There are some folks who are critical of elevator speeches (I am not a fan of that term myself – how about BioIntro instead? Nah). But, it is more than the term itself that riles them. One of those critics has good points and not so good in my view. He is author and consultant Doug Stern, who has an article that appears on in which he is critical of elevator speeches and sets up a straw man by saying:

“Lawyers, for example, might offer, an elevator speech along the lines of ‘I add value to leading privately held companies by addressing the sophisticated legal issues relating to complex ownership succession.’” (emphasis mine)

It isn’t difficult for anyone to be critical of that one, considering how self-serving, arrogant, and presumptuous it is. So, no wonder Stern easily points out what can be wrong with elevator speeches after using an example like that.

But, he didn’t need to use such a weak case to make his points, a few of which I would agree with and consider worth sharing. For example, your response to the question “what do you do?” should:

  • Create interest, without sounding like a sales pitch,
  • Not assume they want you to recount your work history,
  • Avoid turning your response into a lecture, and
  • Turn the opportunity into a conversation.

One point he makes that I would disagree with involves his statement “chances are they really don’t want to know what you do.” HUH? Does he mean that "chances are" people are obviously phony, and don’t mean what they say? A bit too general of a statement, I would think. My point: if you don’t want to know what I do, then don’t ask! Rather, make some inane comment about the weather or how well the air conditioning system is working.

  • Sheesh! If I ever caught one of the attorneys I work with spewing off something like that “biointro” or whatever you want to call it, I’d tie my own noose. Good Lord! People take this whole “generate an elevator introduction” to an anxiety-laden level. It doesn’t have to be that hard! When someone asks what you do, explain it in the most common of terms. For instance, what do I do? “I help lawyers find prospective clients and keep their current clients happy.” (Can you guess what my title is? You should be able to but the next question will likely be: How do you do that? aka instant conversation.)
    Now, I not only work with attorneys but I work specifically with intellectual property attorneys. I have told them all, several times, that if I ever hear them say: “I’m an intellectual property attorney specializing in biotechnology patent prosecution with McKee, Voorhees & Sease” — my head will explode. (If you don’t believe me, say that aloud some time and see if your head doesn’t spin around like Rachel. Instead, my attorneys have become accustomed to explaining their work as something like: “I work with clients to help them make the most out of their ideas, inventions and business images.” Go figure which intro gets a conversation started.

  • I’ve always maintained that everyone should have a “dialogue” ready for any occasion. Lawyers as a rule are generally intimidated about how to introduce what they do without being off-putting or coming across as condescending.
    They also are frustrated about traditional lawyer questions or generalities that insult the profession. (You lawyers always get everyone off on a technicality!) The best advice I ever heard was, “forget the legalese. Speak bar-speak.” In other words, pretend you are talking at the bar to a layperson and the conversation will naturally flow from there.