While most of the commenters agreed that it's important to know how to describe what we do for a living when asked, quite a few referred to the "antiquated" and undesirable method of memorizing and delivering a clearly canned 30-second speech.
Here are a few of the comments:
"I think being able to articulate what you do so precisely that you can do it in 30 seconds and potentially convert prospects into buyers or associates into referral partners with just a few sentences is an art form that should be praised, not considered dead."
"Smile, relax and connect. That often opens up more opportunities for discussion. In other words, it's the 'rehearsed' part of an elevator speech that's antiquated, not the concept itself."
"I certainly hope that the elevator speech that is so rehearsed that it sounds like a sales pitch IS dead. However, it is very beneficial to go through the exercise of being able to convey what you do in a concise but interesting manner."
"The question of what you do comes up often, not only at professional events but when interacting with friends and family too. Opportunities can present themselves at any time and one should always be prepared."
Here's what I added to the conversation:
"We need a way to tell people what we do, and having a practiced response that you've put some thought into is much better than stumbling around trying to think of what to say in the moment.
As a public speaking coach, I do believe in practicing what you want to say, exactly so it sounds natural and not mechanical -- and so you have nailed down the most important elements: who you serve and what problem you solve.
It doesn't have to be long (and in fact, 30 seconds is quite long!), and it doesn't have to be memorized word for word. It should be clear, concise and authentic."
My final conclusion: Maybe we should call it our "professional introduction" -- something that doesn't imply 30 seconds, speech, pitch or commercial.
True, just renaming it doesn't necessarily preclude people still using the canned and memorized traditional elevator pitch. But perhaps we can adopt a different perspective. Perhaps we can reframe it as getting to know someone in a conversational way and outlining a basic introduction that is flexible and easy to adapt to the person we're speaking to. We can reframe the elevator speech as something authentic and real, but still productive and informative.
And, just to clarify, I'm talking about a one-on-one professional introduction, not the kind where you're standing up to introduce yourself to a group in a meeting or at a networking event. Group introductions can be a little longer with more detail, because it's more like a presentation than a personal interaction in that setting.
That being said, I still recommend a straightforward (not contrived or manipulative) introduction that is focused on who you serve and how you help them rather than your own credentials, history or features. Here are some examples of fun 30-second commercials delivered in one of my networking groups.
I've gone from something like, "I'm a public speaking coach and trainer, helping entrepreneurs and professionals build skills and confidence so they can build their businesses through speaking" to "I help people [or entrepreneurs and professionals, depending on who I'm talking to] create more engaging and memorable presentations."
Many of you are already doing this and I would love to hear from you. Please share in the comments how you approach your professional introduction.