Tell me a story: How to pitch your elevator speech

I was in 8th grade when I walked downstairs late one evening and saw a red rose at the foot of my parents’ bed. When I looked closer I noticed my father's wedding ring had been slid down a stem, resting upon a thorn. I was a boy and didn't know about things like this; I grunted and went to bed. I was awoken the next morning by my mom and younger sister who brought me out to the living room where my dad was already in tears. Then my mom started crying. My sister, not knowing what else to do, started to sob as well.

My parents were getting a divorce.

Isn't that the worst terminology? "Getting a divorce." We use the same words for divorce we do for presents on Christmas morning. We cried for a long time and my unhappy parents attempted to explain how this was going to work. We were going to stay with mom, and dad would be around. Over the next few days we learned dad had racked up a healthy amount of credit card debt that he hadn't told my mom about.  I didn't know until years later that splitting up over money is sadly all too common.

I spent most of my life with my head in the sand when it came to money. I had been taught to ignore it and, to be honest, still struggle with managing it. It took accepting a role a few years ago where my job was to help people just like me be smarter with money. It happened to be for a company that shared my faith, roots, and mission. A Fortune 500 company that believes what I believe--whoa. Now, I help fellow young adults be smarter with money and live a life of generosity. I work at Thrivent Financial.

End Story. Sort of.

That's the slightly-longer-than-an-elevator-ride version but hopefully you get the idea. See, the real definition of an elevator speech isn't that it only lasts 30 seconds. Instead, it is that those few seconds inside are so compelling that the listener skips their floor and gets off with you to hear the rest.

I'm learning that if the question is something like, "What do you do for a living?" the answer shouldn't start with, "I work for fill in the blank." Simon Sinek, in his TED Talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action, says: "People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe." First tell the story of you, then move into the story of why you do what you. The formula for a meaningful one-minute first impression is:

Personal Story + Organization Story = Impact

If you want me to buy your product, tell me a story that I can see myself in. If you want me to support your cause, tell me a story about whose world is better because of it. If you want me to join your team, tell me a story where I can help write the next chapter. There's a reason we all wanted a story before bed when we were kids. We didn't want a recap of the day, the latest news, or tomorrow's to-do list. We wanted an epic tale. Stories matter. They work. They inspire.

Heard any good stories lately?

Watch Simon Sinek's TED talk:

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