A question I love to ask the women I work with is this:
“If you were to sit next to the CEO of your dream company on an airplane, and he turns to you to say, ‘So, what do you do?’ do you know your answer?”
Most people don’t.
And then they find themselves on an airplane or in an elevator or even in an interview, being asked this question, and they blow it.
Maybe it’s not catastrophic, but you walk out of the room knowing you could have answered that question better, or in a more compelling way.
Well, that’s why today I’m diving into this topic. Knowing your story. Or, more specifically, knowing your elevator pitch – the clear, concise and compelling version of your story. I’ll share:
- Why this is important
- What most people get wrong
- How to get it right
Let’s dive in.
Why do I need an elevator pitch?
Great question. This is the Coles notes of your personal brand. It tells people what you’ve done and why they should care. And it’s handy to have in all sorts of situations, both professional and personal.
First, a social situation: When you’re at a dinner party and someone asks what you do, how do you answer? What if they aren’t in your field? Will they even understand what you’re talking about or will they be bored to tears?
You want to share just enough that it’s interesting, and not so much that you’re losing them.
Second is in a professional setting. That may be the CEO on the airplane or in an interview. Or perhaps a professional networking event. One of the most commonly asked questions is, “So tell me about yourself” or “Tell me about your previous experience“. And yet, as someone who has sat on the side of the interviewer, I can tell you that most people don’t have a well-crafted response.
I’m guessing most of you have never sat down to create this well-crafted response. Just like anything else, you can’t expect it to roll off the tongue when it matters if you’ve ever practiced it before!
Practice? How tough can this really be?
Okay, time for some hard truth. 99% of the time when I ask someone this question, their ‘story’ bores me to death. They have me for the first 15-30 seconds, and by the end I’m thinking about what I’m going to eat for lunch.
Here’s the problem, when you don’t have your answer prepared, you’re much more likely to ramble on and share way more than you would otherwise. Listen, when someone’s asking you about your career, they don’t need every little detail. They don’t need to know that you oversee 3 project teams and that 2 of them are located in the US and one overseas and that you started doing that last February and took on 3 extra team members in April because your counter-part in Florida ended up getting fired so you wanted to help out given your knowledge in this space…
See what I mean? Too much.
That is the #1 mistake people make when sharing about themselves. Too. Much.
Sharing too much may bore people, as I eluded to earlier, but it will also take away from the great things you do and have done. When you’re sharing 100 bullet points, you can’t expect people to pick out the 3 that really matter.
So make it easy for them.
How can I get started?
Now that we’ve talked about what not to do, let’s talk about what to do.
You’ll want to come up with 2-3 key points that you’re going to share about your career. If you like, you can come up with 3-5 points to have in your back pocket, but choose the best 2-3 depending on the audience. Your answer may be a little different at a dinner part vs. an interview.
You want 1-2 key points about what you do now. And 1-2 key points about your past.
These should be relatively broad and brief. So for myself, I’ll typically say something like,
“I’m the CEO of Insights to Action, where my mission is to help more women become execs and thrive as execs. My broader mission is to help narrow the gender gap we see in senior leadership. Before that I spent 18 years in sales and leadership, where I was a Director, VP and EVP.”
That’s it. That’s a 20 year career summed up. Now, if I’m talking to someone in Biotech, I may mention that the first 15 years of my career was in Biotech. Or, if chatting someone in the SaaS/Tech space, I may highlight my VP and EVP roles, and share some of my accomplishments there.
But keep it minimal.
Let’s say I’m not talking about my current business and I’m sharing what I did as an exec specifically… I may say,
“I’ve worked at start-ups, scaling stage and multi-billion dollar companies, and have done everything from building a commercial org from scratch to scaling a sales org to drive 9-figure growth over 2 years. My passion has always been in bringing new, innovative technologies to market.”
Again, there are a LOT of things I did in my 18 year career. But I only want to share the highlight reel. The few things that really mattered.
The other consideration is in sharing the common thread that binds your experience. Maybe you had 7 different jobs, but the common thread was that you helped create process for hyper-growth companies to scale more effectively.
Think through your experience, and see what you can pull out that was a theme.
Which brings me to my final point. Share your passion.
You may have noticed that in both of the cases above, not only did I share what I’ve done, but also what I care about. What drives me. This is the interest piece. Sure, we’ve all done cool things, but what makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning?
And that’s the 3rd element of your story.
So to recap, you want to share (concisely):
- What you do now
- What you did before
- What you’re passionate about
When I was an exec, I was passionate about bringing new, innovative. technologies to market. Now, as a CEO, I’m passionate about closing the gender gap in senior leadership.
Am I passionate about more than just that? Of course. I’m also passionate about:
- Creating more kindness in the world
- Prioritizing health and fitness
- Nutrition and biohacking
- Helping the less fortunate
- Being a good mom
- Saving animals
- Protecting the environment
- Following my dreams
- Women’s rights
I could go on…
Again, you’re choosing the big thing instead of sharing ALL. If someone asked me to introduce myself at the start of a podcast and I started listing off everything I cared about, they would have no idea where to go next. I’m sure they’d be pretty overwhelmed!
Think about your goal. Are you talking to someone who may give you a job, or your BFFs cousin at the cottage? Share what matters.
Okay, I hope that helps you get started! In summary, your elevator pitch should be:
- 1-2 points on what you do now
- 1-2 points on what you did before
- What you’re passionate about