Forget Your Elevator Speech and Say Hello

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Today’s guest contributor, Anne Wayman, is a writing coach, ghostwriter and blogger at and She’s also a regular commenter and a super-cool member of our community here.


You know the thinking behind the much touted elevator speech. You’re supposed to figure out how to sum up your business in an intriguing way so it can be said between the 4th and 7th floor just in case someone asks you what you do. Trust me, you’ll never be asked what you do in an elevator; you’ll be lucky if someone even returns your guarded nod.

Of course elevator pitches are meant for networking events and other chance encounters with people who, gasp, might want to hire you to do whatever it is you do. The theory is it has to be brief or you’ll lose their interest; it has to be pithy so they will remember you.

For example, if you’re an accountant something like “I help non-profits track their profits and losses” might get someone to pay attention more than if you simply said “I’m an accountant.” Or, using myself as an example, I might say “I help people turn their dreams into words,” instead of simply saying “I’m a writing coach and ghostwriter.”

There’s certainly nothing wrong with getting crystal clear on what you have to offer and the elevator pitch might help you with that.

That clarity is a must if you’re to be successful. Mark Silver of Heart of Business does an excellent job helping people identify what it is they are actually doing. I tell writers Every writing project needs a purpose statement.

Being able to boil that purpose down to a few words is a worthy exercise for itself. But frankly, expecting to use it in elevators, on the subway, over the phone, at a networking event or in any face-to-face or most virtual communications with other people is bound to lead to disappointment, particularly if you expect it to reliably lead to more business.

What really leads to new business is your connection with people. Communication is, by definition, between two people – one listens while the other talks then, ideally, the process is reversed. To attract a client you’ve got to convince them you can solve their problem which means you have to listen to them closely enough to understand what their problem actually is. It’s about them, and how you can be of service, if indeed you can.

Sure, you need clients, but when you come from that needy place, you’ll end up with no clients or those who need you to work for free or darn close to it.

When, however, you listen deeply, even in an elevator, when you’re more interested in helping  than in getting, a couple of things happen.

First, people love to be listened to. Think about it. You know when someone really hears what you say. You also know if they are metaphorically biting their fingernails planning how they will talk when it’s their turn. Notice which you prefer – and know you’re not alone.

Next, because you’ve listened, and maybe even asked a question or two so you understand their problem more thoroughly, you’re actually in a position to know if you can help and how. Often that  means you’ll be suggesting a resource or another person who can do what needs to be done, with no apparent benefit to you. Sometimes the help you offer may actually be the service you provide and if your response convinces the person you’re talking with you can solve their problem they are likely to hire you.

Either way, both of you are better off. You’ve left the person you’re chatting with in a better place than they were before you met and you know you’ve come from the heart. If it’s a gig you land it’s likely to go well because you came from a helping, supportive, listening place; if it’s not, you’ll know that the world a better place just because you’re in it and responding.

I suggest instead of an elevator pitch you start with ‘hello.’ Then listen and see where the conversation naturally goes.


Anne Wayman is a writing coach, ghostwriter and blogger at and

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34 responses

34 responses to “Forget Your Elevator Speech and Say Hello”

  1. Angela says:

    Well put Anne. Being geniune and honest is a huge keystone in my business philosophy… too few people are focused on buzz, hype and pitches and forget that at the end of the day we are all human beings who enjoy being related to as such!

  2. Al Smith says:

    One of the best things I have read in a long time. I absolutely love this ! It is so good to read something about “truly listening”. It is the way we connect.
    Everyone always wants to talk or “sell”. Like Anne says so well, Just start with Hello, LISTEN and ask questions. Trust me, it works ! WOW ! What a concept. Thanks.


  3. Anne Wayman says:

    Thanks Angela. It’s so much more fun, & interesting when we really see each other, hear each other.

  4. Dear Anne,

    I want to thank you SO much for this post, which reads like a breath of fresh air in the frenzy of the Internet highway. Common sense, uncommon wisdom. (And thanks to Jonathan for bringing your voice to this page!)

    Also, I took a look at your website (When Grandma Speaks) and just love it! I see we have some common interests… I actually used to be the executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship for a while.

    I’m honored to get to know you.

  5. Greg says:

    Wow! Now that is the KISS principle at it’s best. I have always had issue with the commando sales tactics taught by sales managers and used by the desperate sales rep. My strategy has always been to connect. I have always been considered straight-forward and non-threatening as a sales engineer. One client said he never felt he had to protect his wallet when we met. He had a different opinion of the sales people I supported. One of the many new buzz words in “engage”. You don’t engage when you confuse. I refuse to be distracted with BS. But I never refuse a smile, a hello, or casual, friendly conversation.

    Anne, you are one very smart lady. Thank you!

  6. I LOVE this post! I have spent so much time in classes and webinars “honing my elevator pitch” which never felt comfortable. I would forget it as soon as I left the class. I’m much happier and more genuine interacting as a curious human being instead of as a well constructed marketing pitch!

  7. Midwesterner says:

    Great advise. But after you’ve asked about the other person don’t be shy about speeking first. If you find yourself in the super-polite Midwest, where both are waiting to listen, or with a group of introverted computer / engineering “geeks”, that elevator speech can still helpfully serve as the ice-breaker.

  8. Anne Wayman says:

    I’m sitting here at my computer blushing and just delighted with the response from each of you… Al, I’m still learning how to really listen deeply; Maia – what a pleasure to meet you – yes, much in common; Greg, I’d actually forgotten about KISS – thanks for the good reminder.

  9. Listening. I love that the most powerful thing we can offer someone is our attention.

    • Tami Smith says:

      Music to my ears! Couldn’t agree more with the power of really showing up, being present with those around us and giving our most precious gift; attention to what is true in the moment!

  10. Great, succinct entry Anne! Truly effective communication is a two-way street, so I applaud your message and approach. Any avenues for real back and forth dialogue, whether they be the comment section of blogs like Jonathan’s or yours or simply taking the time to actually listen to people as we move about our busy lives are welcome and needed in the world today!

  11. Sukhi says:

    Sometimes our minds can take something as simple as an authentic conversation and turn it into this ordeal. When you’re connected you know that the secret to living is giving.

  12. Erin says:

    “What really leads to new business is your connection with people.”

    So good to be reminded of this, as sometimes I feel a bit inferior when I’m around business people who seem to know every single catch phrase of the moment – I feel like an ignorant bumpkin. But I’ve always held the firm belief that chemistry is everything in relationships, and business relationships are not exempt from this. I want to do business with people I like, respect and with whom I feel a connection. I have walked away from lucrative deals when the chemistry is all wrong or non-existent.

    Good piece, thank you, Anne and Jonathan

  13. Excellent. Brilliant. In a world where there’s so much marketing and so little personal connection, it’s great to read this.

  14. Heather Holm says:

    Thank you for cutting through the BS about marketing oneself and grounding the frenzied hype about it with an enlightened dose of human reality.

    A quick look at your website shows how well you do this. I love what you say about celebrating bin Laden’s death.

    Here in Canada, the response was indeed more “reverent prayer and quiet introspection” than what we saw going on in the US – i.e. what was reported, at any rate.

    Because our two countries are the same in so many ways, the different responses to this event can teach us all something about our national identities.

    I read so much marketing and self-promotion advice coming from the US and try to absorb the lessons that are appropriate to me. Your post here is a good reminder that the advice needs to be filtered through good common sense and human values.

  15. Tom Bentley says:

    My goodness, advice to act like a human being? Yes, sometimes it’s easy to forget. Thanks for the reminder.

  16. Cathy Miller says:

    Love it, love it, love it, Anne. I do think the elevator pitch is a good exercise for zeroing in on your message, If you’re confused about that, why would you think the listener wouldn’t be, too?

    That being said, I couldn’t agree more that connecting means listening and if it’s the connection you want, it’s a good idea to try it. Harder than it sounds.

    This is one of my favorite Anne posts-and that’s saying a lot! 🙂

  17. nicole gruen says:

    Oh man – I just practiced my elevator speech: ‘I create happy work places…’.
    And your post comes at the perfect time and as a reminder to keep it real. I felt a bit aggravated to ‘perfect’ the speech and am now reminded that all I need to be is human. I can do that!

  18. Irene Ross says:

    Well said, Anne! I don’t know what else to say except, “well said, brilliant!” Oh, yes, there is one thing I can add: Actually, I find it a complete turn-off when people just come up to me and dive right in to their elevator speech. Not a prayer of a chance of them ever getting my business!

  19. Elegant, finely worded post, Anne. Who knew that listening was the secret key to success? We here hear what you’re saying. (OK, I couldn’t resist!)

  20. Wonderful post, Anne!

    Years ago I taught an Internet for Writers course and one of the things I tried to impress on my students was to simply be nice and treat others as people first and clients, editors, publishers, etc. second. Be professional, but be yourself, not a marketing or promotional machine.

    The weird thing though was that THIS, out of the entire course, seemed to be the hardest thing for the students to understand/believe. It didn’t matter how many times I taught that class, I would look out over the group as I gave them my Be Nice speech and they’d look back at me like I had three heads and had just told them my name was Cthulhu and I had risen from beneath the sea to eat their children. And that was long before Facebook, Twitter and and other non-face-to-face methods of marketing and promoting ourselves were created.

    Thanks for advocating and advancing the human connection aspect of our business!

  21. Anne,

    I like people that listen to me without judgment and I will do the same as well for them.

    The pre-planned speeches and insincere banter doesn’t work well on me.

  22. Anne,

    I so appreciated this post because it does a lovely job of making networking seem less intimidating to this introvert. Listening, being invested in what’s going on with others–that’s my stock in trade! Thanks for that permission.


  23. NotCathy says:

    Hi Anne,

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful post. For me, listening is the best way to a better understanding.. 🙂 Keep safe!

  24. Great post. At the risk of sounding cliche, you had me at hello.

  25. Rob says:

    Hey Anne,

    There was a story a while back about a car salesman that out sold everyone. His key was to listen and treat each customer exactly the same. Attire, what they drove up in, etc. would not be taken into account. He would listen and respond to what they said. Great reminder. Thanks Anne.

  26. Yes! If you take the time to LISTEN first, you have a better idea of who the person is and whether or not you could even do anything of benefit for them. And sometimes, just listening is what other people need the most – not someone trying to sell sell sell.

  27. Zolia Rumble says:

    I love this. I normally say hi as I step into the elevator and then realise this is a small town courtesy. In the cities, anonymity is key. But then I have wisdom on my side and do it anyway. It’s surprising what a small courtesies unlock. I use the opportunity to observe patterms of behaviour. Listening, realky listening is key.
    It’s not always about selling.
    Lovely article. Thanks.

  28. Thor says:

    Excellent! Just did a video on this very topic! Good call with listening. Best book on listening ever? Nancy Kline “time to think” – awesome! Doubled my client retention rates.