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Missed Opportunity

| August 9, 2016

by Jim Bruce

Keep that “elevator speech” fresh!

Today’s Tuesday Reading, Missed Opportunity, is an essay by Brent Tuggle, Lead Windows System Administrator, in Technology Services at the University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign. The essay first appeared as a program reflection early this year.
I wanted to take a moment to share a recent experience I had and an outcome/lesson it taught me.  A couple of weeks ago after lunch I decided to get a coffee on my way back to the office.  Luckily there was a shop on my route.  I’ve been to this store many times before and expected nothing different of this stop, but there was.  This store is generally really busy with students, etc., but today there was no one else in line.  I order my drink like usual then get ready to wait.  As I turned around I find one other person now in line with me … and, it’s the President of the University.  Holy cow!  Now mind you I was not excited because he is a celebrity, but rather because I had enough collectiveness that I was excited because I had an opportunity to try and deliver an elevator speech.
Fortunately I have an elevator speech prepared, but as I brought it to the front of my mind I found out a few things …

  • My speech had been in the back of my mind for a while.  It had some cob webs on it …
  • My speech had been prepared for an audience that didn’t really include the president of the University …
  • I had not really practiced my speech for some time, and parts of it were looking foreign and outdated …

So what do I do now?  My choice was to think quickly.  In the next 10 or 15 seconds I had thought of a way to alter my speech to be more relevant to the perspective of the president of a university, and then further changed it to show how what seemingly meager things I do with technology could help them with their mission.  So, time to deliver!  
(Here comes the bad part …)  As I prepare to introduce myself, the barista interrupts with questions for the president about his order, leading the president to then engage in conversations with most of the student baristas about how their student experience/life was going and was genuinely interested in them.  (Ding, ding, ding, leadership quality in action.)  During this time our drinks were delivered and we parted ways without much more than casual greetings, and the opportunity was lost.
This sounds like a let down to the story, I know, but actually I had some really great take aways from the encounter:

  • RENEW, REFRESH, and REHEARSE your elevator speeches often.  Improvising in a few seconds to deliver to the president of the university is less than ideal.
  • LENSES/STAKEHOLDERS.  Apply lenses to your speech and think of how to deliver it differently based on the prominent lens of your audience.  Also, consider their stake.  Have slightly different versions of your speech ready based on this.
  • Don’t miss an opportunity.  In my story I could have been more assertive in making sure I got to deliver my speech.
  • Finally, recognize opportunities either realized or missed and take the time to reflect on them like this so you can learn and grow.

I have since done all of the above and I would encourage you to do the same, you never know when you’ll meet your “president.”   Certainly if this encounter had happened a few short months ago prior to our cohort starting on our leadership journey, I doubt I would have thought much more of it than a casual mention to my wife that ”I stood in line with the president at a coffee shop today” and then it would have faded from my thoughts.
 Brent’s advice is right-on.  Have an elevator speech, review and modify it whenever your circumstance takes a change, keep it flexible to meet your needs in different settings.  Practice it every time you review it.  And, do look for opportunities to put it to use.  (A good set of do’s and don’t to consider can be found here.)
Make your week a fantastic one.  .  .  .     jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.