The B.S.:

Steve Hughes rethinks the elevator pitch

Bruce Spotleson

Bruce Spotleson

VEGAS INC Coverage

Just as they do in the rest of our society, fads and trends come and go in the business world. For many, the business fad of 2011 was the elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is a summary statement used to briefly and simply define the product or services you represent. It’s called that because it’s designed for situations in which you only have a couple of minutes to express your value proposition and perhaps spark someone’s interest in doing business with you. In other words, about as much time as a chance encounter on a typical elevator ride.

It’s easy to embrace a business trend but generally unfashionable to criticize one, so Steve Hughes’ comments caught my interest. And after hearing Hughes’ thoughts on creating a brief and compelling statement on your profession, it would be tough to get in the elevator again.

Hughes is the owner of a company called “Hit Your Stride” — — which helps people look and sound smart when they speak. Before starting his company, he spent 12 years in advertising and public relations and was a partner at a large ad agency.

Today, the St. Louis resident also is a compelling speaker whose popular seminars attract attention. I got a chance to hear him at a recent meeting of the Southwest Legal Marketing Association at Lawry’s Prime Rib Restaurant, where Darcy Neighbors was my host.

Hughes believes that people unnecessarily stumble when faced with that opening question we all get soon after being introduced. Where you’re asked what you do for a living.

He feels that people too often miss out on business opportunities when asked this question. He discounts many elevator pitches as silly or boring. But most people simply haven’t put much thought into how to respond, and end up saying whatever comes to mind.

“You shouldn’t necessarily say the first thing that comes out of your mouth,” he said.

He says people typically respond with a noun. They say they’re a lawyer. Or a real estate agent. Or a sales rep. And while each might be correct, he believes “noun statements” to be potential conversation-killers, because we tend to picture certain things when we hear a noun, many of them dull or negative images we’ve assigned to their profession.

Seeing a need for something more compelling, and in the hope of developing a statement that will improve the chances of a sale or at least a business-related, follow-up conversation, Hughes espouses what may very well be a new business trend — the “tell me more” statement.

Properly designed and delivered, it seems more likely to build interest of the other party. He likens it to the promotional trailer of a movie — it’s designed only to entice, without giving away the whole story.

“Give just enough of a movie trailer that they want to know more about what you do,” Hughes said. He says the basic formula for doing so has four parts.

It must be short — no longer than five seconds. It must be interesting. It has to be pithy, or forcefully expressive — “it doesn’t have to be funny, but it should make you ponder or reflect.” And it has to be simple.

To illustrate his point, he says he’d never describe himself as a “communication expert,” although that would be technically correct. Instead, he says he’s a person who “helps people look and sound smart when they talk.” Big difference there, one that is more likely to leave an impression.

“When it’s done right, people will remember you and pass you along to someone in their network.” This is important, he says, because the average person has about 250 people in their personal network, and it’s a great source for prospects.

“Most people you meet may never need what you have,” he said, “but most likely someone in their network does.”

He says if you describe your work in a memorable and “benefits-laden” phrase, some people will want more information on the spot, and others often will acknowledge the value of the services you provide. Many will be turned into instant ambassadors on your behalf.

Hughes’ advice hasn’t yet reached the level where it’s a trend or fad, but it did work on me. I’ll probably always remember what he does for a living.