I love BNI International. No, I am not on their paid staff. I don’t get anything for endorsing them. In fact, the chapter I was a member of lost track of the primary purpose of the organization and focused, in my opinion, too much on socializing. The first half hour of meetings was consistently spent discussing what bar to visit next. As a non-drinker, I have no problems with the legal use of alcohol but that is not why I paid my membership fee.
Ideally, BNI is a local organization to promote referrals between business owners and sales people. Unlike many business groups, each chapter is limited to just one representative from each industry. For example, there should be only 1 financial services person, 1 accountant, 1 plumber, etc. As a group these people are supposed to act as an extended sales force and pass referrals amongst themselves as the meet people needing the goods and services with which fellow members of their BNI are involved.
During the year I was a member of BNI I got enough referrals to pay for my membership fees and dues. If I made a profit from my year in BNI it was just a small one. Never-the-less I do not consider my time with BNI a wash. Every week, during a chapter meeting, each member of the group is required to talk for a couple of minutes about what they do.
I was active in BNI during 2009. That was the nastiest year in national politics of my life. Extremists on the left were vilifying the nasty health insurance companies and extremists on the right were committed to doing and saying whatever they could to inhibit Obama’s success.
As a health insurance agent, I was following the congressional mark ups and debates very closely. It was very easy for me to find something to talk about each week. There was so much misinformation floating around. There was always another rumor that had to be clarified.
Other industries were not in the news every day. As a result, people who were working in those areas often found their 2 minutes of self promotion difficult. Some people have no problem with self promotion. Others, however, find it difficult to talk about themselves for 2 minutes.
In the 90s the term “elevator speech” was coined. The idea was that a successful sales person would prepare, in advance, an answer to the question, “What do you do?” The answer was supposed to be interesting enough to hold someone’s attention but short enough that you can recite it in the time it takes for an elevator to get to its destination. The 2 minute self promotion talk at BNI is nothing more than an expanded elevator speech.
You may be saying, “There is no elevator in my building. Why do I need an elevator speech?” The need for an elevator speech is not limited to high rise buildings. In our culture the question, “What do you do?” Is only less popular than “How are you?”
Often, both questions are asked out of polite reflex. The person you are talking to really doesn’t care what you do or how you are. They are just trying to make polite, benign conversation.
Regardless of their motive for asking you, they did ask you. They are now a captive audience for your reply. If you have prepared your elevator speech you are ready for them. Just make certain your elevator speech follows a few rules.
Control Your Circumstances If You Can
People have short attention spans and are easily distracted. One of the lessons I learned in high school drama class is that the eye is more powerful than the ear. You cannot always control the place where someone asks you “What do you do?” If, however, you can control your surroundings try to position yourself in front of a blank wall.
Any movement, cell phone, art or any of hundreds of different distractions can interfere. You will not be able to avoid all distractions but eliminate as many of them as you can.
The old proverb our mothers taught us, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all” is true. We live in an emotionally charged world. With all the negativity that surrounds us it is easy to adopt a negative mindset. All one has to do is spend 5 minutes on Twitter to see the vile and hatred that one group of people have for others who do not share their opinions.
Unfortunately, few people buy things from negative people. They want problem solvers not trouble makers in their lives. There is a reason why Eeyore does not have his own line of kids clothes. He is an interesting character but Winnie-the-Pooh overshadows him. Nobody would know Eeyore without Winnie but people would still buy Pooh books and clothes without Eeyore. In fact the only good that Eeyore’s pessimism does is highlight Winnie’s optimism.
Your normal elevator speech should not reflect your political opinions. Unless you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the opinions of the person you are speaking to, avoid saying anything nasty about anyone or anything as your write your elevator speech.
Remember, most of the time when someone asks, “What do you do?” they really don’t care. They’re just being polite. Your elevator speech has to be interesting enough to cause them to care before they get interested in something else.
In journalism it is called a “hook”. The “hook” is typically in the first paragraph of an article. It is a statement that will cause the reader to want to read the rest of the article.
Authors do not unload all the details in the first paragraph. They just try to stimulate the curiosity of the readers to find the details later in the article.
Your elevator should only be your “hook.” Share enough about you and your product to stimulate the curiosity of the other person to seek more information. If they start asking questions you know your elevator speech has been successful.
Keep It Short
I once worked with a man who was so detailed in everything he said he passed interesting and went straight to boredom. It was said that if you asked him what time it was he would tell you how to build a watch.
A common trait I see among rookie agents and analytic personality types is the “information dump.” Many insurance agents want to impress everyone with what they know. I know I do.
By keeping your elevator speech short you reduce the chances of the person you are speaking with getting bored.
One of the first lessons I learned when I started in sells was the art of disturbing clients. Fear is a motivating factor. People are afraid their peers drive a fancier car, so they buy a luxury car. People are afraid they are not attractive, so they go on a diet. You are afraid you will miss out on something or you would not have read this far into this blog.
Disturbing a client is not the same as startling them or popping up from a hiding place and yelling, “BOO.” If you are in insurance sales, it is no problem to disturb people. Most everyone is afraid of death or serious injury. If you mention either of them the other person will be disturbed.
Focus On Others
It is hard to resist the temptation to show off how smart we are. Still, unless you are on Jeopardy, no one cares how smart you are. Everyone is interested in themselves and their own problems.
When shopping for goods or services, every one of us, whether we know it or not, ask the question, “What’s in it for me?” If you can answer that question to the satisfaction of the person who ask, “What do you do?” you will stimulate their curiosity. Once they see how you can help them there is a good chance they will start asking you questions about how you can solve their problems.
Although it is not always considered correct to answer a question with a question, psychologist do it all the time to find out what their patient is actually feeling. Questions are powerful tools for the salesperson who has learned to use them affectively.
The goal of any elevator speech is not to make a sale. You can’t do that in a short elevator trip. The goal is to start a dialogue. You want the other person to start thinking and continue the conversation. When they start asking you questions, you will know that you are in control of the conversation.
Most people, if they even have an elevator speech, brag about what themselves. “I provide the best customer service,” or “I sell the best widget.” Your elevator speech should focus on the other person and the problem they have, whether or not they know their problem.
Questions help you do that. A well designed question can disturb a prospect and create a dialogue. It can position you as the expert. Who does not want the expert to solve their problem?
A good formula for writing a question based elevator speech is, “Have you ever noticed how many people are afraid of ______? I find a way to rid them of those fears.”
Obviously, these are only some of the things to consider when developing an elevator speech. If you have other ideas or feedback on this topic that would benefit others, please take time to leave it in the comments section below.