Elevator speech could be a key to a new job

There’s an appropriate time and place to give an elevator speech, a brief introduction to yourself and your career goals.

That time is anywhere and under any conditions, not just on an elevator while headed to a job interview, said Stanley Witkow of Westport, an expert on the subject of elevator speeches. He will give a presentation during a business seminar on Wednesday, Jan. 11, presented by the Wilton Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives. The event will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at Wilton Library.

“The appropriate time is whenever you meet somebody. I train people to give it in a couple of contexts,” said Witkow, a retired attorney.

“You can do it casually, telling about yourself, oftentimes in a group setting, where everyone has a minute to introduce themselves, which is a different kind of elevator speech,” he said. “Another is for a few people who are focused in your particular field. If you meet people who do what you do, you want to tell them something that is interesting to them, and if with a wide group, you want to appeal to as many people as possible.”

Witkow, who has been teaching elevator speech theory for 10 years, has made it a second career.

“I help people in job transitions who are trying to market themselves effectively and have developed quite a number of skills over the years to be effective in that,” he said. He’s done 20 of these workshops, usually for 60 people at a time.

“The classic situation is you have 30 seconds from the bottom floor to the top floor of the elevator to tell your story — that’s why it’s called an elevator speech,” he said. “It should be interesting enough so that when they get out of the elevator, they want to know more about you. It’s the first step toward getting a job. If people aren’t interested in you, they are certainly not going to pursue you for a position.”

This training is welcome in Wilton, said Debra Hanson, executive director of the Wilton Chamber of Commerce.

“It is a very worthwhile seminar to guide businesspeople in creating that most important first impression,” she said. “SCORE instructs participants in fine-tuning an effective short introductory presentation that identifies them and their business/service as unique and specially qualified. I believe this skill will help owners and professionals become more successful.”

The elevator speech is a critical tool, just like a well-written résumé, but it’s not always intended just to get a job. It could also be part of a sales repertoire.

“A lot of people want to go into small business, and the most important part of doing that is selling,” Witkow said.

That scares some people, because sales is an art form not all relish.

“It comes as a rude awakening to a lot of people, that they have to get out there and sell. They think the customers are just going to come in through the door,” he said.

There are a couple of things to understand about the objective of the elevator speech, Witkow said. “Know why you are giving a speech and to whom you are giving it, appreciating that the elevator speech is not as much about you as it is about the group you are talking to,” he said. “If it’s about sales, it’s not about what you want to sell, it’s about what they want to buy. If it suits your purposes but does not connect with the audience, it’s useless,” he said.

The most important thing is to know whom you’re talking to, or at least pick up cues from them.

“When their eyes begin to roll back, you’ve either got to roll it back or bend it, because once they’re gone, they’re gone and you are toast,” he said.

Witkow is a retired general counsel in the technology field. A native Californian, he also once specialized in entertainment law in Beverly Hills. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from UCLA, and a juris doctor degree from Hastings Law School in San Francisco.

The elevator speech presentation is not the only important business event coming up in January. On Jan. 17, from 6 to 8 p.m., SCORE will present a talk at the Comstock Community Center on how to value your business . On Jan. 19, the Chamber of Commerce is planning the annual Economic Forecast Breakfast at Marly’s Bar & Bistro at 8 a.m.