I'm standing on the main floor of Southern Pacific Brewing Company, chatting with three people I've just met at an event organized by GOODSF.
We've been talking about differences between SF and New York, our impressions of mega-hipster Williamsburg, and the benefits of the new, slimmer FitBit (which I recently purchased to be able to take a pulse in case of emergency in the wilderness, only to discover that it doesn't actually have a second hand) versus the classic version.
I motion to the cast around the wrist of the guy who is about to move to New York, and ask with a grin if it's the latest model. He laughs and is riffing on the joke when a facilitator appears to introduce someone new.
Good-naturedly, cast guy suspends the joke and asks the newcomer what he does. Excited to have our attention,
New guy launches into a short monologue about the startup he's co-founded.
Something about making it easier for corporate employees to connect and volunteer with nonprofits.
I follow for the first twelve seconds, and then his steadily deadening tone of voice becomes harder to discern over the din of the crowd.
As he tacks on a few clarifying sentences at an even lower volume, I glance at the face of the woman next to me, whose resilient smile does little to mask her secret inner thoughts:
I wonder how long this will continue before we can move on.
How often have you seen this happen?
A smart, passionate, enthusiastic person gets invited onto the stage, opens his mouth, locates the file in his brain labeled "elevator pitch..."
... And then copy/pastes it all over the people who happen to be standing there.
And what happens to that smart, passionate, enthusiastic person when he is having a fit of the copy/pastes?
All too often, he disappears - replaced by a robot charged with releasing a string of totally contrived, overly conceptual, energetically LIFELESS sentences...
... That do nothing to engage the humanity or imagination of the audience.
Then, because poor Robot has been instructed to "keep it short," but is unsure of what to do in the silence that follows, he keeps talking... adding another sentence here and another there to "clarify" the value proposition, the whole time his voice dwindling ever deeper into monotone as the actual human being behind it all is forced to watch the scene unfold in growing, silent horror.
And what of the copy/paste victims; the politely nodding audience?
They are not asked to think critically about the information they receive, or to imagine the implications, or to answer any meaningful questions.
They are expected only to receive - and EVERYONE is capable of making a face that says "yes, I am receiving, just like I'm supposed to," while secretly thinking, "I want to stick forks in my eyes."
So please, I beg of you!
If you have a merciful bone in your body, you will take your elevator pitch out back right this minute;
Thank it for its service, coo a few sweet nothings in its ear, and slip a sharp blade between its ribs before it even knows what's happening.
Really, it's the kindest thing to do.
The elevator pitch as a helpful business concept has been floating face-down in the river of obsolescence for way longer than 30 minutes - which is the amount of time after which they tell you that CPR is a wasted effort.
Because 99% of the time when people ask for what you do, the question appears in the context of a CONVERSATION.
Sometimes the stage is real (as in a TED talk or a client pitch); but more often it comes to you in the subtle and fleeting ways of everyday human interaction.
A conversation is like a dance, with give and take and rhythm and sweep.
Conversation is about dialogue, which comes down to co-creation: two people passing a ball back and forth to play the fun game of making meaning together.
When you insist on bringing monologue to the dialogue party, it's not just inappropriate -- it's disrespectful of the other person's role as a co-creator.
This is why (whether consciously or not) elevator pitches make everyone feel icky.
When you give me something scripted, what you're really telling me is one of the following:
1. You're so bored by what you do that you just want to get it over with as quickly as possible
(In which case, why should I be interested in something that YOU are bored by?)
2. You don't trust your own understanding of what you do enough to respond in the moment
(In which case, why would I perceive you as a leader in your field if you can't talk freely about it?)
3. You don't see ME as important enough to merit something customized just for me
(In which case, why would I want to do business with you if (however unwittingly) you made me feel un-special?)
Most people will subconsciously perceive all three of these icky things when you copy/paste a script onto them - no matter how well it conveys the essence of your business.
And YOU will have fumbled an opportunity to get them engaged.
... Which is how that precious, 30-second, elevator-ride-sized window of attention can be stretched - as if by magic - into the infinitely more forgiving shape of a meaningful conversation.
This is the first of a 2-part series. Stay tuned for the next installment, where we'll look at precisely how to replace your dead-in-the-water elevator pitch with a much more compelling communication strategy.