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Your Business Cards out in 60 seconds: Crafting an Elevator Pitch

The elevator pitch is the 30-60 second conversation you will have with potential contacts to exchange business cards.

The pitch has only one real goal: Get that person’s business card. No, that was not a typo. You are not trying to give out your card (though you will do it); you are trying to get the cards of other people. That contact information is like gold, and soon you will see why. For now though, let’s go through the steps of making a good impression while exchanging information.

The Hook

Imagine for a moment that you are standing in line at a coffee shop. In front of you is a person who, like you, is doing nothing but waiting for the line to move forward. How do you start a conversation? How do you move from silence to talking? You begin with a hook.

The hook is simply a means to getting the other person talking. It can as simple as, “This is some line, huh?” The only goal is to get the other person to respond. Because of this, the best hooks are open-ended questions. “That is a very unique tie. Where did you get it?” Look for a conversation starter and ask a question. If you see a nametag with a company name, ask what the person does at that company. If you are going up an elevator, ask what brings the other person to the building. Most people are willing to talk, but you need to break the ice.

Talking About the Other Person

Once the ice is broken, your first question will be, “So what do you do?” The conversation at this point is 100% about the other person. One of the universal traits of humanity is that people love talking about themselves. So let the person do just that. Once you know the person’s profession, ask questions about that profession. If the person is a realtor, ask if the individual works with commercial or residential properties. If the person is a programmer, ask what kind of programs the individual creates. If the person is a professor, as what classes the individual teaches. Dig deeper.

No matter the profession is, you must appear genuinely interested. Eye contact is your friend.

While the other person speaks, look the individual dead in the eyes. Every five seconds or so, dart your eyes away (to avoid staring) the them right back. Smile. Nod. Be expressive. Let the other person believe that you couldn’t be happier to learn more about that individual’s profession.

Getting the Card

While asking questions about the other person’s profession, look for opportunities to do a small favor for that person. If you are alert and practiced, this usually happens within 20-30 seconds of talking. Examine the following examples:

“I own a restaurant: Marlo’s Pizza Palace.”

“Do you by any chance cater? I have a friend who is always looking for new food ideas for his business meetings.”

“I’m the manager of a storage unit.”

“You know I was just talking to my wife yesterday about moving some stuff out of the garage. What kind of rates do you have?”

“I sell antiques.”

“I have a good friend who adores antique shops. What’s the name of your store?”

“I work as a freelance photographer.”

“Really? I have a couple friends who are getting married in the fall, and they just said last week that they were looking for a photographer. Do you do weddings?”

More often than not, the favor involves bringing that person extra business. Most employees, managers, and owners benefit from bringing business to their place of work. Your goal is to tease them with some of that extra business. Obviously you cannot shop at every place you hear of, but you can promise to look at the inventory. You can promise to tell a relative about a local shop in town. You can promise to refer contact information to a friend. And this is usually enough.

Once the favor has been offered, follow up with, “Do you have a business card?” Provided that you have succeeded in offering some minor favor, the card will easily end up in your hand. People like being asked for a business card. It makes them feel important; it makes them feel liked. So ask. Because you want that business card.

The Pitch

At this point in the conversation, you are very well liked. You have asked about the other person’s profession, offered to do that person a favor, and made the person feel important by asking for a business card. Most people at this point will ask what you do for a living. But even if they don’t, just say what you do anyway. It is perfectly acceptable to talk briefly about yourself now.

Craft a 10-20 second pitch that includes your profession and the kind of work you do. Keep it short, and smile while you say it. No one has ever been happier to do your job than you have. It does not matter if you are unemployed. State the job you previously had or the job you are looking for. You are not an unemployed engineer; you are an engineer. You are not a reporter who is looking for work; you are a reporter.

Once the pitch is complete, say the following words: “Do you mind if I give you my card?” Note how you will ask to give the card. Do not say, “Here’s my card.” This comes across like a sales pitch. Just ask. I have never once had someone say “no.” That other person might throw your card away the second you walk away, but no one refuses to take the card—especially if you got the other person’s card first.

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