Recently, I played a vigorous game of charades with a group of friends. The players’ acting abilities were worthy of an Oscar — ridiculously creative, intuitive, and skillful . . . with the exception of one of us who told us in advance that he did not want to play because he was terrible at the game. I thought he was kidding. After all, who’s bad at charades? However, without running his overall gamesmanship into the ground, I have to agree with him — he definitely needs to stick to bridge.
Why was he so bad? For starters, when he acted out a clue, he came up with one image/plan and stuck to it. For example, for the Life of Pi movie, he drew an apple pie in the air and kept drawing it with his hands until he ran out of time. Despite the fact people were shouting circle, globe, or anything even remotely round, he continued in exasperation to make the same circular motion ignoring the fact that his team is totally off base. When it was all over and the movie title disclosed, we bombarded him with comments like “Why didn’t you try to act out the other words? How come you didn’t try to show someone doing math? How about acting out a lion?” He sat down with “I told you so” written all over his face. Our team was hopeful that we would make up the loss on the next clue. Better luck next time.
When I started this business, I had a similar experience. My elevator pitch was horrible: someone would ask me what I did and I would say “recruitment process outsourcing or RPO.” Dead space. I wouldn’t add any additional information; I’d just wait for the next question. I’d think, “Why should I try to improve upon the exact right answer to the question? I’d just succinctly said what I did. What more should I say?” There never was a follow up question. Not good. Talk about missing a clue!
After three or four of these occurrences, I started to register the confusion in the eyes of my audience. A big “Huh?” hovered over their heads and their eyes would lose contact with mine for a nanosecond. Thankfully, one day, someone was bold enough to ask, “I’m sorry, but what does that mean exactly?” Oh great, I had a communications problem.
Because I don’t believe I’m the only one out there with a “pitch” problem, here are some practical thoughts on how to develop an elevator spiel that is actually heard and acknowledged by your audience.
Technically right, practically wrong. Actually, there is nothing wrong with my saying RPO because that is technically what I do. I work with organizations on their recruitment operations – creating a recruiting strategy, providing resources to support that strategy, and finding people to fill their roles. However, as I quickly realized, no one outside of the recruiting/talent acquisition world has a clue what that means. And, even within the recruiting industry, RPO providers define their services very differently so confusion exists within the bounds of my sector as well. The bottom line: be wary of industry jargon, especially acronyms.
Practice makes perfect. Although I had worked on my answer to the question, what does your business do? I did not try it out on anyone before I used it in a business context. What would have happened had I tried my pitch out on a couple of willing colleagues? How hard would that have been to ask a few people for their impressions? Not hard at all. In fact, they would have been outright happy to be asked.
Stay current. The colleague who asked me to describe what I meant when I said RPO, also helped me develop a new line. We decided to describe my business in the context of a more popular outsourcing model — human resources outsourcing or HRO, the practice of hiring experts in HR to either consult with your business or take on your HR challenges virtually. So what do I do? TalentFront focuses on providing outsourced HR support specifically in recruiting or talent acquisition. Although this resonates in meetings I’m having now, I constantly remind myself that a decade ago, no one knew what HRO was either. Gradually, people will know what RPO means and I’ll learn to use that term again or better yet, we’ll evolve to a new level and invent more language to describe the field. Remember: what works today might not work tomorrow so we entrepreneurs need to continue to refine your pitch over time.
At the end of the day, I circled back around to all of those people I met who looked at me quizzically. Their response was overwhelmingly positive and has led to referrals for new business, candidates for opportunities with my clients, and general well wishes. It hasn’t led to any additional opportunities to play charades, but who knows? The year’s still young and I’m a much more empathetic teammate.
Marcia Call has worked in the human capital/staffing arena for more than a decade. Most recently, she founded the firm, TalentFront, to serve the needs of companies and organizations seeking support in the development and implementation of recruiting processes.