Whenever people ask you what you do, your response should be a quick, succinct description of your services and value, covered in the time it takes an elevator to move a few floors. You may not have your audience for longer than that, and even if you do, their interest may wane quickly.

The best elevator speech starts with why you do what you do and briefly covers what you do and whom you serve best.

Over the years, we’ve found the traditional elevator speech to be firm focused, not client focused, and rather lacking in its ability to create an interesting interaction. With this in mind, we suggest that advisors expand their thinking to build more effective elevator speeches, or whatever one wants to call the answer to the “what do you do?” question.

Here’s a quick checklist:

  • It’s clear, compelling, and concise. The message must be relevant and sticky; the brain notices and remembers words, images, or events that are different or out of the ordinary. People remember that 7-Up is the “un-cola” because it strongly advocates what it is not, which is different from most advertising, and thus sticks in people’s minds. The elevator speech needs to differentiate you with a clear image that stands out in your audience’s mind.
  • It defines your value. The elevator speech should illustrate how the firm benefits clients. An advisor who works with women after divorce may say that he or she “works with women who are suddenly single and ready to take charge of their life and finances.” What this advisor is selling is far more interesting and valuable to the recipient of the message than “financial planning” or “investment management.”
  • It contains effective ambiguity. Effective ambiguity develops curiosity in your listeners, so they want to learn more. By being somewhat mysterious and open-ended, effective ambiguity invites listeners to “come into the advisor’s space for a visit” and ask questions. In the process, they give the advisor permission to market to them.
  • It differentiates the firm and avoids stereotypes and misconceptions. This short introduction shouldn’t be so generic that it doesn’t differentiate an advisor from the crowd or that it locks him into a specific position. For example, the term financial planner isn’t a great differentiator, and investment manager may stereotype you in a role that doesn’t interest the audience.

Consider which of the following elevator speeches best meets these criteria and creates a more attractive opportunity for the financial advisors.
Two financial planners, both of whom specialize in working with doctors, are attending the same medical conference to build their reputations in the space. At an evening reception, they are discussing the day’s sessions when a doctor/attendee walks up. She recognizes that the two planners aren’t wearing the typical attendee badge and inquires what they do.

The first advisor says, “I am a financial planner.” The doctor nods politely, smiles, and turns to the second advisor. This advisor smiles on cue and says with confidence, “I help doctors develop an RX for their retirement and make sure they can enjoy it fully by solving the three most common problems they typically face as they retire.” If you were the doctor, which advisor would you want to pull aside later to discuss your financial future?

Simply saying, “I am a financial planner,” is a conversation killer for most people. Although it’s an important profession, we’ve never heard anyone within earshot respond, “That is so interesting! Please, won’t you tell me more?” More often than not, the interest generated by the first example is a quest for free financial advice, and that’s not the conversation we are looking to initiate.

The second advisor’s answer touched on all of the key components of an effective elevator speech. It was clear, compelling, and concise. It was differentiating, in that it told us precisely who the advisor’s target market was and that there were deliverables involved. Finally, it created effective ambiguity by giving just enough information to make us want to know more.

If the attendee/doctor is at all interested in planning for her retirement, she will probably ask about the three most typical challenges. She is responding to the effective ambiguity. This makes the doctor more likely to invite the advisor into her space and ask him to spend some time there because the advisor has implied that he knows more about the doctor’s financial future than the doctor does.

Effective ambiguity is compelling because it creates intrigue. It also tells your audience that you know the answers to questions and/or challenges that concern them, but of which they may not be aware. In this way, the advisor who uses effective ambiguity has moved from telling his audience whom he helps to getting them to ask how he can help them.

Effective ambiguity allows you to qualify or gauge the interest of a prospect. In our example, if the doctor has no interest in preparing for her retirement or learning about the three challenges she will likely face, she probably isn’t the right client for this advisor.

Because the elevator speech is a first face-to-face impression with prospects and potential referral sources, how you deliver your description is as important as its context and substance. Give the speech with confidence and conviction—you may want to practice the speech until it becomes second nature to you. It does not matter whether someone else is listening as you practice. Focus on becoming comfortable delivering your brand message and sounding natural as you do.

Excerpted from The Power of Practice Management by Matt Matrisian (Wiley & Sons, 2013)

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