Well, for starters, it shouldn’t really be a speech, but rather a brief exchange between two people momentarily sharing a connection in passing. But essentially, your piece of this exchange should be a roughly 30-second explanation of what you do (or what you would do amazingly well if given the opportunity) in language that’s clear, concise, and conversational. It’s an essential part of your professional brand, and yet often it’s one of the toughest things to come up with.
Based on the idea that you’re in an elevator with someone who asks you what you do and you’ve got the length of the elevator ride to dazzle them (or at least pique their interest), your description should focus not so much on what you do, but on the benefits of what you do for your employer, customers, or perhaps clients. If possible, you want to tailor this information to resonate with your listener; as Mary Ellen Bates has pointed out, this is much easier to do if you can first find out a bit about your fellow elevator rider.
As noted, you want your self-description to explain not just what you do, but also the benefits those skills provide. So, for example, you might start out with a statement similar to one of these:
“I’m a librarian at the Castlewood Public Library, and I use my information skills to work with job-seekers who are unfamiliar with online job-hunting to help them increase their confidence and success rate.”
“I’m a programmer with a company that develops websites for online retailers, and I help clients translate their ideas into terrific purchase experiences for their customers.”
“I manage a great team of information specialists who manage and analyze data for a business consulting firm that places in the top five customer satisfaction rankings every year.”
“I’m an HR specialist and I get to work with all of our new hires to make sure they’re successful in their new careers with our college library.”
“I’m studying to get my master’s degree in information science so I can get my dream job working with a law firm that specializes in environmental law.”
“I recently graduated with a degree in instructional design, and I’m currently volunteering with the local community college while pursuing job openings with all of the different types of companies that need instructional design.”
Creating a Conversation
Notice how each of these statements positions you to your fellow elevator rider: you’ve expressed enthusiasm for what you do, you’ve indicated that you’re an engaged professional, and you’ve demonstrated that you’re sufficiently confident to be able to talk to a stranger.
By also graciously asking about the other person, you’ve demonstrated your social skills and emotional intelligence. In fact, this approach provides you with two benefits: 1) you don’t come across as a self-absorbed, boring jerk, and 2) it tells you whether the conversation might develop into a valuable professional connection for you both.
In addition, each one of these possible introductions gives your companion an opening to ask you more about what you do. It’s almost as if you’re providing the opening line of an interesting story. If you’ve expressed enthusiasm for your work (or potential work), people are likely to want to hear more, which gives you an opportunity to talk a bit more about your career and/or career aspirations (with the goal of demonstrating your value and contribution). If asked, you can give an example of something your skills enabled you to do that you’re really proud of, or think especially interesting. Or you can ask the other person to share the same about himself or herself.