Q. What exactly is an elevator speech?
A. Imagine you step onto an elevator and find yourself standing next to the Big Garbanzo Bean of the company you’re dying to work for. In the next 30 seconds, before the elevator reaches the floor where the BGB gets off, you have an opportunity to sell your qualifications and state how your talents are precisely what that company needs in an employee.
Q. So the speech doesn’t have to be about an elevator?
A. No. Unless the BGB runs an elevator company.
Q. What’s the main difference between an elevator speech and a speech down at the weekly luncheon of the Red Raccoons?
A. Red Raccoons?
Q. It’s the service club I belong to. We try to expose convicted felons—like murderers and drug dealers—to bluegrass music.
A. As a form of punishment?
Q. Oh no. We believe that the kind of music they listened to before they were felons—usually loud, angry hip hop and rap music without any banjo in it at all, contributed to their societal downfall. We think a complete change of music will inspire them to spend their time picking and grinning when they get out of prison.
A. You’re talking about teaching hardened drug dealers to play the banjo?
Q. And the fiddle and the mandolin and the dobro. And don’t forget singing in that high lonesome harmony. That can really move you.
A. So can a bowl of green chili.
Q. By the way, we insist each felon sign a pledge vowing to give up whatever crime it was that got them in trouble–like drug dealing and murdering. If we hear about them dealing drugs or murdering somebody we take back their instruments and kick them out. You’d better believe that sends a message that we’re serious.
A. I was just going to ask if you were serious.
Q. You’d better believe we’re serious.
A. Right. So where were we?
Q. I asked you what was the difference between an elevator speech and a speech down at the Red Raccoon’s weekly luncheon.
A. See, an elevator speech isn’t really a speech. That’s just a metaphor. Think of it more like a very focused sales pitch. Instead of selling a car or an insurance policy, you’re selling yourself. Lemme ask you though. Do you have, like, a special raccoon handshake?
Q. It’s not like that. We don’t have a handshake or raccoon coats or a raccoon song. We don’t dress up like raccoons or make raccoon noises or ride around on tiny raccoon motorcycles. I told you, we’re a very serious bunch. So, when you start your elevator speech, you don’t have to acknowledge the people at the head table? Or make an announcement that somebody left their headlights on out in the parking lot?
A. There wouldn’t be a head table on an elevator. Not usually.
Q. See, that’s exactly the kind of information I’ve been looking for.
A. What if you had a convicted murderer who already listens to bluegrass music? Maybe even plays the banjo?
Q. We’re talking about a hypothetical case now?
Q. I mean, we could also talk about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, I suppose.
A. You wouldn’t try to get that guy to listen to hip hop or rap would you?
Q. What? And risk exposing him to a life of crime and debauchery?
A. But he’s already a criminal, remember? Hypothetically.
Q. You see, being as serious as we are, we deal only in real world issues.We try to leave the fiction to the historians.
A. You haven’t even considered that possibility, have you?
Q. I have another elevator speech question. May I continue?
A. Have you ever listened to a complete rap song?
Q. Can you give an elevator speech on an escalator?
A. That would be an escalator speech, which is not my department. Off the top of my head I’d say an escalator is a completely different paradigm with a different set of epistemological expectations. Is it an escalator in a department store or one of those long things in an airport? Is the person you’re trying to give the speech to standing in the standing lane or walking—even running–in the passing lane? Maybe there’s an urgent need to find a restroom. Your escalator speech would have to consider all possibilities. But don’t quote me. Escalators are not my comfort zone.
Q. What happens when you get on an elevator and someone else is already giving an elevator speech to the person you want to speak to?
A. Start laughing hysterically. Laughter is contagious. Pretty soon the Big Garbanzo Bean will be laughing too. If, however, you find you’re the only one laughing you might want to get off at the next floor.
Q. I live in a small town that has only one elevator. It’s down at our bank which has only two floors. The elevator is used exclusively by old man Moonan, the bank president. Plus there’s Wally Snortz’s grain elevator just outside of town.
A. Do you want to work for old man Moonan?
Q. No, of course not.
A. What about Wally what’s his name?
Q. Snortz. He’s my brother-in-law.
A. Is that a yes or a no.
A. There you have it then.
Q. There I have what?
A. The essence of the elevator speech. To give one you must go where there are not only serious elevators but elevators with serious garbanzo beans on them. Look, how many of these convicted felons have you actually converted to bluegrass?
Q. None so far. We’re still looking for funding.
A. Hmm. Have you considered approaching wealthy banjo players?
Q. Is that some kind of joke?
Q. So what’s the most important thing about elevator speeches?
A. Never give an elevator speech on an up elevator. People going up are usually just coming into work in the morning and are tired and grouchy. Or they’re riding to a higher floor than theirs for a meeting with the big boss who is probably going to ream them out for shoddy work on the Ferguson report. They might even be riding to the top of the building so they can jump off. The people on the down elevator, however, are usually going home, or out to lunch or safely back to their floor from the boss’s floor. So their spirits are bound to be higher and they are more likely to listen and to say yes. But watch out. They may be going down because they’ve been fired.
Q. Would it be okay if I brought my banjo along? You know, to do a little picking as kind of a musical background to my speech?
A. Do you have a pencil? Write this down: Never–underline never three times–NEVER bring a banjo to an elevator speech.
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013, all rights reserved.