The Elevator Speech: Possibly the Most Important Start for Any Class

The Elevator Speech: Possibly the Most Important Start for Any Class

by Kevin Siegel, CTT, COTP Follow us on Twitter View our profile on LinkedIn View our videos on YouTube
Several years ago I thought it would be a good idea to get certified as a project manager (project management was the hottest career at the time). I wanted to see if this whole project management deal was for me so I signed up for a 2-day beginner class.

I cannot remember where I took that class (that in itself should tell you something), nor anything about the instructor (that should tell you even more). What I do remember is that the class started horribly.

During those critical first few moments of the class, the instructor stayed seated in a chair at the front of the room and announced, "Hello, I am your instructor today and tomorrow." The instructor didn't provide a name so "instructor" was going to have to do.
It was what came next that set the tone for the class: "I have managed two projects in my career," the instructor said, "And one of them worked out okay."

Huh? Two projects? A 50% fail rate? And you are our fearless leader?

To say that I was apprehensive about the learning that was to come was an understatement. And I wasn't alone. There were probably 20 people in that class, and we all exchanged worried looks.

The instructor then began the class. At least that's what I think happened because the instructor approached the blackboard (yes, a blackboard... this was years ago and we old folk communicated with a blackboard and chalk) and, without facing us, began writing and lecturing and writing and lecturing. It didn't seem to matter who we were or why we were in the class. We were never asked to introduce ourselves, learning objectives were never mentioned, and none of us knew the schedule. And since the instructor's back was to us most of the time, there was no way to ask questions.

A few hours later we were dismissed for lunch (there was no break prior to lunch by the way which means we were in class for three consecutive hours). During lunch, I joined several of my classmates at some eatery or other and we naturaly discussed the class--what we had, or had not, learned up to that point. The consensus was that not only was the class a disjointed mess, the instructor was simply not qualified to teach the class. At no time during the morning session could the instructor offer any real-world anecdotes to help anyone manage a project. Remember I said that the instructor mentioned a 50% success rate? I think the instructor exaggerated that. The information communicated in class had me convinced that if there had really been two projects, both likely failed miserably.

I've been teaching for 30 years (both in-person and online with IconLogic, and I head up the International Council for Certified Online Training Professionals, a certification company that teaches people how to effectively teach online). In my experience, the first few minutes of any class are the most crucial. And it's the first 30 seconds of those first few minutes that set the tone for your entire class. During those first 30 seconds, you as the instructor need to deliver a rock-solid, well rehearsed introduction to your class. This introduction is often referred to as an elevator speech. 

Elevator Speech

Never heard of an elevator speech? Think about getting on an elevator and running into a person that you've been dying to work for your entire adult life. That person engages you in a conversation and asks you what you can do to help their company. There it is... the job of your dreams. If you say the right thing now, the job is yours. Ramble on, stammer... fail to establish credability and you're done. You've got 30 seconds before the elevator ride is over. By that time, your future boss needs to know everything they need to know to hire you. Ready? Set? Go...

When you're teaching a class, those first few moments are your time to shine, to establish yourself as the authority. You are telling your students not just who you are, but why they should listen to you... why they should want to learn from you. And that's where the elevator speech comes in. Write up your elevator speech and, just as important, practice it. Time it. If you cannot say everything a potential boss needs to know about you in 30 seconds, your speech is too long. (When I say "everything about you," I don't mean, "Hi, I was born in Greenbelt, MD. I love Mexican food. I have two dogs." No! I mean everything about you that is relevant to landing the job... or the main reasons your students should listen to you in class.)

Here's an elevator speech I might give if I were teaching a class on eLearning and Adobe Captivate"Hello, my name is Kevin Siegel. I have been a trainer for 30 years and an eLearning developer for nearly 15. I have created hundreds of eLearning projects, a majority of them in Adobe Captivate. I have also written a dozen books on every version of Captivate going back to the beginning of time. During this class I'm not only going to teach you how to use Captivate to create compelling eLearning, I'm going to share with you some of my many eLearning success stories and a few of my failures (yes, I've had them and I don't want you to make the same mistakes). Now, let's learn a bit about each of you."

I can typically wrap up my elevator speech in 25-27 seconds (I know because I've timed it). By the time I'm done with my speech, the students know my name and why I'm qualified to teach them Captivate. They also know that development can be messy... there will be mistakes but it's okay, they can be overcome. After the speech, you listen. Who are your students? Why have they come to class? And on it goes...

What are your thoughts on elevator speeches? Do you think 30 seconds is the perfect amount of time? More? Less? Feel free to share your class start-up techniques. What worked and, just as important, what didn't? What do you do to ensure your class gets off on the right foot? I look forward to seeing your comments.

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