Review: Small Message, Big Impact

This review first ran in the Oct. 9 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Small Message, Big Impact: The Elevator Speech Effect

By Terri L. Sjordin

Portfolio / Penguin


Pick a Hamilton hot topic that gets you fired up.

Maybe you’re passionate about two-way streets, casinos or the fate and future of the eight young women at Lynwood Charlton Centre.

You’re passionate about these issues. But are you persuasive?

Can you win people over? Or do you just preach to the converted, do character assassinations on nonbelievers and anonymously rant and rave to yourself on social media?

Imagine you have three minutes to privately bend the ear of a key decision-maker or opinion leader.

Would you know what to say and how to say it? Would you throw a strike or a ball? Would you be bold or boring? Compelling or confusing? Could you win a longer meeting with a larger audience?

Too many of us succumb to what author Terri L. Sjordin calls the data-dump syndrome. We bury our audience in facts and stats. We cite study after study. If we’re lucky, we inform and educate. But we never persuade and inspire.

What we need is a well-crafted, knock-it-out-of-the-park elevator speech. It’s a brief presentation that cuts through all of the noise that so easily distracts our audience. Sjordin says the purpose of an elevator speech is to “intrigue and inspire a listener to want to hear more of the presenter’s complete proposition in the near future.”

Sjordin’s put together a speech outline that starts with a clear introduction followed by a set of three key points, a succinct conclusion and a powerful close.

“As with building anything worthwhile, structure is essential when developing a presentation,” says Sjordin. “Structure helps you stay on point or get back on point if you wander, and it helps you tell your story. Without it, you’re flying without navigation.”

Your introduction grabs attention. You let your audience know where you’re going and what you hope to accomplish in the next three minutes.

The body of your presentation makes a persuasive case with three main points supported by strong arguments and illustrations.

Your conclusion summarizes what you’ve just said and then leads to your call to action. What is it that you need and want your audience to do?

So what separates good from great presenters? Sjordin says the great meet three benchmarks:

  •  They build solid, persuasive cases and employ clean, logical arguments that support their messages.
  •  They’re creative in illustrating their talking points, blending thoughtful analysis with storytelling to win both hearts and minds.
  •  And they deliver their messages in authentic voices. They speak with rather than at their audience.

“Truly memorable, impactful, persuasive and effective speakers and presenters hit all three benchmarks,” says Sjordin.

Ronald Reagan is regarded as one of America’s best presidential speakers. Sjordin learned a little known fact about the Great Communicator from John Fund, an award-winning political writer for the Wall Street Journal.

“Ronald Reagan basically had a three-minute elevator speech card for a variety of different subjects,” Fund says. “There were times when you could literally see Reagan reach into his pocket and pull out index cards and slide them onto the podium. Depending on where he was going and who his audience was, plus how much time he had to present, he would look over a small stack of cards and select the subject and issue cards that were most relevant and timely for that group.”

Or consider these words of wisdom from former British prime minister Winston Churchill:

“If you want me to speak for two minutes, it will take me three weeks of preparation. If you want me to speak for 30 minutes, it will take me a week to prepare. If you want me to speak for an hour, I am ready now.”

So if there’s a topic you’re passionate about, spend three weeks working with Sjordin’s outline. Craft yourself a compelling and persuasive elevator speech on an issue or idea you care about.

Practise, practise, practise. And then seek out opportunities to make your pitch and argue your case with the people who can help you make a difference.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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