The Elevator Speech Revisited: Why One Good Question Is Worth Five Great Statements

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
April 10, 2010

When you meet new people, you are invariably asked what it is you do for a living. For occasions when you meet people with whom you may want to do business, in situations where you have limited time and access, the common wisdom recommends that you have an elevator speech, an answer about what you do that you can rattle off between the 8th floor and the lobby.

The elevator speech is supposed to convey what you do to create value for others and is supposed to generate interest. Asking about what you do is often a polite question, politely asked, with very little real interest in the answer—especially when that answer is an elevator speech.

No doubt there are times you need to describe what you do that creates value and generate interest in a very short time. But this idea is more powerful turned on its head. Instead of an elevator speech, use the infinitely more powerful Elevator Question.

What is the Elevator Question?

Instead of imagining that you have to develop someone’s interest by spouting off your value proposition between the 8th floor and the lobby, imagine that you can ask the client two questions that will indicate your interest in understanding their business, their individual challenges, and their opportunities. Imagine asking a question that will define you as someone with the business acumen and the experience to create value for others.

Something like this: “What are the two greatest challenges you are having improving your sales team’s effectiveness?” Maybe followed up with something like: “What are your plans to change that in the coming months?”

Here is why this is a better and more effective approach.

It Focuses on the Other Person

It is rare that a person doesn’t like to talk about themselves, their thoughts, their business, their challenges, and their ideas (I make that statement with no judgment. I am as guilty—or more—than the next person).

By focusing your attention on the other person, you demonstrate that you care about them and that you are interested in them. There is nothing more compelling than talking to someone who is truly interested in what you have to say.

It Unlocks What They Believe Is Important

By asking powerful questions you unlock what they are thinking about. Great questions unlock what they believe is important.

Knowing what they believe is important can help inform how you describe yourself and what you do. It can help to more directly tie your responses to their answer when you are asked about yourself.

It Can Make Clear What You Do and Define Your Professionalism

If you have killer questions, you can make it very clear what you do and what you are thinking about. If you write great questions, you can differentiate yourself and define yourself as someone with experience and ideas to help others achieve real business results.

Your questions do more to define you by demonstrating how much time you have spent thinking about a subject and what your experience level is. They are more powerful than many (most, all) of the statements you might make in an Elevator Speech. Your questions define your brand.

It Makes You More Interesting

Great questions that define you as a professional can make you far more interesting. They have the power to generate far more interest than any statement you might make about yourself. When you ask questions, you will find a great consistency in the response. Far more often than not, after the person answers your question they will respond with: “What is it that you said you do?”

It Opens Opportunities and Possibilities

Great questions that focus first on the other person, that unlock what they believe is important, that define you as a professional, that generate interest, and that make you more interesting have the potential to create opportunities and possibilities.

Just like great questions you use in a needs analysis, the Elevator Question has the ability to uncover areas of dissatisfaction, the dissatisfaction that precedes all sales. Great questions unlock the interest in hearing what you have to say about the other person’s thoughts, ideas, challenges, and opportunities.


Every salesperson needs a good Elevator Speech. But it is more important to have an Elevator question that generates interest and generates opportunities. Excellent questions help define your brand and demonstrate you can create results.


1. What is the most powerful question that you could ask your dream client that would demonstrate that you are a person worth talking to?

2. What would you follow up with?

3. What do the questions you ask say about your brand?

4. How do the questions you ask define and differentiate you in your industry?

Read my interview with Tom Peters (Part One and Part Two).

Read my featured guest post on the Top Ten Sales blogs.

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Sales 2010
Post by Anthony Iannarino on April 10, 2010
Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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