Sunday, May 6, 2012

So what do you do? (tick, tick, tick...)

I had the opportunity last week to speak at a Forrester Conference on the topic of Deliberate Practice. I’ve written about this before, but wanted to focus on one particular opportunity we all have.

The picture to the left is of Santonio Holmes, a wide receiver who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII (43). This shows his winning, come from behind, touchdown catch with less than 40 seconds to play.

The picture begs two important questions:

  • How many opportunities does an NFL wide receiver have to catch a winning, come from behind touchdown, with less than a minute to play, in the most important game of the season - in their entire career?
  • How often do you think they practice for this play?

Most wide receivers will never get the chance, yet they practice for this opportunity all the time.

Well, we’re not wide receivers, and our success has little to do with catching footballs, but here is an analogy that fits well. How often do we practice our elevator speech? This is the speech, or answer that we’d give if we found ourselves caught on an elevator with our CEO who has just asked, “So what do you do?”

Our answer must:

  • Be short, yet clear
  • Contain no jargon, technical language, or inside-meanings
  • Express a value the receiver will appreciate
  • Have no assumptions as to context

This is as hard as running at a dead sprint to the corner of the football field, leaping into the air, landing with both feet in bounds, while maintaining control of the ball.

You may wonder how many times you’ll need this answer and whether or not it is worth it to have something prepared. Seriously? Would you want to risk having 30 seconds with your CEO, Chairman, or a dozen other high-profile executives in the company, who happen to ask what you do, and you have to be extemporaneously clear, clever, and concise?

Having prepared a short (20-30 seconds) response also helps you define for yourself the value you bring to the organization (which could be useful next February, if you catch my drift!!).

Thomas Jefferson once remarked that he was going to write a long letter because he didn’t have time to write a short one. Your elevator pitch will take time, and you will likely fail miserably on the first five tries. You will have implicit assumptions about your department, or you’ll use what you think is common terminology, or you’ll focus too narrowly on scope.

Write it down. Edit it. Set it aside. Try again tomorrow. Try it out on people who have no idea what you do. If they nod politely, you failed. Try again. The co-worker in the next cube is of no help, they know too much detail. Don’t “dumb it down” rather, abstract it up.

In your entire life you may only get one opportunity to win, coming from behind, with seconds to play. Be prepared. Practice this deliberately.

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