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Crowded Elevator

Forget What You Thought You Knew

The anti-elevator speech sect weighs in on making that first impression count.

OK, job seekers — and salespeople, too — do you have your elevator speech ready?

That scripted, finely honed, 30-second, absolutely perfect summary of your strengths and qualifications; because, after all, you only have one chance to make that all-important first impression.

Here’s what one man says to do with it: Dump it.

“Elevator speeches don’t work,” says Cliff Suttle, author of The Anti-Elevator Speech. “They actually repel people. They’re hard to memorize and even more difficult to deliver in a way that truly engages the listener,” he says.

The reason they don’t work, Suttle explains, is that while you’re laser-focused on delivering your 30-second gem, your listener is often thinking about how to get away from you. “An elevator speech is a pitch, and does anyone like to be pitched?” he asks. “A pitch, especially an unwelcome one, can seem like a punch in the face.”

Yes, you probably need a formal pitch in your sales and marketing arsenal, but it should only be used in settings where a formal pitch is expected — in a job interview, for example — not at a networking event. “And you should never use an elevator speech in an elevator,” Suttle implores.

Where did the author get his idea to write this book? Participating in an elevator speech competition, of course. “It was hard to sit through,” he says.

The better approach? A conversation.

“Your listener needs to be invested in the conversation,” Suttle says. “Before you start talking, you need to be sure he or she truly wants to hear what you want to say.”

The Anti-Elevator Speech is a simple four-step system. It starts with the “Confusion Hook” — a brief answer to the question “What do you do?” that will “create two seconds of stunned silence.”

Examples of Confusion Hooks:

“You dream it up. I make it happen.”
“I keep people from dying.”
“I make your business boom.”
Your goal is to truly engage your listener.

The second step is often the hardest one — and that’s to stop talking for a couple of seconds. You need to give your listener time to sort through the confusion and to ask, “How do you do that?”

The third step — the Reel — answers the question, but in a way that elicits more conversation. “Be sure that you are always talking with people — not at them,’ he says. What happens next is the art of conversation.

“World-class conversationalists will only talk about a third of the time,” Suttle says. “In networking situations, this is important. There is no way you can understand the needs of the listener if you’re doing all the talking. Pay attention to the listener’s needs, and a relationship is bound to follow.”

Suttle grew up in Livonia and now lives in Novi. He founded and became the president of, a company dedicated to world-class business/audience communications.

Suttle offers this tip to job seekers at networking events:

“Take your time. The classic mistake made by many people is the idea that you have to meet everyone. That mindset leads to shoving your business card in people’s faces and moving on. The only thing you’ll accomplish with this tactic is to irritate everyone in the room. It’s much better to have a meaningful conversation with 10 people than a meaningless one with 100.”

His other advice for job seekers:

“Be unique. Stand out. Don’t be afraid to be different. Employers are bombarded with so many resumes these days that you almost have to be different just to get noticed.”



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