Going Up?

Use elevator speeches to garner support for quality initiatives

by Shane J. Schvaneveldt

Need to pitch an idea about quality to a busy executive? If so, an elevator speech may be just what you need.

The notion of an elevator speech is to prepare a persuasive message that you can communicate effectively to your targeted audience in a short amount of time, such as the 30 seconds it takes for a typical elevator ride.

In his book, Quality Is Still Free, Philip Crosby recounted how he used an elevator speech at International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) to build support for change.1 Crosby determined that 20% of ITT’s revenue was being spent on nonconformance issues. Armed with that information, Crosby planned his speech and waited in the elevator lobby at headquarters.

When the CEO arrived, Crosby hopped in the elevator with him and gave the speech. Before the CEO reached his floor, Crosby was able to tell him that ITT could reduce costs 20% by changing its quality approach in a few key ways. Crosby knew the elevator speech had been successful when he was asked to make a full presentation at the next general managers’ meeting.

Just like Crosby, quality professionals have opportunities to deliver an elevator speech to support quality initiatives in their own organizations. Perhaps you need to convince a vice president to support a Six Sigma project that requires changes in his or her department. You may need to inform a supplier or customer firm about some issue of mutual concern. You may want to educate an executive about the unrecognized potential to replicate a project’s success in other areas.

No matter the situation, you will be more effective in getting your message across if you are ready with your own elevator speech. And while it should be tailored to the specific situation and objective, consider the following guidelines when crafting your speech:

  • Have an end-game. As Stephen Covey wrote in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, "Begin with the end in mind."2 As you plan out your speech, envision the ideal result and next steps to take.
  • Prepare and practice in advance. Clarify your thinking by writing out the key points. Anticipate questions from the listener and prepare for them. Practice delivering your speech so you can give it effortlessly and without hesitation.
  • Make it flow. Organize the information so a first-time listener can easily understand and digest it.
  • Keep it brief and to the point. Do not try to explain too much or too rapidly. Remember, the idea is to create an opening for more discussion later.
  • Front-load it. Provide your most important points early. If appropriate, phrase your opening with a verbal hook that catches the listener’s interest.
  • Stress the benefits for the listener. Focus on what’s in it for him or her. Instead of saying, "We need to upgrade our information system’s capability," consider something similar to, "We can save $2 million by …"
  • Avoid jargon that may confuse. Use terms that are meaningful to your targeted audience. Your Six Sigma colleagues may readily understand DPMO (defects per million opportunities), but would your listener?
  • Ask for commitment to the next step. Just as a good salesperson asks for the sale, you should ask for an appropriate opportunity to pursue the issue further.

For quality professionals, there are many times and places to educate and motivate others about the importance of quality issues. By thinking in terms of an elevator speech, you always can be prepared to support change for quality.


  1. Philip B. Crosby, Quality Is Still Free, McGraw-Hill, 1996.
  2. Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Free Press, 1989.

Shane J. Schvaneveldt is a professor of supply chain management at Weber State University in Ogden, UT, where he teaches and researches quality management, operations management and environmental sustainability. He earned a Ph.D. in industrial management from the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan. He is a senior member of ASQ.

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