How an Elevator Speech Makes Holiday Small Talk Easier
Let’s be honest: small talk can be difficult during the holidays. After all, everyone knows that one friend who always brings up your most embarrassing moments, or that uncle who only has about five short sentences in him before he retreats to the couch.
But you know what can be even worse than holiday small talk? When someone asks, “So, what do you do?” and you have no idea how to answer.
As someone whose work is almost entirely online, explaining to my relatives how posting on LinkedIn is part of my job can be a struggle at the best of times.
And when it comes to property and asset management, a lot of people have no clue what that even means.
“I work in property management.”
“So, like real estate?”
Yes, the truth is, whether you visit relatives, do a gift exchange with friends, or go to an office party to snag some sugar cookies, you’ll need to chat with someone who doesn’t understand your job. So how do we navigate holiday occupational chit-chat without trying to drown ourselves in eggnog and champagne? I’ve found that preparing an elevator speech just for this situation is incredibly helpful.
You may already have an elevator speech prepared for networking with others in your profession. But I’ve found that words like “social media marketing” tend to zoom over my grandma’s head. Likewise, you may get some confused looks when you bring up “RFID tracking.”
That’s why today I’m going to walk you through creating an elevator speech just for small talk. While I’m focused on end-of-year celebrations, you can alter this speech for all kinds of events and situations.
Your second cousins and future Uber drivers will thank you.
Start with the basics
In the movie Philadelphia, Denzel Washington’s character asks his clients to “Explain this to me like I’m a six-year-old.” This is because in order to do his best job as a lawyer, he needs to understand the situation thoroughly. The best way for him to do that is for his clients to explain their problems simply and plainly.
In order for a great-aunt/co-worker/friendly stranger to participate in the conversation about your job, they need to understand your job. So, explain your job like you would to a six-year-old. Use plain language or skip details if you need to.
Avoid as many industry terms as possible. It would be nice to use “RFID tracking” at home as often as we use it among our peers, but it likely won’t be understood the same way.
Explain why your job exists
Most people learn the purpose of firefighters and garbage collectors when they’re young. But some jobs are less common, less easy to explain, or may not have even existed until recently. If your job falls into one of these categories, you’ll have a little more communications work to do.
In keeping with our first tip, keep to the basics. This isn’t the time to bring out all your colorful charts and graphs.
Instead, get down to the nitty gritty of what your job does. What is your working environment? How do you interact with other parts of the organization? How does it help the organization as a whole? How does it help others outside the organization?
Not everyone understands why government property managers avoid CARs by performing CSAs, but most people can understand how a manager helps to find and fix problems that could get a government contractor in trouble.
Use examples and analogies
When you’re explaining a job that someone’s not familiar with, it’s helpful to compare the unfamiliar with the familiar.
Examples are also helpful, because they make something abstract more real.
An example about examples
I improvised what I now use as an elevator speech while chatting at breakfast during a marketing conference. When my tablemate asked what my company does, I replied, “We provide asset management software.”
“Asset management…as in dealing with stocks?”
“No. The software helps manage assets that are physical objects.”
She still seemed confused. “Oh, okay…”
“For example, think about this hotel the conference is in. They set up dozens of tables for breakfast. They probably have hundreds of coffee mugs and tablecloths. How did they know they had enough to host breakfast? How do they know if they actually have less if a waiter drops a plate or if someone swipes a mug? Tracking that is what asset management is for.”
“Oh, that makes sense. I never thought about that before!”
Why this worked:
- The example uses common knowledge and familiar
- We talked about the conference (and by extension, the hotel) because that was common ground.
- The example is relevant to who I’m speaking to
- We talked about the hotel because she could easily imagine the impact not having enough plates or tables would have on her breakfast.
Let’s break down how to translate a typical elevator speech into a small talk-friendly speech.
“I work in Property for a government contractor. We help increase operational efficiency and improve the ROI of manufacturing.”
Not bad, but we could lose some jargon.
“I work in Property for a government contractor. We help other departments work better and create better [what you manufacture] with less waste.”
Yes! This explains what you do and why in simple language. If need be, you could simplify further by explaining what a government contractor is. How much you simplify depends on who you’re talking to and how much they know. When in doubt, I prefer to simplify as much as possible.
Small talk is just another form of communication. You work with what you and the other person know to share ideas and build a connection, however brief.
When it comes time to talk about your work, you don’t have to stumble through half-hearted explanations or deflect to another subject. You can improve your communication skills to better talk about how you make a living. When you strengthen your communication skills, you learn to talk about things like your work with anyone, from colleagues to your boss to your father-in-law.