Harvard Gets an “F” for an Elevator Speech

[tweetmeme]Even Harvard is teaching people how to develop a one-minute elevator speech.  But I wouldn’t suggest you try the HBS Elevator Pitch Builder.   As various words whiz by on the screen, you’re instructed to click on the ones that would help describe you.  I could barely keep up, much less give any serious thought to how I wanted to position myself.

These are the words I clicked on just because I felt I had to do something:  principal premier peerless leading inaugural key pioneering realistic preferred pioneering (oops, clicked that word twice) established dominant authoritative progressive.  Now these words are supposed to help me develop my personal brand?

I hate the term “elevator speech.”  As I’ve written before, that’s the little story about yourself that you tell someone you have trapped in an elevator.   It’s supposed to be your introduction that gets them to do something wonderful for you.

The problem with the term “elevator speech” is that is trivializes an important process – learning how to position yourself to the people and companies that are important to you.  So from now on in this piece we will use the term “positioning statement.”  Some people call it their personal brand.

Developing Your Personal Positioning

Positioning is how important internal and external audiences, including customers, prospects, community leaders and the media perceive you.  Another way of understanding positioning is that it’s the words you would want other people to use in describing you.

Positioning is what sets you apart from your competition. For example, while we’re on the subject of Harvard, that school is positioned as the leading college brand.

People, like companies, have positionings, too. Individuals are often identified with pre-fixes:  i.e.: Harvard MBA, Nobel Prize winner, Playmate-of-the-month, 350-hitter, salesman of the year, etc., that automatically positions them.

As you define your positioning statement, or personal brand, think of the attributes that set you apart from the competition.  These can include:

  • Technical expertise
  • Industry specialty
  • Academic credentials
  • Awards and recognition
  • Service to the community

Once you know your strengths and key differentiators, put them into a statement that describes you accurately, is easy to understand and answers the question of a potential listener, “What’s in it for me?”

Developing your positioning statement (remember, we no longer call it an elevator speech) takes a lot of thought and self-evaluation.  It’s not something you make up by clicking on a stream of words in the HBS Elevator Pitch Builder.  Let Harvard stick to developing case studies and building future corporate leaders.  Each of us can develop our own personal brand without Harvard’s help, thank you.

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  1. Maybe they get an F for online design of the tool, but it’s not as bad as you make it out to be.

    You’re not supposed to just click the word stream…. you’re supposed to write real sentences that make your positioning statement. the adjectives at the bottom are just idea starters.

    I wrote 2 separate positioning statements using it, for 2 different situations, and I found it helpful to clarify my thoughts by breaking it into the 4 sections HBS describes.

  2. With due deference to those on this thread, I found this little app weird in its construction and unnecessary. Why does anyone need an over-engineered web-based crawl of corporate jargon to create two sentences to explain what it is you do? It’s also a bit illustrative of the meanderings of Harvard and its various schools these days. I say this with much love for the institution, as I am a graduate, but I would beg them to please to spend their time more meaningfully than on elevators, of which there are relatively few at Harvard. “Good morning” is about all you can accomplish on one of theirs.