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Can we all agree that elevator pitches, when used as suggested, are completely annoying and ineffective?

The definition of an elevator pitch is an overview of a product, service or person, designed to get a conversation started. The word I have a problem with is “started.” If I’ve never met you before, and 10 seconds into our conversation you’re telling me how awesome your service is, you’re much more likely to annoy me than impress me. Just because we’re standing next to each other doesn’t mean you have permission to roll out a display of how effectively you can use adjectives to describe your business. The experience of having someone launch into their unique value proposition immediately after meeting is a lot like receiving an e-newsletter you didn’t subscribe to or having a pop-up ad show up on your screen. It’s ineffective because no matter how fine-tuned your pitch, I’m not going to care about your product or service until I’ve had a chance to develop some interest. And this will only happen if you show me that you are likable and authentic first.

I am blown away by how many people, when meeting someone for the first time, go right into their elevator pitch. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to do business with someone who did this. We’ve all been conditioned to ask people what they do. Fair enough. But instead of just saying you’re an accountant, many people see this stock conversation-starter as their cue to present their brand positioning – at the expense of being genuine. If I wasn’t interested in talking about taxes before we met 10 minutes ago, I’m not going to suddenly become interested because you tell me you’re “a vanguard who navigates the rough oceans of W2s to safely guide your clients to the happy island of tax deductions.”

When you meet someone new, why not ask why they’re at a particular event, where they’re from, which company they’re with in this building (if you are actually in an elevator), whether they’re playing golf this afternoon…? If you only have time for a 30-second exchange, I think that time is better spent getting to know the person and determining whether it would make sense to reconnect in the future. I like what Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, had to say in his book Delivering Happiness. If you are able to figure out how to be truly interested in someone with the goal of building a friendship instead of trying to get something out of that person, the funny thing is that almost always, something happens later down the line that ends up benefitting either your business or yourself personally.

Now, I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t have a brief, effective way to tell your story. What I am suggesting is that there is a time and a place for it. If you have a nice 1-2 minute conversation with someone after meeting for the first time and identify mutual interests (or develop mutual respect), the door is open to tell your story more genuinely some other time because you’ve earned that person’s attention. And of course, you need a concise description of what you do and how you’re different at the ready for when you receive new referrals and inquiries.

So you see, I have nothing against elevator pitches in and of themselves.

Do you use an elevator pitch effectively when meeting someone for the first time? Have you ever been so impressed by a person’s elevator pitch, when it was one of the first things they said, that you became a client?

About the Author: Derek Coburn and his wife Melanie founded Cadre, A professional, c-level networking organization.  In addition, he is a principal at Washington Financial Group, one of Washington’s leading Wealth Management firms.