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Elevator Speeches: No Magic Beans

Posted by Stephen Abram on 12/19/2017
Stephen Abram
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elevator-hs.jpgOver the past few years we have heard a lot about the special role of elevator speeches—those sound bites you practice in case you have the ear of a key decision maker or influencer in your organization for a few floors. 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.

We’re told to craft a few engaging, short stories or facts and install them in the heads of decision makers during a quick elevator ride. Then, magically, good things could happen. There are even many examples of where this strategy worked.

But what are the next steps after you’ve baited the hook with your elevator speech—making sure to be interesting, intriguing, and to include a call to action? I like to think about the below as steps in developing a new relationship. Not quite speed-dating but definitely 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 someone’s 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, ask them out for 15 minutes, and say 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 as well. And don’t put all your eggs in one basket; make sure you repeat this with many key 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. Your goal might be transferring ideas, excitement and information—or planning a future larger meeting. Either way, you now have a deeper relationship with a person who matters. You might even make a friend, but in any event you’ll have a closer colleague. You’re entering the inner circle’s orbit. And you get 30 minutes!

Lunch, Dinner and Social Events

As you earn the right to be part of the networked 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. And these events give you the opportunity for longer interactions and multiple targeted conversations.

The Meeting

Now you’re there. Several people who matter are primed to hear your big ideas, delivered in a more fulsome manner than an elevator speech or a budget line item discussion. You’ve already confirmed they’re aware and interested. 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 in advance! On the other hand, try to attend a meeting as an attendee first, rather than as a presenter. Get to know the meeting culture and players.

Keeping the Energy Flowing

Lastly, here’s just one more piece of advice. 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 usually where cuts happen, not investments. New program investments and priority choices 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.

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Stephen Abram is a popular Lucidea Webinars presenter. He is the past president of SLA, and the Canadian and Ontario Library Associations. He is the CEO of Lighthouse Consulting and the executive director of the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries. He blogs personally at Stephen’s Lighthouse. Watch for his new book from Lucidea Press on management tips for librarians in winter 2017/2018!

Topics: Library Management, Marketing, Strategy