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Crafting Your 15-Second Elevator Speech Try these tips for developing a short, creative description of your business that's sure to attract the attention of potential customers.

By Phil Davis

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Let's say you're at a conference, and someone steps in the elevator with you, notices your nametag, and asks, "What do you guys do?" Quick--what's your answer? You've got just 15 seconds before the doors open so you'd better think fast.

For most business owners, getting to the crux of what they really do is the hardest, yet potentially most rewarding, one-minute conversation they'll ever have. In that shortest of time spans, potential customers, vendors and employees will make a complete assessment of you and your company, deciding then and there if your company, products or services are worth pursuing. Why? Because it's all the time they have before the doors open--so make it count.

When you're developing your 15-second spiel, there are two traps you can easily fall into:

Trap #1: The Laundry List
The most common of the two traps is to try and list every product and service you provide. "We sell, service and maintenance new and used industrial fittings for the diesel engine aftermarket." The reply you'll get if you spit that out? "Thanks! This is my floor... nice to meet you!"

Here's your solution: Like everything else in branding, your 15-second elevator speech should convey the essence of what you do, not just be a descriptive phrase. It should stress the benefits of what you provide, not the features. In marketing, they call this "selling the sizzle, not the steak."

I once worked with Sacino's Formalwear in Florida, a company that had been in the tuxedo rental business for three generations. Upon closer examination, we determined that customers really didn't want to rent heavy, expensive, snug-fitting clothing. In other words, it wasn't about the cloth; it was what the cloth did. The heart of their new 15-second speech? "We Make Men Look Good!"

In short, you should look for the solution or benefits your products and services provide and then figure out how you can sum that up in two to three sentences. For Harbour House Crabs, another customer of mine, their central theme went from selling seafood to "Making any occasion a special occasion!" For Mark Mohr at Joe Ricos, it went from selling coffee to creating a sanctuary where you could "Escape the Ordinary."

Trap #2: The Sweeping Statement
Once you realize the laundry list approach doesn't work, you may be tempted to simply summarize. This is great for the back of a DVD, but it's not so good for getting new business. A typical sweeping statement goes something likes this: "We're into enterprise management software." The response? Unintentional yawn. Look down at watch. Leave with a nice pleasantry.

Here's your solution: Add some pizzazz! While attending a business conference in the Bahamas a few years back, I heard a very dynamic speaker tell of her work in the philanthropic field, setting up foundations and putting together partnerships. When I ran into her later and asked her specifically what she did, she simply smiled and replied, "I make magic happen."

I love magic.

You can bet I made sure to follow up and keep in touch with her as she worked toward setting up peace schools in various nations. Her work was varied, but her benefit was consistent: magic.

Make it a goal this week to develop a one- to two-sentence statement that sums up the benefits of what your company offers. Avoid dry, purely descriptive statements. Instead, go for the "wow" factor.

What is it you do that your customers truly appreciate, demand and are willing to pay top dollar to obtain? To help you figure that out, think of the last customer you had that just raved about your products or services. What specifically did you do for him or her that really turned them on about your company?

Once you've figured it out, distill that information into two or three simple sentences of pure marketing maple syrup, and you'll have your 15-second elevator speech--as well as the attention of a lot more customers!

Phil Davis founded and ran a full-service ad agency for over 17 years before launching his business naming and branding consulting company in Asheville, North Carolina. His work can be viewed at

Phil Davis


Phil Davis is a nationally recognized company naming expert and founder of Tungsten Branding. Davis has personally named over 300 companies, products and services during his 30-year career.

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