I was teaching an Elevator Pitch class this week at a local career development center where I volunteer. I normally get a mixed bag of “clients” in the room – industry changers, mothers returning back to work, multiple interview rejection folks, recent grads not knowing which way is up. I would say it’s usually mid-career, people in their 30s – 60s. I take an inside-out approach to the otherwise daunting task of an elevator pitch. Forget what you’ve done historically, talk to me about who you are and what matters to you. We engage, we create, we wordsmith – it’s a fun couple of hours and I love watching people shift from dread to pride around these statements.
So this time, something strange happened. One of my “clients” was 80 years old. She said she was applying for a new job as a site manager at a Senior Center. When I asked what success would look like for her that evening, she said “to learn something new.” Seemed harmless enough. Welcome, Charlotte, glad to have you here.
I start doing my thing and engaging the group and Charlotte begins to question everything I’m saying. I take a few of her comments and live coach them so the rest of the group can see the distinctions. She keeps nagging, refuting, and distracting the class. I teach a piece of content, she tells me why Henry Ford would disagree.
After giving the rest of the group an exercise to try, I pull her aside to get to the bottom of this block. What does she want? The job as the site manager. What are her strengths? She says nothing. I ask again about strengths and she can’t express a thing – only that she is used to being a number 2 her entire career and making the boss look good. Other than that, she’s nothing and nobody. I re-frame that for her, “Charlotte, you are making a shift from being the mastermind behind the operation to now wanting to lead the operation.” She smiles but doesn’t bite. We went back and forth live coaching for 10 minutes while the others worked. She just wouldn’t budge, the walls were thick with pain and fear. She couldn’t think of a single good thing to say about herself and to protect from that pain, she just wouldn’t play or would distract the other players. I was annoyed and her page was empty.
Finally I ask, “Why do you want this job anyway if you think you’re not qualified?” She answered, “To pay my bills and afford my apartment.” I snapped. “That’s a lousy reason, Charlotte. You can get a job anywhere paying the bills. You need to compel me as to why you and why this job.”
I felt terrible. Here I was half a century younger, telling her she’s not showing up good enough to her life. But I instinctually knew that tough love was what she needed. Her story was owning her rather than her owning her story of being a Number 2.
At the end of the session, I had everyone stand to share their elevator pitches in front of the group for some final direction and wordsmithing help from me. Charlotte went last. When it was her turn, I stared at her and simply prompted, “Don’t worry about the pitch. Just share with me how your friends would describe you in this job. What makes you special and what do they love about you?”
Here’s what she said: I always remember people’s names. We have 100 seniors at our center and I know all of their names. I also know all of their stories. They come to us because they’ve lost someone and are lonely. By knowing their stories I’m able to connect people with new friends and they feel whole and complete again. That’s what I do.
It was perfect. The entire room was moved. That was an elevator pitch if I ever heard one. She remembered everyone’s name and behind each name was a story – that was her special sauce in the world.
So I was reminded that night that personal leadership is for everyone – from 0 to 100. Charlotte just happened to be 80. She did learn something new that night, just as she asked. She learned that she can step into her strengths and share about them in an authentic way. From that space, she knew the job was already hers.
And I learned that helping to unravel people’s stories and show them that they matter is really all that matters.
We should start referring to “age” as “levels,” so when you’re level 80 it sounds more badass than just being an old person.Rebel Circus
From Theory to Action
Where do you have walls up so that the story you’re telling is preventing the world from hearing your elevator pitch? An elevator pitch is nothing more than sharing a bit of you – beyond the bit that makes it on a resume or cover letter or LinkedIn profile. I like to think of it as a Personal Leadership statement. Your declaration to the world. What matters to you? How do you activate your strengths in a unique way? Why do you want what you want next?
Next time you feel stuck at a networking event or job interview, don’t succumb to the daunting stress of an elevator pitch. Re-frame it as an opportunity to take one of your foundational strengths (problem-solving, let’s say) and tell a story around how you do that strength of problem-solving uniquely and what impact that problem-solving approach has on the people around you and the organization at large. Follow the simple formula:
Elevator Pitch = Strengths + How You Do Those Strengths Uniquely + Impact Of Those Strengths
If you want to go nuts, try the formula in the reverse order and voila – you have an elevator pitch.