Develop an Elevator Pitch

Managers who create a two-minute summary of what they do clarify goals and minimize distractions.

By Edward Muzio Jul 1, 2009
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July CoverCreate a two-minute story of what you and your team do—and stay on task.

In the space of a one-minute elevator ride, an effective salesperson gives you a compelling pitch about his or her offerings—why they are valuable to you and why you want to buy them. By the time the elevator doors open, you know whether you want to continue the conversation.

Using the “elevator pitch” model to develop a summary about what you do at work can increase productivity and reduce stress in a complex, high-pressure work environment. A verbal summary output (VSO) list is an infomercial about your purpose at work. Your VSO list can clarify your goals, advertise your purpose and minimize distracting, irrelevant requests.

Say What and Who, Not How

A VSO list is a simple statement of what you are trying to do and with whom you are doing it. Each VSO on the list follows a simple format: I spend X amount of my resources working with Y on Z result.

VSOs differ widely, depending on purpose and level of authority. An individual contributor might say, “I spend 25 percent of my time working with Tammy in processing to ensure 100 percent collection of accounts receivable.” A front-line manager’s VSO may say, “One-fifth of my time is spent on quality control to ensure a 0.5 or lower defect rate in production.” A senior manager might specify that “$400,000 of my $1 million budget is allocated to on-time delivery of Product 2.0.”

While scope and metrics vary, each statement is specific regarding output and partners. The statement answers the questions of what must be done and who else is involved. A VSO never addresses how the work is accomplished. A salesperson doesn’t talk price or payment terms in the first 90 seconds; you shouldn’t talk process too soon, either.

Limit the List

You can write five to seven VSOs that make up about 80 percent of your responsibilities. Because you will be stating the list verbally, you might find it useful to prepare a short opening sentence that explains your role in the company.

Like an elevator pitch, your introduction and five to seven VSOs should take one to two minutes to articulate. By limiting your list, you make it memorable. Because you recite it from memory, you will advertise your purpose more often. And because listeners will recall your comments easily, they will understand and remember what you accomplish.

Share Often, Adjust Frequently

Recite your VSO list at every opportunity. Use it as an introduction, a status update to your team and a discussion starter with your manager. Repetition will refine your understanding of your purpose and your organizational leaders’ perception of your goals. You will find yourself initiating conversations about what you’re doing, seeking partners and negotiating for resources.

A well-crafted, clear VSO list will keep you on track. But this list should not be written in stone. Leave it open to discussion with managers, co-workers and subordinates. Adjust your VSOs as you learn from others’ comments. Your work will better reflect reality, and your organization will see you as purposeful yet flexible. After sharing your VSOs, help peers and direct reports create theirs. You will also be developing a more capable, more communicative and more focused team.

Tips for Writing VSOs

  • Be crystal clear about output, although time to completion can vary between items.

  • Write for a broad audience. Avoid terms not widely understood.

  • Be brief and compelling. Paint a picture of your purpose at work that will resonate with others.

  • Practice out loud. Get comfortable enough so that you can state your VSOs quickly and easily.


The author is chief executive officer of Group Harmonics, a management consulting firm in Albuquerque, N.M., and author of Four Secrets to Liking Your Work (FT Press, 2008).

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Video: Verbal summary outputs (Group Harmonics)

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