Elevator speeches—-the ones that describe who we are and what we do in the time that it takes to get from the 10th floor to the lobby in an elevator—-are critical to your success. They are not just for newcomers to the profession. Every practitioner must continue to know and hone her elevator speech as her career goals and her practice develop.
Why are elevator speeches so important? First of all, it forces you to examine your practice and what you and your firm have to offer prospective clients. As you know, prospective clients can be anywhere—in the elevator, at the pre-school program, at the gym, in the market, on the golf course, to name just a few—and very often you only have a few precious minutes to sell yourself and your firm.
In the DC metropolitan area where I live, you literally have about 10 seconds to interest someone in what you are saying before they turn their backs and leave or start looking over your shoulder for a better conversation. People in the Nation’s Capital think that they are very important, and that is pretty much the way it happens at cocktail parties and networking events. These people would not want to invest in a pleasant conversation that was not going to yield them some personal gain. Sad but true. Hopefully your networking environment is a little more civil.
Second, a good elevator speech will help you develop an independent practice that will be very valuable to you in terms of your upward mobility. You always must be cognizant of how to best position yourself for future business. In private practice, we eat what we kill, for better or for worse. AND, it all starts with the elevator speech. It may be in response to a polite, “And what do you do?” or you may have to seize the opportunity and introduce yourself to a perfect stranger and start the conversation. Asking what the other person does is a good way to begin, but you need to make sure that the conversation lasts long enough for you to provide that same information about yourself. Sometimes that takes some creativity.
For a good elevator speech, you need to get a description of your practice down to one sentence. For example, “I am a trial lawyer, and I specialize in government fraud litigation on behalf of government contractors.” That will get more than a little attention these days as we find ourselves poised on the Fiscal Cliff and waiting for the congressional rescue squad.
Contrast that to saying you are “a lawyer.” Lawyers are a dime a dozen in my town, and you have to do better than that or you lose your audience. Follow up by telling them that you are with “XYZ, a firm of about 200 lawyers that specializes in …. and is currently handling a big litigation matter for ABC corporation.” You get the drift. A good elevator speech is just like a good first impression—-and you never get a second opportunity to make a first impression.
And don’t forget to exchange business cards with the person you are talking with. ALWAYS carry your business cards with you—I put them in my eyeglass case to make sure I have them with me at all times. I share those cards with anyone who will take one, and I always send an e-mail the next day to anyone who shares a card with me. Hopefully that person adds me to her contacts, and I hear from her again. I also add that person to my mailing lists. If your law firm has a newsletter, for instance, you should be adding your new contacts to that list.
To do all of this successfully, you have to stop thinking of client development as a chore or as something that only obnoxious salespeople do. Telling people what you do and how well you do it is providing them with valuable information that they may need in the future. So, you have to think about it as doing them a favor, and it will be a lot easier for you if you do. If they walk away or are not responsive, there are two possibilities: They are either very rude or your elevator speech needs to be improved. You can’t do anything about a rude person, but you can work on your elevator speech.
Carpe Diem—-seize the opportunity to make that great first impression. ‘Tis the season. The period between Thanksgiving and New Years is social to the max. It is full of one party or festive holiday gathering after another. This is the perfect setup to practice your elevator speech. There is nothing wrong with mixing a little business with pleasure, but be sensitive to the mix. If the setting is heavy on pleasure and all the other guests are donning silly party hats, you may want to hold off on the business talk and grab a hat and a party horn. Tooting your own horn may have to wait!
Promoting yourself and refining your elevator speech is a challenge. It is a fine balance between good conversation and offering important information about yourself that can benefit you and the person you are talking to. A challenge to be sure, but, I have faith in you. Practice makes perfect, and you CAN do it. Start practicing NOW!