Thursday, November 10, 2016

Wycoff: Don't Write an Elevator Speech; Craft an Elevator Connection

Fall in Grass Valley

Imagine you’re at a writers’ conference and you have lunch with four of your fellow attendees.

You’ve done your homework … you have your business cards ready, your writing sample has been polished to a fine sheen, and you’ve prepared specific questions you want answered during the conference.

You ask the woman across from you, Sarah, what kind of writing she does.
Sarah says, “I’m writing a memoir.”
You wait but she doesn’t say anything more and you don’t know where to go with the conversation, so you turn to Tim and ask him the same question.
Tim says, “I’m writing a nonfiction book about the watershed of Nevada County.”
Water is important, so you exchange a few remarks, but the conversation runs out of steam, so you go on to Alice with the same question.
Alice says, “I’m writing a young adult fantasy novel set in the jungles of the Yucatan where a young heroine has to fight the forces of evil with no weapons or super powers.”
 You thought all young adult fiction was about vampires or zombies, so you say hers sounds refreshing. She says thanks but then silence prevails.

Finally, Sarah asks you the same question.
You say, “Do you guys remember that girl from high school who married her high school sweetheart and had two perfect children and lived happily ever after in the same town?”
 Everyone nods their heads.
Tim says, “Yeah, that’s Jane, she’s in charge of our annual reunion.”
 Alice says,”That was me … until I got divorced. Is that what you’re writing about?”
 You nod and ask, “So, what happens when she wakes up one morning and it's all gone?”
Suddenly everyone is talking about how life changes and telling stories, theirs and ones they know about. By the time lunch ends, you know a lot about each other and they’ve asked for your card and volunteered to be beta-readers for your book.

What happened?

Sarah was winging it. She hadn’t thought much about how she would answer a question that is the foundation of writers’ conferences.

Tim had a basic elevator speech ready. But, it was boring. Sam Horn, a guru of intrigue whom we'll talk more about below, calls this Bore-Snore-Chore. Even if you’re a little bit interested, it leaves the work up to you to ask a question. It’s a chore.

Alice had worked a little harder on her elevator speech. She has some specifics and a challenge built into it. It’s not as boring, but it’s still a chore. She’s telling us but not connecting it to our lives.

And you? You’re the star.
You’re asking a question that almost everyone can respond to.
You’re engaging them, connecting with them, sparking a conversation.

I met Sam Horn when she keynoted the Central Coast Writers’ Conference and she basically exploded the whole idea of elevator speeches.

Here’s what I took away … the normal elevator speech is like a mini-lecture … and few of us like to be lectured to. It’s still lecturing even when you craft an interesting description of your writing. The main problem with the standard elevator speech is that it starts with *me* rather than *you.*

Sam suggests that you craft an elevator connection rather than an elevator speech. You want to kickstart a conversation. One way to do that is to ask a question that gives you some information about what the person wants or needs.

Let’s go back to our lunch table and assume that everyone has watched the Sam Horn video below and crafted an "elevator connection" for their writing. You ask again, "What kind of writing do you do?"
Sarah says, “How much do you know about the challenges your great-grandmother faced?” 
     You answer, “Well, almost nothing, actually. Interesting question."
Sarah says, “That’s what I thought, so I decided that I wanted to write stories for my grandchildren about how my great-grandmother struggled to come to this country. It took her months to travel with her husband and three children by boat to San Francisco. She lost her husband and her infant during the trip, and landed penniless, speaking no English with two children to take care of in a strange land.” You want to know more and a conversation begins.
Tim says, “When you turn on your tap, do you know where that water has been and what it took to get it into your glass?”
     You say, “Well, no, other than it comes from snow pack in the mountains, I don’t guess I do. Tell me more.” A conversation is kickstarted.
Alice says, “Have you ever had to make a tough decision where everyone around you was giving you their advice and all saying different things?” 
      You say, “Omg, yes! I was trying to buy a house once and people kept telling me all these different things about mortgage rates and which loan broker to use. It made me crazy. Is that what you’re writing about?” 
 Alice says, “Exactly! The heroine of my story is a young girl who has to make a tough decision. She’s so overwhelmed by all the conflicting advice, that she runs away into a dreamworld. She faces great challenges and gradually learns to use her own creativity and voice to fight great battles and know what she wants.” 
     You say, “Wow, that sounds interesting. I should read that book.”
 As writers, we repeatedly say, "Show, don't tell." Sam Horn is advising us to "Connect, don't tell." Try it.

For more information about creating an “elevator connection,” watch this video interview with Sam Horn:
Click here to watch.


  1. Ah, the power of questions! Good questions are powerful tools. Excellent post on how to use them to engage people in what we are doing. Thanks.

  2. Thanks, Bob ... it is interesting trying to come up with questions that engage people.