Elevating the Elevator Speech

Kevin Houchin wrote about his fill in the blanks elevator speech strategy earlier this year. This post expands on some of his ideas and takes the elevator speech to the next level.

I think of the elevator speech as more of a cocktail party (or trade show, networking meeting, CLE program or conference) introduction than a true elevator speech. But the scenario is similar: you are at a networking event or a cocktail party and someone asks you, “What do you do?” Many lawyers dread this question, and it shows. It is at this point that you are supposed to say something short but memorable about what you do.  As Houchin notes, this is an opportunity; your response should be a conversation starter. Unfortunately, more often it is a conversation killer.

The typical response is something like, “I’m a tax lawyer” or “I practice matrimonial and family law.” Sometimes the explanations are more complicated, but they almost always focus on the lawyer and the area of law they practice in. How well does this response work for lawyers? If you look closely at the faces of those with whom the lawyer is talking, you’ll see their eyes beginning to glaze over.

So how do you change this scenario so that your “elevator speech” or introduction makes an impact on your audience? Kevin’s suggestion is to use a ‘fill in the blanks’ approach to initially craft your elevator speech, identifying who your clients are and how you help them. This is an excellent start. But I would go even further with the idea that you should not answer the question that was asked. To make Kevin’s fill in the blank strategy even more effective, remember that the key to starting a good conversation is to make it all about them, not about you.

What’s in it for me?

Clients and potential clients perpetually come from the “what is in it for me?” mindset.  They want to know what you can do for them. Emphasize the clients you work with and what they need instead of what you do.  Focus on what the client actually values, not what you think the client values.

To be really effective and grab clients’ attention, you’ve got to answer the question, ‘so what?’ Lawyers tend to market themselves by talking about their knowledge and experience and the ‘features’ of the service they provide, but many clients (even those experienced in using lawyers) may not understand why that knowledge or experience is important to them.

When tempted to talk about features, think about why those features of your service are helpful to the client. How do your particular qualifications provide value to the client? How will your specific experience help clients achieve their goals?

For example, why should the client care if you have been practicing in commercial real estate for 15 years? What if you said that you have been helping clients negotiate real estate contracts for 15 years, so you know what elements are important whether the economy is in a boom or a slump? Or what if you said that your 15 years of experience allows you to recognize which elements of a real estate contract are most negotiable, and which lawyers know their stuff?

Of course, it goes without saying that in order to do this, you must have an intimate knowledge of your clients. You must constantly ask yourself, “Who are you marketing to?

Speak your clients’ language

Knowing your clients well means understanding how they describe their problems and challenges so that you can use those words instead of the typical legalese or industry jargon lawyers use to describe what they do.
Even if your clients know these terms, others in their network (potential referral sources) may not. Use language lay people understand.

Be aware that you may have more than one audience, particularly if you work in multiple practice areas or if you get business from several different kinds of referral sources. Craft an elevator pitch (or several) that will speak to the benefits each those audiences will receive from either working with you or creating a referral relationship with you. Recognize that each audience may have its own unique language.

Make it personal—use examples

Your introduction needs to reflect your unique practice and personality in the same way your website needs personality.

A great way to improve your short introduction is by using a specific example tailored to the person with whom you are speaking. Ask questions and then tailor your comments to reflect their response. For example, if you have a commercial litigation or business practice, you can ask what the person does for a living and then create an example that would be relevant to their business. A business lawyer speaking with a restaurant owner might talk about contracts with suppliers or vendors, or negotiating lease agreements for the restaurant space.

As Tom Kane says on his Legal Marketing Blog, don’t be boring, tell a story instead. Tell stories about ways you have worked with clients in the past.

If you don’t have enough time or information to relate an example directly relevant to your companion’s business or personal interests, relate it to a common or everyday experience. And if you cannot tell your clients’ story, then tell your own. Do you have a specific story that inspired you to become a lawyer or to serve this particular clientele? Tell that story; clients will relate.



  1. Avatar Bob Larson says:

    I know an estate planning attorney whose elevator speech is “I help people overcome fears, address their concerns, and successfully plan for the future.” Every time I hear it, I want to strangle him.

    People don’t like to be sold to, and they can pick up on that snake oil salesman charm the instant he brings it out. Remember what we learned (or should have learned) in law school: answer the question that was asked, not the one you wish was asked.

    If they ask what you do, tell them — I’m an estate planning attorney. Then (and only then) can you embellish on it, and explain why they should care.

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      Agreed. Mine was “I sue debt collectors” (or, in the appropriate company, “I sue assholes”). It started a conversation about why, how, and what I can do to help consumers.

  2. Avatar Wade Coye says:

    It’s very true that “clients and potential clients perpetually come from the ‘what is in it for me?’ mindset.” Even here, some of our clients have read our newsletters or followed our networks and asked us directly, “That’s great. But what does it have to do with me?”

    It’s important to keep that in the forefront of your mind through communications.

  3. Bob:

    I don’t think you need to sound like a snake oil salesman to say something different about your practice that relates directly to your clients’ concerns. Simply saying you are an estate planning attorney may not tell you audience anything, depending upon who they are. Not only that, but as Sam notes, the goal is to start or encourage conversation. I’m not sure that saying, “I’m an estate planning attorney” or “I’m a tax lawyer” does that – and if your audience doesn’t already have a good grasp of what that means to them, they might not ask.

    I can see your point about wanting to strange the person who says they help people overcome fears, address concerns and plan for the future, because that statement alone is so vague and out of context that it’s worse than just saying you’re an attorney. Lots of people help their clients overcome fears, address concerns and plan for the future. The guy could be a financial planner or a social worker, for all you know with his introduction. But if your clients don’t speak in terms of ‘estate planning’ and talk instead about wills or avoiding probate or passing their property to their children, those might be better ways to describe what you do than simply saying “I’m an estate planning attorney.”

    As Sam says, “I sue debt collectors” is so much more interesting and immediately identifiable than saying, “I’m a consumer lawyer.”

Leave a Reply