Building a great business is half the journey, communicating it to the media in a way people understand is equally important.
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Effective business communication is an art not a science but there are a few basics that will lift anyone’s game. I have come to the conclusion that each of us who represent a business to the outside world, however that is defined, needs to have a honed and perfected elevator pitch.
You do not need communication skills training to be able to do this well.
An elevator pitch is a succinct, thought-through and rehearsed explanation of what the business does. The idea is that you can use this effective communication technique to describe your company in the time it take to move between floors in an elevator.
We provide communication skills training from London, to Brussels, from Rome to Dubai. And everywhere we go we find the same problem. The world is complicated and everyone makes too many assumptions about what others know and understand.
The most obvious example is at the start of a media training session when almost all executives interviewed make daft assumptions about the knowledge of the (well-briefed) journalist-trainer. Once this is pointed out, it is obvious but it is not just relevant for talking to journalists.
Journalists are coming to you for information, don't assume they know it all already
I am always using my elevator pitch when introduced to new people. I lengthen or shorten it depending on the circumstances.
So what should your elevator pitch include? I think the elements are first an overview or helicopter view. ‘We sell software that helps people cut their use of paper and save money’ or in our case ‘We provide communications skills training, for example teaching people to manage interviews with journalists’.
Secondly add bit of detail e.g. size of the business, number of employees, range of contracts, key clients etc. and finally an example of a good piece of work you have done.
Don’t fall into the trap of telling the story of the company from the beginning in chronological order. The history of the organisation is only relevant if it is memorable and interesting. If it was started in a cow shed in 1901 or was the brainchild of an astronaut, use it, otherwise don’t bother.
Similarly, do not be tempted to use the org chart unless you have a diagram to hand. Explaining how many division and subdivisions there are in the company will bore the pants off anybody.
The overview is crucial because detail makes no sense to people if you don’t provide a frame for it. Once you have the frame you can hang different things on it, but you need the frame.
Helicopter view: It's important to convey the big picture
After the overview grab a few key numbers. Numbers allow people to understand scale, whether that’s scale of an operation, scale of the growth, scale of the potential market. Without scale, people are left wondering or guessing.
But numbers are not the whole story. Never miss out on a couple of examples of what you actually do. If you can name clients so much the better but it is not essential.
‘For example, last week I media trained the CEO of a synthetic biology company in our studio, and the next day a team of us gave Crisis Communications training to one of the rail companies.’ This gives a real flavour or what we do without giving away clients names.
Finally, avoid anything that will trigger the thought ‘she would say that wouldn’t she’. Positive bland statements that have little meaning are not effective communication: to say ‘we provide a great service for our customers’, ‘we are highly respected’, will not impress.
The lack of detail and the overly simple positive sentiment means it is unconvincing propaganda. You might as well not bother.