It’s been ten years since I came into contact with the Heath brothers, but I was impressed when I heard Dan (or was it Chip?) speak a few years ago. He was on an author tour, promoting Make it Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (and, yes, I bought the book). And there have been three successful books by the two of them since, and they are recognized as leaders in business and organizational management. Chip’s at Stanford, teaching strategy for businesses and organizations. Dan’s at Duke University’s CASE center where he founded the Change Academy, a program designed to boost the impact of social sector leaders.
I can’t remember how the subject of elevator speeches came up (perhaps it was part of that presentation I heard back in 2007, or in an article written by one of the brothers).
You remember elevator speeches, don’t you? Those quick-and-to-the-point moments we use to tell someone what we do?
Here’s how-to advice from the Heath Brothers, with SMR International’s suggestions for taking advantage of the elevator moment to describe knowledge services:
HB: Think short – no shorter than 30 seconds and no longer than 3 minutes. Time it.
SMR: See below for our less-than-2-minutes elevator speech about knowledge services.
HB: If your topic is complex, use the “anchor & twist” format to orient your audience.
SMR: Here’s our “anchor & twist”: We’re not talking about knowledge “management” or “KM,” which people hear a lot about but don’t understand. We’re talking about knowledge services, a practical, hands-on approach to dealing with overwhelming amounts of information and knowledge. And people understand “services.” Services are things they deal with – buy and sell and negotiate about – all the time.
HB: Don’t wing it, script it. Once you’ve figured out how to explain something well, there is NO value in novelty. Tell it the same (effective) way every time.
SMR: Here at SMR International we’re pretty satisfied with our elevator speech (it’s scripted below). We’ve worked on our content pretty rigorously (we use it a lot) but we’re open to suggestions. Any comments? Would you say it differently?
Try it out loud in front of a mirror and see if it works for you. If it doesn’t, tell us how you would change it. Or how you would describe knowledge services in your own elevator speech, where you work.
HB: ‘Why’ comes before ‘What.’ People will understand better what you’re doing if they first know why you’re doing it. Here’s the example: “Most people invest some of their savings and give some of it away to charity. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could do both at once – get interest AND impact? That’s why we invented the Calvert Community Investment Notes.”
SMR: We start off with the problem, the why: people just can’t deal with all the information and knowledge and strategic learning they have to deal with on the job. That’s why knowledge services exists. And explains why we’re such big fans of Simon Sinek’s work. Think about why you’re trying to accomplish something before you try to figure out ‘what’ that will be or ‘how’ you will do it.
HB: Mandatory: Include a story. For a product pitch, tell a customer’s story. For a nonprofit pitch, talk about the people you help. For self-promotion, highlight a time when you nailed it.
SMR: In our example, that’s the reference to Phil in fund-raising. Use what works.
HB: Check out other pitches for inspiration.
SMR: The inspiration bit has to be handled carefully. At SMR International, we’re a business. We’re consultants, and we’re in the advising “game.” It’s what we do, so we have to go back to story-telling to inspire (and our story-telling doesn’t necessarily match the “making-life-better” model for inspiration — what we advise about is workplace focused). Our “inspirational” note is something along the lines of: “With knowledge services, management at the Such-and-Such Company was able to reduce transaction costs, and it made a difference in how funds could be allocated.” But we don’t use it all the time, and we’re careful when we do use it. Sometimes it isn’t appropriate. And we’re careful about naming the company — we only name the company if the client permits us to do so.
Here’s SMR International’s version of the knowledge services elevator speech:
“Good of you to ask about what I do.
“Basically I’m in what we call ‘knowledge services.’ I help people get a handle on all the information and knowledge and learning they have to deal with in order to do their jobs. It’s sometimes called ‘knowledge management,’ or ‘KM,’ and it’s all about what we call ‘strategic knowledge.’ It’s a big problem, because there’s just so much information and knowledge out there, and so much to learn.
“And that’s why we call it ‘knowledge services.’ Most people just can’t get their arms around the idea of ‘managing’ knowledge, so we make it practical, trying to figure out how to keep track of all we need to know to be good at what we do. Knowledge services combines information management – IT (or ICT) and all the computer stuff – with KM. We hook it up with what we call ‘strategic’ learning, how people learn and share what they know with what others know.
“And it works. Over in the fund-raising section Phil uses knowledge services to manage how his external fund-raisers are doing, what donors they are calling, and how they interact with each other to get to the right people – and not get in each other’s way. Basically, knowledge services just helps you organize and share what you know. And what you need to know. It’s the practical side of knowledge management.
Then you make your pitch:
“If you want me to, I’ll come by and talk with you a little about knowledge services. I’ll bet you’ll find you can save some time-and-labor costs if you apply knowledge services in your section. I’ll be glad to help you.”