The Ups and Downs of the Elevator Speech

The Ups and Downs of the Elevator Speech


A lot of people in business talk about the "elevator speech." If no one has explained it to you yet, the premise is simple: if you walked into an elevator with someone who could hire you for your dream job, how could you convince him/her of your value in the time it takes to get up to the top floor? This is not a valuable skill because it is particularly likely that you will end up with someone important confined with you in a small space and at the mercy of your eloquence. The elevator speech is a good concept because it puts the speaker in the right frame of mind: prioritizing the most important information, wasting no time.

So how can you make a good elevator speech? Make a list of your best qualifications, pick out several of them for your speech, rehearse alone, then rehearse with others and get some feedback.

Start with a list: what are your best qualifications? If you are just starting out, probably your degree is a significant part of your training. Once you have five or ten years in the workforce, your work experience will be more important than your degree. Think about any internship, summer job, volunteer work, or other work experience you might have had that would have given you some valuable skills. Feel free to brainstorm anything and everything, then go back and decide on your best two or three qualifications. Consider what you want: you should finish the speech with a few words about what position you are interested in. Make sure that when you are done, your speech takes only 3 to 5 minutes.

Sample Elevator Speech:

Hi, I’m Maria Ramirez and I'm a senior majoring in Business Administration with an emphasis in Sales and Marketing. I'm also minoring in Speech Communications.  This past summer I had a great Co-op with Enterprise where I learned all aspects of what it takes to run a successful business.  I’m interested in working in either sales, marketing, advertising, promotions or public relations.  Would you happen to have any positions for someone with my interests and background?

The more you work on it, the better you can get at packing in a good amount of information in a short speech, focusing on the kinds of things employers want to know, and saying it in a way that seems energetic, but natural. You should be able to give the speech at moment’s notice, with a smile and handshake.

What’s a good speech? It’s short, has specific information, and gives a clear picture of your qualifications and goals. A bad speech is slow to start (a joke or excuse up front), vague (I have great communication skills, do you have a job for me?), or doesn’t focus on useful information (I majored in chemistry and I love cats?I have four cats right now?). Some people will want to write the speech down—that’s okay, but generally if you write down a speech, it will end up sounding rote. The elevator speech always sounds a little rehearsed because it’s so much packed into a short time, but you don’t want to sound like you’re reading a 3×5 card. Practice out loud so it comes out smoothly, but not memorized word for word.

Paraphrased from a Rachel Holmberg blog | November 9th, 2009 | West Virginia University