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Perfecting the 30-Second Elevator Pitch: The Ideal Summer Poolside Activity

Marcelle Yeager

Memorial Day has passed and it's officially summer. That means the start of BBQs, beach visits, vacations and pool time. Let's be honest: This isn't the time of year you want to think about your job or where you want to go next with your career -- you're thinking about vacation, not updating your résumé or searching for jobs. But there is something slightly less intimidating to think about during the summer that won't require tons of work, and best of all, you can use it at all your summertime festivities, including on vacation: The elevator speech.

The elevator speech, or elevator pitch, is a short speech that shares who you are, what you do and where you want to go. You're probably thinking, "how can I cram all that information into only 30 seconds?" Here's how. You may want to take out a pen and paper or your computer.

1. What I do: Think of this as a summary of your résumé. If you feel your current title reflects your past work experience and is related to where you want to go next, use it. If not, come up with a new label that relates to the work you've done or want to do. How many years have you spent in your industry? Are you working toward a degree?

2. Keep it simple: When you come up with the new title to describe what you do, it needs to be something basic that anyone from outside your world would understand. Steer clear of acronyms and other industry jargon.

3. Where I am going: Are you planning to relocate? Are you shifting careers entirely? What kinds of positions are you looking for? Maybe you're not going anywhere, or at least for the time being. Then you can simply say, "I live in Boston and I'm very happy there because I like my job and I'm near my family," or "I love being an IT project manager because I get to help nontechnical people understand the technical side of business." Stating anything positive about your life will do so that you end the pitch on a good note.

An elevator pitch is all about selling yourself (figuratively, not literally) to the other person. You're presenting you to a stranger who you may be interested in knowing better. If all goes well and you peak their interest, the conversation may keep going. But how do you add the hook to make the discussion last for more than 30 seconds?

In a post for Technori.com, B.J. Mendelson, a freelance marketing consultant, writes that crafting an elevator speech is easy: Compare what you're selling to something the person you're talking to understands. If you're in sales, that may make a lot of sense, but if you're not in that field, how can you apply it to your situation?

When crafting your speech, you're not just looking to tell a person about yourself, but to sell yourself to that person and make him or her want to get to know you better. If all goes well, you could end up with a referral. Yes, you want your listener to understand what you want, but the important piece is that he or she understands it -- again, back to keeping it simple.

Example 1

"Hi, I'm Jessica Jones and I've spent 15 years as a tax accountant in a large firm. I've always been interested in entrepreneurship, so I'm looking to move to a startup company in the next year. I'd like to stay in this area because my family is here."

Ideally, you should add a question at the end or ask for some advice to continue the conversation. This is easier to do when the other person spoke first about herself, because you may then ask a follow-up question. People love to offer advice, so it's always a good thing to ask for guidance. If you've presented yourself first, you can end your pitch asking about what field she's in, where she's from, or what brought her to that vacation spot or event.

Example 2

"Hi, I'm Joseph Smith and I've been working as an administrative assistant in the federal government for three years. My passion is basketball and I'd really like to get into sports management, so I'm thinking of going back to school for that. I'm from California and I'd like to get back there because it's still what I consider home."

Depending on how much you know about the person with whom you're speaking, you could ask a question here such as, "Since you mentioned you went to graduate school, I'd appreciate any advice as to whether you think that's a good next step." As in example No. 1, if you've gone first and you don't know a thing about the other person, say something like, "What brings you here?" You can always ask for advice as a follow-up to their elevator pitch.

Asking for guidance or throwing out something that connects you are some of the best hooks. Say what you have to say in plain and simple terms, and then go for the sales pitch. Why should this person want to know you better? If you're in similar fields, that's easier because you can expand on your background and talk in the same industry language. If you're in completely different fields but you're still interested in knowing him or her, it's trickier. You need to draw a comparison to what you do or are interested in with what he or she does. It requires thinking on your feet. That's why it's important to have the basic pitch down pat so you can be ready to listen and be creative when the conversation starts.

Practice. That's the only way to master your 30-second speech. The more times you do it, the more comfortable and confident you become. So use your summer vacation or poolside time to strike up some conversations and practice that speech. Even if it's not with the goal of getting you somewhere further in your career, you're practicing for the real thing for when you're recharged at the end of the summer.

Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet, which delivers personalized career navigation services. Her goal is to enable people to recognize skills and job possibilities they didn't know they had to make a career change or progress in their current career. She worked for more than 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Yeager holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.

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