The problem is “failure to communicate.” Some time ago, I was in a repair station doing an audit and got into a discussion with the chief inspector. He told me that the shop needed a new hot bonder for composite repairs and he was asked to write a letter justifying the purchase to corporate headquarters. He had written the letter and was told that he would be invited before the corporate board to make a written and verbal presentation on expanding the composite shop. He wondered where that assignment had come from. Later he found out that he had been “volunteered” by the general manager who thought it would be good exposure. In other words, he did not want to do it himself. The chief inspector said that he didn’t know what to write and he was not a public speaker. The chief inspector knew that I write articles for AMT Magazine and that I frequently speak to groups of technicians and participate in IA renewal seminars around the country. I assured him that anyone can get up in front of a crowd and make a fool of themselves. That was the last thing he wanted to hear. We went to the conference room and had a long discussion. I suggested that he tell the shop’s story. He had that deer-in-the-headlights look. I could tell he was questioning whether I would be of any help to him. I asked, “What do you want the audience to know and what do you need to tell them to get acceptance of your proposal.” I explained that often decision makers will make up their minds in the first five minutes. In matters where technical issues are involved the financial bean counters have the attention span of a gnat. I asked, who is your audience? All he could tell me was he thought that they were bigwigs. We agreed that we had a lot of work to do to be ready for this. The problem was that he had a full plate already and the general manager had literally said you’re on your own because he didn’t have time either. I offered another great wisdom. If you don’t take time on the front end, you will spend the same or more time on the aft end; so do it right the first time. He said, like rework, but what does that have to do with giving a presentation?Creating a presentation
The first thing is to keep it short. He then said I have read your articles and I think you sometimes run off at the words. I thanked him for his literary comment that had a kernel of truth in it. I believe that the speech and the written presentation should have a beginning, middle, and an end. Thanks for the help, he said, “I think I have more important things to do.” I finally said something that caught his attention. “Communicating effectively and getting your point across is a big part of your job.” He wrote the paper that I edited and we developed a presentation outline. What happened to our friend? He is now the general manager. The previous general manager is a vice president at corporate headquarters and has become a bean counter with the attention span of a gnat. Often the best technician is made a lead and the best inspector is made the chief inspector. In my case when I started, I just wanted to fix airplanes. I was good at that, so I was “volunteered” for ever increasing responsibility. With 23 years in the Air Force Reserve I know about volunteering. I worked on airplanes, wrote procedures on them, inspected them, and was chief inspector and director of quality. I flew them, wrote quality programs, and taught them. I wrote procedures manuals. Eventually I got to the point where what I did was manage programs with people who now did all the things that I had done to get me to that point. I also write about it.The benefits of an elevator pitch
I recently had a project that required me to think about communicating a lot of information in a very short time. In this case it was telling the story of a company. Reporters start with questions; they ask who, what, where, when, why, and how, but not necessarily in that order. This is good, but I needed something more. And then I came across an article written by Judith Graybeal of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Economic Development Office. The article is titled, “Going up: Elevator speeches can open doors for business.” The solution was to prepare any elevator speech. In the article there was a discussion about Dan Dipner who provides training on proposal development for a small business innovation research program. He began teaching elevator speeches when he realized that many people are unable to quickly articulate the essence of their proposal, program, or even what business they are in. Graybeal points out that an elevator speech is a compelling statement that expresses the value of a business or project. Dipner says, “It conveys who you are, what you do, for whom, and why your product or service is superior.” Successful speeches are very short or about the length of the time it takes to go between floors in an elevator. “Having a great elevator speech will immediately set you apart just as a good abstract gets a proposal off to a good start.” Elevator speeches can be used in different situations but they don’t come easily. I found they take a lot of thought, effort, and many revisions. While they take a long time to write, they only take a few minutes to give. When people ask technical people about what they do or what they want to do we usually talk about the technology involved and the extensive details of how to build widgets. According to Dipner, “The response ought to be about the customer and product benefits.” I think what he means is asking yourself what’s in it for them. The elevator speech must sound like you would talk and it must emphasize the needs of the listener. This approach will let the audience know that you really have their best interests at heart while you take their money or have them do something for you. You have to make a good impression and sell yourself in the first five minutes. If they want more information they will ask for it. Let’s look at the model for an elevator speech as presented in Geoffrey Moore’s book Crossing the Chasm since it considers the user and the market.
For: List of target customers by groups and identify primary customer.
Who: What is the critical issue that the customer faces? Define the need or opportunity.
The: Name the product or service provided.
Is a: Determine the general accepted category
of the product.
That: From the customers’ point of view list the benefits, not features. Prioritize the benefits and identify the single most compelling reason for the customer to buy, act, or take your point of view. Quantify the benefit.
Unlike: What is the state-of-the-art and who are the competitors or competitive alternatives?
Our: State the product’s/project’s primary differentiation or single thing that sets it apart from the competition or alternative state-of-the-art product.
Elevator speech outline example for XYZ Corporation
For: aircraft manufacturer, owner, operators, and leasers
Who need to: prevent fuel tank fire, and lack light weight, accurate monitoring devices
The: Fly Fiber©
Is a: sensor for percentage of oxygen above fuel in tanks
That: provides pilot and aircraft with real time conditions
Our: integrated system is only such intrinsically safe, sensor system available at this time.
For aircraft operators and owners who need to increase safety and security by preventing fuel tank explosions and cargo hold fires. XYZ’s Fly Fiber© is a system that measures the percentage of oxygen in hostile environments and monitors the inflow of inerting gas to lower oxygen enough so it can not support combustion. XYZ’s Fly Fiber© is state-of-the-art, intrinsically safe, available now, easily maintained, reasonably priced, and ensures “100 percent inerting, 100 percent of the time.”©
Now you have the beginning of a presentation. The middle is an expansion of each part of the elevator statement. You can make a series of slides using Power Point for a formal presentation, or you may use a flip chart or a black/white board.
Whichever audiovisual method you use, have your notes prepared and have handouts of your presentation available for your audience whether you’re talking to three or 300. Finally, present a summary. Remind your audience of the benefits, not the features. Technical people tend to dwell on how things work. Managers and financial people want to know how it affects the bottom line.
Watch your audience; if their eyes are glazed over and they’re staring into space — you’ve lost them. You may have given them a superior technical presentation, but you failed to communicate. Remember the old saying, “Tell them what you’re going to say, tell them, and then tell them what you said.” With the elevator speech, you can affect the way business is done. You can initiate change. Take the elevator to success and Keep ’em Flying.
Fred Workley is the president of Workley Aircraft and Maintenance Inc. in Alexandria, VA, Benton City, WA, and Indianapolis, IN. He holds an A&P certificate with an IA.