When I was just out of college, everyone I met at parties or bars began the conversation with the same question:
“What do you do?”
It’s a lame perfunctory question, and as such, it requires a lame perfunctory answer.
It dawned on me that I’d been getting asked Perfunctory Questions in some form or another since I was sixteen.
Think about it.
At some point in high school, everyone starts asking you the same question:
“Where are you going to college?”
So, rather than any exploration of who you are or what you love learning about, you learn how to provide satisfying stock answers.
After you finally make your college choice, you enter the next level of the Perfunctory Question:
“What’s your major?”
Now, you may be so far away from your college years that you don’t remember every college guy you met at every loud party lifting a plastic cup of keg beer to his mouth and asking you…
“So…what’s your major?” (It happened, I promise.)
At some point in college, after you’ve shared your major with everyone, you enter the next Perfunctory Question, which is,
“Where are you going to work?”
Or “Do you have a job yet?”
Which – again – launches you into lame easy-to-categorize ways of telling people that you are, in fact, okay, and that you are able to make this conversation safe and easy on them.
Then you enter the world of work.
And along with it, you enter into our final Perfunctory Question, which is:
“What do you do?”
This one will follow you forever.
So even though you know that, as the owner of your business, you are the product and that you must market, communicate and connect… you have learned from years of bad habit to dumb it down, make it perfunctory, make it lame…
“I’m a therapist.”
“I’m a coach.”
“I’m a graphic designer.”
Most of us reduce our work to the most understandable, easiest-to-say category just so people will “get” us and get us fast. We’ve learned well.
And this is why, when you’re introduced to the idea of an elevator speech, you cringe.
After all, having a quick, easy, stock answer always got the job done. Why should you try to create a meaningful response to that question? Why bother with a message?
Well, because now that you have a business, you are a marketer. Being a marketer means you have to connect a little deeper.
(And no, I’m not asking you to become like your friend Wendy who changed her name to “River” and answers this question by telling people she’s a divine presence in the universe giving love to all. Please don’t do this.)
If you have a business and you want clients, you need to learn how to communicate clearly what you do for people so that you attract them and so that your Ideal Client wants to know more.
So I’m going to challenge you to break the “let’s just get this out and over with” Perfunctory Pattern that you’ve learned up until now.
1 – CONNECT with your answer.
By all means, if you have a stock answer to the question, then say it. “I’m a therapist” provides the listener’s brain with an easy category. But what you say after that can give them more clarity to either raise their hand, or think of someone who needs you…
The typical elevator speech formula is:
“I help X [Ideal client] get Y [Results you deliver].”
So, in addition to your stock answer, take the time to create the most elegantly simple wording of this formula so it works for you. That way, it’s something you WANT to say over and over again.
EXAMPLE: “I’m a therapist and I help women who struggle with eating disorders unhook from those old emotional patterns and create extraordinary addiction-free lives.”
2 – PRACTICE your answer.
I know. I know. You’re an “in the moment” kind of person. Practicing your Elevator Speech? That’s so, you know, NOT you.
Okay, yes. But get over it.
When you have a structure and know the steps, you can be “in the moment” all you want. The structure provides the freedom. Every great improv musician started with a metronome.
So, revel in looking like an idiot and walk around your house practicing your Elevator Speech. Call up friends and say it. Practice it when you’re out to dinner with your pals. Say it until you are comfortable saying it.
3 – BONUS: Make them “Lean In.”
This is my own secret formula that my clients absolutely love and have shared amazing results they’ve gotten from using it.
After you’ve mastered the first part of this, add this final sentence…
“…but my clients would tell you that my real specialty is [fill in the blank with your unique ability here]”
EXAMPLE: “I’m a therapist and I help women who struggle with eating disorders unhook from those old emotional patterns and live extraordinary lives….
…but my clients would tell you that my real expertise is helping them discover their hidden creative gifts that this illness was covering up.”
Everyone has that secret sauce that makes them different from others in their industry. What’s yours? Include it in your elevator speech. But please remember to make it conversational. At our Uplevel Academy retreats, we sometime do practice drills of these over and over – and it always blows people away.
4 – ASK a great question.
Rather than waiting for someone to ask you the Perfunctory Question so you can use your Elevator Speech, why not create two or three non-perfunctory questions that ultimately define you as someone who knows the pain points of your clients?
Think about it. As a business owner and leader, you have the opportunity to Uplevel the perfunctory conversation. What questions do you most want to ask people to determine whether or not you are the one to help them or give them a great resource?
EXAMPLES: “So what’s your biggest challenge in your career right now?” (Or your training, nutrition, life, raising your children.) Tweak this so it fits your service or profession.
“If money, other people’s opinions and time were not issues…what would you be doing in your life now?”
“If you had to share three accomplishments you are most proud of in [life, business, career etc], what would they be?”
Even if these questions are not directly related to your service, a deeper conversation will create a deeper, more memorable, connection. Whether that person is an ideal client or not, she will certainly remember you and the conversation you had.
Want to make money in your business and still be totally authentic?
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