I have a few things I’ve learned over the years when people ask me what I do.  Before I was married, and when the inquiry came from an attractive member of the opposite sex, I fancied responding that I was a rocket scientist or a champion mixed martial arts fighter.  Alas, telling people I was an attorney drew yawns. I now describe that I’m a businessman, and that my chosen business is that of an attorney.  I then tell people how I help others. Many entrepreneurs and salespeople cringe when they hear, “elevator speech.”

I admit, it’s not a term I like either. “Elevator pitch” is even more cringe-worthy.

The reasons go deep.

First of all, it’s hard to put yourself out there. You’re making yourself vulnerable about a business you love or work for. You never know what kind of reception you’ll get.

Second, as a way to present your business, it has shortcomings. You have to condense what’s great about what you do into a sentence or two. According to a recent study, the average adult’s attention span is just 8 seconds, so you have to make it good to capture people’s attention. Third, so many of us are just plain bad at this type of thing.

The purpose of an elevator speech is to share what you offer, boiled down to its essence. The person listening may be your ideal audience, so it’s worth spending time to make your elevator speech a good one.

The thing is, you’ll always be meeting strangers, before they become friends. And some of them could become your best clients.

So here is a summary of “mistakes” many people make with their elevator speeches, offered humbly so you can move past them to more productive territory.

Remember that most people only have an 8-second attention span.  Not that you aren’t incredibly interesting, but…

Mistake #1: You’re talking features, not benefits.

Your audience really doesn’t care what your business does or how you do it. That may feel like a blow, but it’s true. They care what it can do for them. So, focus your few seconds of attention on what is most important from their perspective.

The Fix: Look at your business from the perspective of your clients.

Tell people what you can do for them.

Mistake #2: You wing it.

Not practicing your elevator speech is a big mistake. Stumbling through it gives a very poor initial impression.

The Fix: You’ll only feel comfortable with your elevator speech once you’ve said it many times, and the place to start is with practice. So practice!

Just take care not to over-rehearse. Keep it fresh.

Mistake #3: Your expectations are too high.

The goal of an elevator speech is to stimulate interest. The best outcome you can have is for someone to say, ‘tell me more.” That’s it. It’s an invitation to elaborate further.

The Fix: Adjust your expectations. No one will be pulling out his or her wallet after your elevator speech. You will, however, if you pique interest, be invited to have some great conversations with people who are interested in what you offer.

Mistake #4: It’s too long.

Remember what I said about the average attention span being 8 seconds? You have very little time in which to express what you do. If you’re too wordy, it dilutes your key message.

The Fix: After writing out what you do, be really strict with yourself in cutting that down to the bone, so that it shares only what you need people to know. What one sentence sums up what you do?

Mistake #5: You assume it will be easy.

It’s just one sentence, maybe two, right? How hard could this be? It’s actually much more difficult to distill something down than it is to talk at length.

The FixSpend the time and effort needed to condense what you do down to its essence. And work on getting comfortable with the discomfort – it’s an edge that is worth going to, again and again, in service of what you can offer to people who really need it.

Mistake #6: You never change your elevator speech.

Once you have an elevator speech that feels right, you’re comfortable with, and has led to really good conversations, it’s tempting to just keep it. The important question always is, does it accurately reflect your business? Your business will grow and change and your speech then also has to change.

The Fix: When your business goes through a change, revisit your elevator speech. Does it still express what’s most important about your business?

Mistake #7: You are using your elevator speech for cold calling.

Cold calling is a very low ROI (return on investment) activity. The expectation that an elevator speech will warm up a cold prospect is a setup for rejection.

The Fix: Instead of cold calling, spend your energy on warming up your prospects by building relationships and following up on referrals. Even when you’re in a networking situation, you’ll have a better chance of making an impression if someone who knows the person is introducing you.

Mistake #8: You think an elevator speech is about selling.

Your elevator speech is not designed to make a sale. Your goal is to make a connection. The person may not turn out to be a prospect, but they may be able to connect you with others who are. Recognize that you are sharing something important about yourself and what you love to do with someone you’re just meeting for the first time.

The Fix: Your elevator speech is about making a connection. Focus on that and the other person will sense it. People are put-off by selling or by those trying to impress. Take the longer view and just make it about connecting with another human being.