“So what do you do?”
We all dread this question — at parties, at networking events, even at work. It feels so awkward to summarize your entire life and purpose in a short answer. Of course we want to make a great first impression. What should we say?
Having an original, authentic elevator pitch is rare, and it’s essential for communicating who we are and what we bring—both in the workplace and beyond.
An elevator pitch is your personal story. It demonstrates what you care about. It shows vulnerability and expresses emotion. It’s an honest description of what you’ve done and what you like without trying to impress anyone. It shouldn’t feel forced or rehearsed because it should be true, personal, and a source of pride. And nailing it can make a difference in your career.
Consider these two elevator pitches:
“I’m Dave from Menlo Park. I’m an entrepreneur, and I like bikes.”
“I’m Dave from Meno Park. I’m focused on solving the teamwork problem. 75% of teams identify as dysfunctional. And my passion is bikes. I have 10 bikes in my collection and I still race occasionally. I recently finished “The Deathride” — a 130 mile organized bike race in the Sierras — in the top 5%.”
Which is more interesting? Which one is more memorable? The importance of going beyond stale titles and vague hobbies can’t be overemphasized. Here’s why.
Self-Advocacy at Work
At big companies especially, your time is equally spent a) doing your job, and b) explaining your job to internal stakeholders. It’s not good enough to just be good at your job. You have to tell the story of how you’re good at your job to get people to support you—women, I’m looking at you. You have to fight for yourself to build your career, and a personal elevator pitch is a great opportunity for personal PR. It may feel like bragging, but it’s not. It’s just honestly describing why you are good at what you do — and taking credit for it.
In just a few sentences, you can communicate your values, your passions, and your strengths. Sharing these things about yourself helps others understand what you’re good at, what you want to do, and why they should hire you to do it (if they haven’t already). Being able to encapsulate these qualities in a relatable, personal way rather than by reciting some bullets from a resume can mean the difference between a pat on the back and a promotion. Here’s how.
Tooting your own horn with the same persuasive power we use on behalf of others is hard to do — especially for women. In fact, research shows that self-promoting women tend to be evaluated higher in performance yet lower in likability than those who are not self-promoting. Yet self-promotion doesn’t have to be bragging. When you can relate your strengths with some vulnerability, it opens up an opportunity for self-advocacy that can actually foster likability and therefore deepen connection. Here’s an example.
I’ve been helping people tell stories for over 20 years. I work with companies to help them land on their brand story, and I also help entrepreneurs with investor pitches. Communication is my superpower. But I always choked telling my own story; I felt my background was too unrelated to what I was doing now.
I’ve taught English all over the world, have started several businesses, and I also write and perform for the stage. I used to think I had to hide these parts of myself because they they didn’t relate to what I do now. Now I know they are part of what makes me so good at my job.
I’m able to start with credibility and therefore self-advocacy by sharing my experience and skills: 20 years helping people tell their stories. Then I follow these high points with a vulnerable low point: I always choked telling my own story. Sharing this vulnerable truth opens the door for likability and therefore connection—the most important goal of this exchange.
I’ll talk more about how you can nail your elevator pitch in part two of this article coming soon.