'Elevator speech', also known as the 'elevator pitch
' is a quaint, time-honoured feature of direct lawyer marketing. And there's a reason I say 'lawyer
marketing': it is delivered by the lawyer accompanying the client on the firm's premises over the short time span the two spend together in the lift. But, an 'elevator speech' doesn't always involve a lawyer, or a lift. The concept is that of a 30-second time space in which you get to present your idea to someone who might buy it, or not. As the Wiki article has it, the 'elevator pitch' is sometimes used by angel investors to determine the quality of the potential investment.
Proz.com employs several similar concepts in its translator profiles: the tag line and the user message, which are even more condensed (think 5 or 10 seconds), but also the meta description of your profile, where a meta description is basically the elevator pitch a website delivers in search results, for example in Google. Finally when you subscribe to the free webinar about meeting clients through Proz.com, the staff are likely to ask you to introduce yourself very briefly as a preparatory exercise. Yes, that's actually a real example of elevator speech.
As a freelance translator, you are not particularly likely to deliver speeches in physical lifts, unless perhaps they belong to your client or a conference centre or a business chamber or translation association. Interpreters will face more such opportunities, perhaps in a courthouse or even a very real lift carrying you to a law firm's quarters, except this time the escorting lawyer will be listening while someone else is doing the talking.
Most of your elevator speeches will probably happen on the phone, or Skype, or e-mail. Oftentimes, e-mails about potential collaboration resemble an elevator speech committed to writing more than a traditional cover letter or offer. The same can be very similar to space-limited fields in various online profiles, where you can only fit one, two or three sentences, down to the profile statement in your CV (résumé).
To prepare your elevator speech, as opposed to a longer piece of copy, you pick the most important information, or the information which is the most important right now
, in your opening move. This is a bit like chess: you get a more controlled chance at making a good first impression while your potential client is listening and will respond with his own move only when you're done, not earlier (although the manner in which he will respond may be determined halfway through your presentation).
Most people just say who they are and what they do. Realistically, that's not bad. It's certainly better than a rag-tag assortment of words and phrases strung together without much thought to glue them up. As an upgrade, however, you may be interested in ditching the degrees and credentials, which are plain boring, and delivering a good 30-second story instead. An idea doesn't really need more time to prove its mettle.
Lawyers have discovered
that talking about yourself and your business is not really that engaging. Perhaps yawning faces of business clients have eventually convinced them of that. Elevator speeches are being refined to make them client-centred (probably the single most important phrase in legal marketing these days) and at least talk about the benefits they bring to their clients or present their work in a more interesting and engaging. For example: 'I help people earn their first million by taking care of the legal side of their business idea,' instead of, 'I practice start-ups.' But you'd better believe in what you're saying, or you'll only make it worse.
This takes us to Simon Sinek
and his Golden Circle
concept, in which he suggests dropping the traditional What-based and Who-based marketing concepts and instead focus on the Why, then the How and only then (and most briefly) the What, which is about the opposite of what translators normally do – including yours truly (for example, I still don't have a Why anywhere). He uses the powerful example of Apple's marketing strategy, but there is nothing there that a solo translator couldn't use. In fact, you are given free of charge the same strategies that the world's largest and most powerful and rich corporations might have paid some really serious money for and tested for you. But you do need to do the footwork and the brain exercise.
In Simon's example, Apple doesn't tell people that it makes computers, which are beautifully designed and simple to use, and that's about it, where the Why is basically what we've already said. I would say that basically amounts to letting the world know you exist and nothing more than that, just like filling in information to be listed in a directory. On the contrary, Simon quotes them as talking about how they believe in challenging the status quo and thinking differently. Making the computers beautifully designed and simple to use is how they put that idea into life. Making computers ultimately seems to be just a medium, a platform.
In quantitative terms, Simon's reconstructed elevator speech of Apple takes about 19 seconds total. Of that, the Why (i.e. the idea) takes 9 and is quite a tale to listen to. After a pause, the How takes perhaps five seconds. The What is exhausted in a matter of two. After another pause, the speech is rounded out by a call to action, three words total: 'Wanna buy one?'. I'd probably want to mitigate the call somewhat (not a question or imperative, at any rate), but it's probably a good idea to keep it there for some closure.
In her two-hour presentation
at TraduEmprende (24 May 2013), Marta Stelmaszak discusses the application of the Golden Circle to translators in connection with the Blue Ocean strategy, in an integral way that discussed the entirety of presentation and approach. However, when introducing the Golden Circle Why-How-What approach and adapting it to translators' needs, she essentially uses the elevator speech to warm the audience up and have them thinking. Her own and the students examples of Why, How and What are good, workable, translator-specific examples of elevator speeches at work.
Make yours. It should take no more than 30 seconds, preferably 20. Don't overedit it, it has to be natural even though you do need to invest enormous mental strain in it. It has to be rehearsed, but it cannot be played from the record (your clients will know the difference). Bonus task: avoid using 'cost-effective solutions' (i.e. cheap), 'cutting-edge technology' (your CAT is not one), 'flexible' (i.e. weekend and night work free of additional fees) and any other Red-Ocean-y catch-phrases from a cutthroat market engaged in a race to the bottom. Get yourself a more Blue-Ocean-y elevator speech that sets you apart and makes you and your clients connect. But for starters just present your idea. You have half a minute to do it.
(As a side-note, playing with your own marketing like this should give you an increased ability to relate to your clients' needs when you translate their copy for them as a normal job. You might thus become a slightly more competent marketing translator.)