it up? How do you close if you’re not “closing the sale?”
TS: You have to know what you’re closing for. Sometimes you’re closing for an introduction to someone else. Sometimes you’re closing for an appointment time. Sometimes your close is simply asking them to step farther into the booth so you can show them something else. It really depends on what your intention is. Remember, this message is not meant to replace your selling process; it’s designed to enhance your selling process. It is just another tool to put in your arsenal. The sky is the limit if you’re prepared.

What do you mean when you talk about the “elevator speech effect”?
TS: The butterfly effect is a scientific principle which suggests that the slightest flap of a butterfly’s wings has such cause and effect implications that it can impact the path of a tornado on the other side of the planet. The same thing is true with a tiny elevator speech. You have no idea where that little message is going take you. You just don’t know where it can go. That amazing little message, if delivered cleanly, concisely and in your own authentic voice, can have a ripple effect that creates incredible opportunities far into the future.

What are the key elements of crafting a powerful but short message?
TS: People ask what makes a good elevator speech. A good one is the one that works. It’s really in the ears of the listener. There is an art to it; but there are three benchmarks, and if you hit these three benchmarks, you’re in pretty good shape.

You’ve got to have a strong case. What’s your point? You have to have a case that is compelling enough to give your listener cause for pause.

You have to be creative. You want people to say, “Wow, I’ve heard that before, but I’ve never heard it put that way.”

Your delivery has to be strong and uniquely you. It has to be delivered in your style with your natural essence.

Some people are one for three or two for three. But you’re shooting for three for three. If you have a really great case, are creative with your approach and have your own authentic delivery, that’s a pretty tough combination to beat.

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