Improve Your Elevator Pitch by Eliminating Techno-speak
by Roger Reid
Techno-speak – tech-no-speak – (also Techno-babble): Using buzzwords, specialized technical terms, or technical slang that allow those educated within that industry to concisely convey ideas that may be confusing, misleading, or nonsensical to an outside listener.
The opportunity to meet someone new is often constrained by time limits (and thus was born the “elevator pitch”). In these spontaneous situations, you typically have less than a minute to make a positive impression and leave your new acquaintance with a clear indication of who you are and what you do—especially when your intention is to make a new business contact.
Common sense suggests using clear, concise language, while avoiding vague or confusing terms and phrases—because no one wants to use a dictionary after meeting you to try to figure out what you said.
Unfortunately, I frequently overhear introductions and first-time meetings brimming with techno-speak, and from the aftermath of negative body language and blank expressions, the resulting lack of clarity has left one of the parties unsure about the value of any future contact.
And it’s not just elevator pitches that overflow with rambling jargon and ambiguous rhetoric. Techno-speak has grown to such epidemic proportions, it’s not unusual to hear a business seminar leader introduce his subject with, “We’re here today to discuss the advantages of a transactional-to-relationship-selling transition.”
Translation? “We’re here to learn how establishing and enhancing personal rapport with customers can improve sales.”
Yes, the two descriptions mean essentially the same thing, but the first leaves most listeners in a cold, edgy place, unable to establish any kind of a personal connection to the subject. The second offers listeners the opportunity to recall personal examples and originate possible applications – in short, they begin to invest themselves in the experience.
Years ago, there was an effort among a few enlightened industries to adopt a “plain language” approach to doing business. The intent was to establish a greater sense of trust and understanding between a business and their customers with simple, straightforward language contracts and agreements to eliminate confusion and erroneous assumptions.
Then the era of high-tech took over, and with it, came an invasion of web designers, programmers, and app builders—each speaking their own highly specialized language.
The advent of “the cloud” compounded the situation a hundred fold. Terms like, SaaS (software as a service), began to populate industry trade journals and lunch conversations in corporate cafeterias. And suddenly, we had another way of dividing the tech-savvy hi-brows from the low.
Even the highly rated, virtual head-hunter company, Ladders (www.theladders.com) recommended using jargon and esoteric language in elevator pitches. Marc Cenedella, company founder, wrote: “And it’s not “I’m a finance guy” but rather… I’m a finance guy who enjoys rationalizing finance teams in multi-unit businesses and creating metrics and operating procedures that partner with the business to drive understanding of the underlying levers of growth.”
And while that sounds impressive, what kind of assurance do you have the listener has any idea what you’re talking about—and more important, can personally relate to it?
I was recently asked to comment on a presentation made by an IT rep who was selling the advantages of cloud computing. The potential customer—a fifty-something male, owned a electrical components distribution business. He told me, “I have no idea what the sales rep was talking about. He kept saying how all the feedback shows the UX rating was in the top ninety percentile, but he never once told me what that means. As far as I’m concerned, a big part of his job is to make sure he and I are on the same page, but if he can’t provide a clear picture of what he’s selling, I can’t determine how it will benefit my business.”
In this case, the salesman lost the sale because he was too entrenched in his own tech-culture to take the time to gather feedback and determine how well his potential customer understood the language, and more important, how it translated into specific, cost-effective benefits.
(By the way, UX means user experience.)
Sprinkling your conversation with techno-speak carries risks. Using rhetoric that sounds like a third-party description can put distance between you and your listener, making you seem detached, impersonal, and even a little arrogant. Someone who might have presented you with an opportunity may now think you’re full of BS and immediately discount your talent and ability.
The better option? Until you know the background of the person you’re speaking to, start with neural, generic vocabulary, then elevate the conversation to a more technical level based on the feedback you receive (both verbal and non-verbal).
Here is a four step method I personally use, and recommend to technical sales people, engineers, and other “techies” when introducing themselves to strangers or any unfamiliar audience.
First, describe what you do in layman’s terms. No, you’re not an accountant . . . you work in the accounting industry, consulting with medium to large business to identify wasteful and redundant spending, implementing effective tax strategies, and improving profitability.
If time allows, use a brief story to explain your work in terms of its benefit to your clients. Staying with our accountant example, it might sound like this: “I recently saved a client tens of thousands of dollars annually by comparing the economic advantages of selling his business storefront to an investor and taking a twenty year lease-back verses personal ownership.”
If your listener is still interested (based on their verbal and non-verbal feedback), site your most recent success in terms of the problem or challenge, your suggested solution, and the increase in productivity, profitability, or other measurable parameter in a before and after comparison.
Invite future contact. This can be nothing more than an exchange of business cards, a cell-phone “hot-swap” (NFC – near field communication) of phone numbers/email with a follow-up text, or an offer to provide more information in the form of a newsletter or email with the latest industry news.
Adopting the vocabulary of your chosen field is a necessary and expected part of any profession—a shortcut to understanding and communicating with others proficient in the specialized, esoteric jargon of your industry. But knowing when to use it, and when to translate it into lay-speak, is vital in creating high levels of rapport with potential clients—an often essential first step before trying to sell anything – including yourself!