I’m in the information mafia.
That was my three second hook for this blog post.
One of the most practical sessions at SLA 2011 was Elevator Speeches: How to Develop Them with Mary Ellen Bates and Gayle Gossen. This approached the issue of marketing your role and explaining to users what you do in an interesting and contextual way. As an e-resources librarian, it’s no use saying, ‘I work with SFX, Metalib, Primo Central, Shibboleth, our LMS and lots of other very complicated things.’ It will mean nothing to my users and is likely to put them off approaching me for further help. In a profession where branding, adapting, marketing and self-promotion are crucial in remaining relevant and useful, I want to avoid alienating users at our first meeting.
I attended the session in the hope of picking up tips on explaining my role to internal and external users. I wanted to find out if this elevator speech idea could be translated into something I can do in my own work. I find myself explaining my job role not only to our academic library users but also to colleagues, professionals at networking events and friends. Sometimes these exchanges go well, other times I detect eyes glazing over or fingers reaching for the emergency button.
Although geared towards special libraries, this session featured ideas that would be useful for any information professional explaining their role to users. Firstly, Mary outlined the key features of an elevator speech:
- It’s not a speech but a conversational ping pong
- Opens with a three second hook
- Tells a story in two sentences
- Describes a problem and solves it
Rather than meeting a user and reeling off a list of key tasks, the elevator speech should be a ‘ping pong’ conversation, which hooks the listener and encourages them to find out more about your service. It’s not a verbal dump or thirty seconds of talking at someone. Say something that sparks a conversation. ‘I’m in the information mafia’ may be an extreme example. ‘I make critical information findable’ might be more appropriate.
You’re in a lift/management meeting/coffee shop and a potential user asks you, ‘What do you do?’ Mary suggests a high-impact three second hook: ‘I ensure my clients make smarter decisions.’ Not ‘I’m an information professional’ or ‘I provide high-end information services.’ How do we know our users understand exactly what an ‘information professional’ is anyway? If our job title includes the word ‘librarian’ – can we be sure this clearly explains what we do in reference to that user’s specific needs? An emphasis of the session was the importance of describing who you are and what you do in a way that adds value. Why is your service unique? How can you help them?
Describing a problem and solving it is another key technique when crafting an elevator speech and explaining how you add value to an organisation. For example, ‘You know how frustrating it is when [insert problem here]? I [insert key task here] to solve that problem and make it easier for you.’ By identifying a problem and explaining how you provide key solutions, the elevator speech is a 30 second interactive advert for your service. It makes the listener want to know more and act on it.
Mary and Gayle suggest practising your elevator speech but avoiding the dangerous territory of reeling it off to your users. It should sound natural and reflect your personality. Another tip was to leave the listener with a next step in order to follow up your conversation. This could be emailing you for help, attending a drop-in session or arranging a time to discuss further. Either way, you don’t have to tell them everything you do in that first exchange. You can add that to the pitch at a later date.
The SLA alignment project was also discussed during this session. This project involves investigating and developing the alignment and relevancy of information services to that of their organisation. This might consist of an academic library setting goals in relation to the strategic plan of their institution. Laura Woods also discusses the alignment project here. In the elevator speech session, Gayle and Mary referred to the results of the research conducted for the alignment project. The Alignment Survey Executive Summary emphasises the difference in perception between what we, the information providers, think users need and what users say they need. So when you’re pitching your service to a potential user during an elevator speech, think about how this is useful for them. They probably don’t care you’re an AACR2 and Library of Congress Subject Headings expert. It’s probably much more useful to explain how intuitive it is to search and browse the library catalogue.
I start a new job in two weeks. I need to develop my new elevator speech and a killer three second hook!
How do you explain your role to your users? Would you use an elevator speech?
Image: This car up that car down by billsoPHOTO on Flickr.