February 2015

The Art of the Elevator Speech

By Christine Hofbeck

Christine HolbeckOn Monday, Oct. 27, 2014, I had the pleasure of presenting a session at the 2014 SOA Annual Meeting (on behalf of the Entrepreneurial Actuaries Section) titled, “The Art of the Elevator Speech” with Andy Sforzini, FSA, CFA, and Chris Raham, FSA, MAAA.

The session was one of the first few to quickly “sell out” during registration. Some actuaries dragged extra chairs into the room, while others waited in a line out the door hoping to take a seat from a no-show. Our enthusiastic audience didn’t disappoint—they eagerly shared questions, comments, and their own personal “elevator speeches” throughout the session.

There were three main objectives to “The Art of the Elevator Speech” session:

  1. Understand the importance of executive presence as the foundation for an elevator speech;
  2. Develop and deliver your own effective and persuasive elevator speech to convey your personal value proposition; and
  3. Expand your network while practicing your elevator speech with peers.

Executive presence forms the foundation of delivering an effective elevator speech. It may be considered in the context of: (1) what you know; (2) how you behave; and (3) how you appear to others. Actuaries who wish to build a strong executive presence must not only deliver against the requirement of strong technical knowledge and sound analysis, but must also consider how they present those results, including:

  • Communicating with confidence;
  • Be adept, clear and concise when dealing with questions from non-actuarial stakeholders;
  • Interpersonal savvy—build a connection with others;
  • Authenticity—be honest and follow through;
  • Empathy—demonstrate openness to others’ opinions;
  • Posture—stand or sit upright, poised and confident; and
  • Conversational ability—be able to participate in small talk.

We shared insight on “Mehrabian’s Rule” (also known as the “7%-38%-55% Rule”) which describes the importance of verbal and non-verbal messaging. Albert Mehrabian’s research suggests that only 7 percent of communication happens through words (be clear, direct, precise). Thirty-eight percent of communication is portrayed through tone of voice (consider emphasis, pitch, speed), and 55 percent through nonverbal cues (body language, eye contact, gestures). While we agree that as actuaries, our verbal impact in the workplace is likely higher than 7 percent, the research regarding tone and non-verbal cues still reflects the importance of being aware of the non-verbal messages we are sending as we communicate.

A strong executive presence enhances the delivery and value of your elevator speech, and lends credibility to it. According to Wikipedia, an elevator speech is “a short summary used to quickly and simply define a person, profession, product, service, organization or event and its value proposition.” The name comes from the idea that you should be able to deliver your elevator speech (value proposition) in the time span of an elevator ride (30 seconds). If the conversation is interesting and valuable, then it will continue later (the goal is “tell me more!”).

Your short and interesting elevator speech should include information on who you are, what you do, and what value you add. It will differ depending on your audience; for example, you would use different words when speaking with a higher-up than you would with a neighbor. You should have your elevator speech at the ready, as you will want to share it during planned networking events, non-planned networking events, and chance encounters. I shared my own real-life example of bumping into a significantly higher-up in the elevator (yes, it really was the elevator!) and being completely unprepared. I consider myself a fairly decent communicator and yet still, “I’m an actuary” did a poor job of relating who I am, what I do, and what value I add to my organization. Remember, a good elevator speech provides enough appropriate information that your audience understands your value without tuning you out.

Our audience spent a few minutes writing their own personal elevator speeches using the following suggested guidelines:

  1. Brainstorm—write down everything that comes to mind.
  2. Narrow—identify the key areas and eliminate the rest.
  3. Connect the areas with natural flow.
  4. Make sure your message is short but powerful.
  5. Practice so your speech is natural and comfortable.

Attendees practiced their elevator speeches informally with each other (this exercise also provided a great networking opportunity). Following the practice session, we were inspired by the many actuaries who eagerly approached the microphone to share their elevator speeches with the entire room. Finally, we presented tips for delivering an effective elevator speech, including practicing during solo car rides, leaving your speech on your own voicemail to help improve content and delivery, and to always know your opening line.

In order to continue practicing our elevator speeches and allow optimal networking throughout the Annual Meeting, attendees stuck superhero stickers (BAM! BOOM! WHAM!) on their nametags. If another actuary asked about the sticker, then our attendees would have an additional networking opportunity and a chance to share their personal value proposition.  

We hope that our EAS members will take some time to write and practice their own elevator speeches, and find opportunities to effectively deliver these personal value propositions with strong executive presence to positively expand your business impact.


Christine Hofbeck, FSA, MAAA, is Vice-President and Actuary for Prudential Group Insurance. She can be contacted at christine.hofbeck@prudential.com.