The elevator speech

Many marketing folks talk about the the “elevator speech.” This suggests writing a simple monologue about your profession…something you can tell somebody during a brief elevator ride.

How long is an average elevator ride? According to the internet…about 118 seconds. That’s slightly longer than the length of an average movie scene of 90 seconds. But I would suggest something even shorter. Why?

We television watchers can generally absorb and remember a one minute ad. Those ads frequently present a scene that describes a problem, and offer a solution to the problem.

Consider this: Many of us humans don’t buy products. We buy solutions to problems. I buy toothpaste and haircuts simply because they make me look better.

How do you — or your job or your company — solve a problem? Can you talk about that in 60 seconds, or 150 words?


Start with a problem…

Experienced writers have all sorts of ways to begin a story. They can start with dialog…two people talking to each other.

Or, they might begin the by describing a scene, like a “large barn just outside of town that the old-timers say is haunted.”

But here’s a really simple idea I learned from an advertising copywriter. “Don’t waste time,” he said. “Announce the story’s major problem in the very first sentence.”

After he told me this, I started paying attention to more print ads. Many of them actually stated the problem in the headline. Example: “Would you do more walking if your feet didn’t hurt?”

Practice today on how you might begin the biography of a fictional character. Example: “Little Red Riding Hood left her house to take cookies to Grandma, but her path led through dense woods full of dangerous animals.”

Offer positive thoughts

This series of questions can all be answered with the same two words. Here come the questions:

What helps us remember great childhood stories? Why do we recall radio and television advertising? What do most of Aesop’s fables teach us? Why do we buy a certain brand of shampoo, or soap, or shirt, or shoes?

The answer? Each offer positive solutions. At the end of the story or advertisement, we’re given a solution that makes us happy, or solves a problem, or enhances our lives in some way.

If you must propose a problem in a story you write, can you tell the reader how to solve that problem, or where to search for an answer…or at least leave the reader with a happy thought or teach them something?

Goldilocks encountered several problems in the three bears’ house. But on the plus side, she learned not to enter homes where she wasn’t invited.

Take a look at Rix’s new book: How to Sell Ideas With the Minute Message

Readers want secrets to better lives

When I was a boy, we lived near a magic store in a shopping center. Nearly every Saturday, a bunch of us would show up there to see magic tricks.

One of the employees would demonstrate the latest inventory. We marveled at the illusions…but we didn’t find out the secret until we bought the trick.

Over the years, I’ve read hundreds of articles to find out about the secrets to staying healthy, attracting more friends, or dressing nicer. My reward, of course, is that I’ll hopefully become a better or more impressive person.

When you write articles, can you provide shortcuts or tricks to make your readers’ lives better?

Take a look at Rix’s new book: How to Sell Ideas With the Minute Message

Problem, effect, solution

An old reporter once said that good stories require three things from the writer:

  1. Problem — He or she must define and describe the dilemma.
  2. Effect — What effect does the problem have on the principal character, so that the character will have a reason to solve it?
  3. Solution — How is the problem addressed, and how it is solved…or not solved?

In 30 years I’ve been assigned news stories, features, biographies, and question-answer columns. Nearly all of them required that I address a problem, explain the effect it had, and conclude by either pointing out a solution or presenting the main character’s plan to develop a solution.

Even humorous stories often begin with a problem. Have you ever noticed this when you read comic strips.

When you’re assigned to write a story, e-mail, or essay, do you first start out by defining the problem?

E-mail me how you discovered or defined a problem, and how you solved it. My e-mail address is