Few impromptu speaking situations are more important today than the “elevator conversation,” that brief, focused pitch. In an age when technology absorbs us, information often overwhelms us, and attention spans are shockingly short, the elevator conversation is the new normal for face-to-face leadership. In the following article, communications expert Judith Humphrey draws from her new book, Impromptu: Leading in the Moment, and explains how to master elevator conversations.

Elevator conversations are the order of the day for time-challenged leaders. But what exactly are they? The term refers to short, on-the-fly pitches you might make anywhere—not only in an elevator, but in corridors, meeting rooms, parking lots and other impromptu settings. Elevator pitches—like the rides themselves—are brief. They involve quick encounters with key individuals—executives, team members, clients, your boss, your boss’s boss. They provide excellent opportunities to promote yourself, your team, or your company. And while they have the appearance of spontaneity, you can master techniques that will ensure your success.

So, how do you create a strong, confident elevator pitch?

Begin by seizing each opportunity. I have a client who often gets her coffee in the morning at the same time her CEO does. She could simply say, “Good morning” or “Did you find the traffic heavy?” Instead, she shares what she’s doing for the company, which investments she has brought in, and how well things are going. Some people might think such self-promotion is intrusive—and it can be, so pick your moments—but what CEO would not want to hear about the good work his people are doing? These encounters have proven valuable for her career.

Also it’s important to have in your mind key messages that will be the core of your pitches. As a seasoned executive said to me, “When you’re looking to grow your career—you have to know the one message you want people to remember about you. It might be that you are looking for a job, or positioning yourself for another kind of opportunity. It really boils down to this: What do you want them to think about you when they walk away?” And when it comes to pitching your company or your team, know the larger point you want your customer to take away.

Once you begin your pitch, organize your thinking on the spot. The best elevator conversations have a structure with four elements: (1) a friendly greeting or “grabber” that bridges to your audience; (2) a message; (3) proof points; and (4) a call to action suggesting next steps. These four elements comprise a template we in The Humphrey Group have developed. It’s called the Leader’s Script®. If you know your messages, and have the Leader’s Script template in mind, you’ll be able to create perfect pitches on the spot.

Let’s say you’re in an elevator and an executive in your firm steps in. It’s just the two of you. Begin by saying hello and introducing yourself. That’s the grabber. Next, cut to the chase and state your message: you’re excited to head up the firm’s new social media strategy. Then give the proof points: two or three reasons why you feel so positive about your role. Close with your call to action: you look forward to supporting the executive’s team. The elevator doors open, and you have made a critical contact. If you’ve presented well, your messages will be remembered, as will you.

Suppose you’re introducing yourself at a seminar or networking event. Here’s a model to use.

“(Grabber) I’m Estelle Vaillancourt. I am a vice president of HR at Bank ABC here in New York. (Message) My mandate is to create a positive working environment for our employees. (Proof points) I do that in three ways: ensuring we have a supportive culture; developing a strong career path for employees; and making our bank top tier in employee benefits. (Call to action) I’ve been with the bank for four years, and look forward to being with them for many years to come.” This short script positions the speaker as a confident and seasoned HR leader. And there are no “um’s” or “ah’s,” because she has thought about her persuasive script before she entered the room. In fact, you can have such an introductory elevator pitch in your “back pocket” for such occasions.

Finally keep in mind as you’re speaking that you want to sound confident. So even if you’re feeling vulnerable, slightly embarrassed, or nervous, position yourself with positive language. Provide your full name when you’re introducing yourself. State what your role is – not simply that you work in department X. Even if you or your team are dealing with challenges, make sure you talk about solutions and accomplishments not problems.

So use these moments to shine a light on your aspirations and skills. Preparing strong elevator scripts will help you thrive in your professional life. 

Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a premier leadership communications firm headquartered in Toronto. She is a communications expert whose business teaches global clients how to communicate as confident, compelling leaders. Judith is also an acclaimed author of three books, Speaking as a Leader: How to Lead Every Time You Speak (2012), Taking the Stage: How Women Can Speak Up, Stand Out, and Succeed (2014), and Impromptu: Leading in the Moment (2017, forthcoming). She speaks about her books and has a regular column in Fast Company. Follow her at www.judithhumphrey.com, on Twitter at @Judith_Humphrey and LinkedIn, or reach out to her at [email protected].