Every entrepreneur knows the “elevator speech:” an explanation of your business or product that you can start and finish in the space of an elevator ride – 1 minute or less. The idea is to have a quick but engaging description of what your company does and why it’s significant, so that you’re prepared to take advantage of any chance meetings with important industry players. Paleo isn’t a tech startup that you have to sell to investors, but the same kind of brief summary is still useful, especially as the holidays approach and you’re likely to have to explain your diet to a series of interested friends and relatives. It gives you a ready answer to casual questions, and if you’re lucky enough to meet someone honestly interested in trying Paleo as a lifestyle, you won’t turn them off with a vague, rambling, or boring explanation.
The Paleo version of an “elevator speech” isn’t exactly the same as the classic version because you won’t have a product or service that you’re ultimately trying to sell. In many ways, making a classic elevator speech to your friends would be inappropriate and overly pushy. But you can take tips from the business and advertising worlds for creating a brief, clear description of your diet without sounding like an infomercial or an aggressive salesperson. Instead of selling a product, a well-crafted Paleo elevator speech will grab your listener’s attention and make them want to know more, starting a real conversation that will give you the chance to explain yourself more completely.
Some people are natural improvisers who don’t need any preparation to deliver a pitch so convincing that everyone in a five-mile radius has an inexplicable urge to put down their Cheez-its and go buy some chuck roast. But most of us aren’t advertising geniuses, so a little planning can go a long way. With half an hour of preparation and a couple of practice runs, you can put together a brief set of talking points into a clear and convincing elevator speech to use whenever you need it.
Step 1: Brainstorm
Obviously, in such a brief speech, you won’t be able to touch on everything you think is significant. That’s fine: the point of an elevator speech is not to get down into the technical details, but to give a very general overview that makes it clear how Paleo might be relevant or interesting to the other person. All you have to do is get them interested. If your pitch-ee sees how this might be useful to them, they’ll ask you follow-up questions; then you can get into the details. But you need to engage them with the idea first. To raise the other person’s interest, a successful elevator speech should answer questions like:
- What is Paleo?
- What are the benefits?
- Why is it relevant or important to the listener?
When you start creating your elevator pitch, take a minute to brainstorm down your answers to those questions. Write down as many answers for each question as you have. These answers can be as long as you like (you can always trim your pitch down later). They can also be as short as you like – bullet points are completely fine.
Some possible answers for these questions might include:
- Paleo is a way of eating based on evolutionary biology.
- The big idea is that we evolved to eat certain foods, so we’ll be healthiest if we keep eating them.
- On Paleo, I eat a lot of high-quality meat and animal fats – I know everyone loves to make a big deal out of saturated fat and cholesterol, but if you actually look at the studies, they aren’t bad for you.
- I eat whole, unprocessed foods – really good meat, lots of fruits and vegetables. It’s really nutritious, which is great because it gives me tons of energy.
- Paleo is really helping me manage my [health condition x].
- I lost weight, but I didn’t have to starve myself or go nuts with calories and everything – and it’s very sustainable.
- My athletic performance has really improved: I’m outrunning guys half my age now!
- You were saying earlier that you’re having trouble with [health condition y] – a lot of people find that a Paleo diet is actually really helpful for that. Have you ever looked into it?
Step 2: Revise
Once you have your rough list of answers, it’s time to pick the best ones. Go through your answers, and play around with the wording a little until you find something that really resonates with you. Pick the best parts, and combine them, and then play around with that. Say it out loud to yourself a few times to see how it flows. Bear in mind that most people don’t write the way they talk, so what you actually plan to say might look silly written down. That’s OK – remember, nobody has to see it but you.
Trim your answers until you have a “pitch” that you can say in a minute or less. You’re going to have to cut a lot out, so make smart decisions about what information is so important that it’s worth including in your precious minute. Remember, you’re not trying to give a scientifically accurate or all-inclusive description of Paleo; you’re just trying to rouse the other person’s interest so they want to know more. To keep it short but effective, try the following:
- Focus on the positive – don’t start off your pitch with a list of all the things you’ve cut out of your diet. The other person’s response is likely to be “Oh god, I could never give up [their favorite food here]:” they might admire you for your self-discipline, but they probably won’t want to try it themselves. Instead, start by accenting what you do eat, and how delicious it all is. In the same vein, don’t attack anyone or anything. It’s easy to digress into a rant about how toxic modern foods are poisoning us all, but this is likely to put the other person on the defensive: chances are very good that they like some of the foods you’re so self-righteously slamming. Even though you’re right, save your thoughts on Oreos for another day.
- Be fairly vague with scientific concepts and spend more time talking about real-world benefits and applications. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should ignore science altogether – don’t say anything untrue or misleading. But throwing around a lot of unfamiliar scientific terminology is a great way to lose someone. If you start off with a textbook explanation of the insulin resistance theory of obesity, your listener’s eyes will probably glaze over before you can get to “metabolic derangement.” On the other hand, an statement like “My diet is based on evolutionary biology” is interesting and specific enough that people want to know more, but not so complicated and technical that they’re completely lost. If they want to know the precise science, they’ll ask.
- Relate the big ideas to your personal experience. This is a basic advertising strategy: connect what you’re trying to sell to something the other person cares about. If you’re talking to a friend or a family member, chances are they care about you as a human being. Connecting Paleo to your own life will help draw them in and make it seem much less strange and unusual. If Paleo is helping you manage diabetes or lose weight, mention it: most people will be much more interested in something that helped their friend than in a random diet in the abstract.
- Make them laugh: humor is a great way to engage your audience. Throwing in a quick joke at your own expense can help you connect to your listener and make it clear that you aren’t taking yourself too seriously. Nobody wants to stand there and listen to a zealot rant about their dietary purity; if you show right away that you aren’t afraid to laugh at yourself, you’ll greatly reduce the chances of sending your friend scrambling for the nearest excuse to leave. This also makes you seem much more accessible, so you’re more likely to get the kind of follow-up questions you want.
Step 3: Personalize
Remember the third question above (“why is it relevant or important to the listener?”)? What you include in your elevator speech also depends on who exactly you’re talking to. This is another basic principle of advertising: know your audience. You might want to convey the same basic information, but the way you tell it to your son’s preschool teacher will be very different from the way you tell it to your Crossfit coach.
It’s not a bad idea to have a few versions of your speech – you might want one for people completely unfamiliar with nutritional science, and one for people who won’t be lost if you throw in some technical terminology. These different versions might even have mostly the same information, but presented differently. For example, you might want to tell your mother that “gluten is really hard on your stomach” and leave it at that. On the other hand, if you’re talking to your doctor, you can assume that she already knows what “glucose metabolism” and “intestinal permeability” are, so using scientific language correctly can show that you’ve done your research and you’re not just parroting one article you’ve read on the latest “caveman fad diet.”
Mentioning the other person’s specific health issues or diet in your elevator speech can also build a much stronger connection. If your pitch-ee is already experimenting with a gluten-free diet and interested in the benefits of cutting out other grains as well, start there and build on it. If they have a chronic health condition like Crohn’s Disease or arthritis, mention that a lot of people find Paleo very helpful for treating it – just don’t get so enthusiastic that you make Paleo sound like a magic cure-all. Nobody wants to hear about something that’s not at all relevant to their life, so making your pitch more relatable like this makes it more interesting:
Step 4: Practice
Once you’ve settled on the final form (or forms) of your pitch, practice – try saying it to yourself in the mirror, or finding a friend to listen and give you feedback. You could even work on it in the car while you commute, where nobody can hear you if you mess it up. Practicing ahead of time will ensure that you don’t forget anything when the time comes.
This doesn't mean that you should write out a strict script and memorize it. Even if you pull it off, it’s very difficult to sound natural, and many people don’t pull it off at all – they get so hung up on remembering the exact same words that they freeze up, stutter, or completely choke under pressure. You want to be confident in your material and know your points well, you shouldn’t feel like you’re reciting a textbook – many people find it easier to make a list of bullet points and be sure to touch on all of them, rather than trying to memorize a paragraph and make it sound natural.
Bullet points also make it easier to let your own style shine through. If you’re normally a very laid-back person who loves black humor and sarcastic jokes, suddenly sounding like you swallowed an encyclopedia will turn your listener off, because that’s not who you are. Take your talking points and wrap them in your own personality.
While you’re preparing your speech, it’s also a good idea to get together a small collection of resources where you can direct your listener if he asks for more information than you have at the moment. Offer to lend them a book, or just direct them to one or two of your favorite blogs. This is a good way to prevent any awkwardness if you aren’t sure just how interested the other person is. Saying “…if you want more information, you could always check out [this book/blog]” leaves the person free to explore further if they’re interested, while avoiding the risk of being pushy if they aren’t.
Step 5: Deliver!
Finally, the moment arrives. Over the annual family Monopoly tournament, your uncle Steve asks the golden question: “So…what is this Paleo diet anyway?” All your brainstorming and careful personalization is about to pay off – so don’t ruin it with a lousy delivery!
When you’re delivering your speech, try to act as natural as possible: the last thing you want is to come off like a salesman or a biology teacher. Keep your tone and body language enthusiastic, and interact with the other person: don’t stare blankly off into the distance the way many people do when they’re reciting something they’ve memorized. Worse yet, make sure you don’t try too hard: staring straight at the other person the entire time will come off as creepy and strange, not enthusiastic. You aren’t going for a “hard sell” here: using pushy sales tactics on your friends is a great way to alienate them. The conventions of the business or advertising world aren’t always applicable to social situations, so even when you’re trying to make an elevator speech that’s persuasive and effective, remember the context you’ll be delivering it in, and plan accordingly.
After you’ve made your speech, resist the urge to keep talking – give the other person a chance to respond. It won’t always lead to an interesting or honest conversation about diet (some people just aren’t ready to change, or they’re happy with the way they’re eating, or they might just not be convinced that Paleo is the way to go). But even if you don’t see an immediate result, you might be surprised at the seeds you plant – months later, it might all start making sense to someone, and they’ll suddenly remember what you said in a new light.
Sample Elevator Speeches
These are examples of Paleo elevator speeches that you can use for ideas or inspiration. They aren’t models to recite word for word, but if you’re stuck, they can help get the gears turning.
To your coworker, over a working lunch
Basically, it makes a lot of sense to me that we evolved to eat a certain way, and it’s healthiest to keep eating that way, because that’s what our bodies were designed for. So I eat a lot of whole, unprocessed foods – high-quality meat and lots of animal fat, and tons of fruits and vegetables. I don’t count calories but I actually don’t even need to because it’s very filling, so I can just eat when I’m hungry and then stop. It’s really helping me manage all the stress from this crazy new project we’ve all been working on; I have so much more energy and it’s great to get home from work and not be totally wiped.
To your doctor, at your annual checkup
The basic idea behind Paleo is evolutionary biology – evolution just hasn’t caught up to the modern diet yet. I eat unprocessed food: a lot of really high-quality meat and vegetables and relatively few carbs, mostly from starchy tubers. I’m also really making an effort to get enough sleep and walk at least a little bit every day. It’s really helping me handle my metabolic syndrome: I don’t get such huge blood sugar spikes when I don’t eat as many carbs, and it’s helping me lose weight more sustainably. There’s actually been a lot of research on low-carb diets and improving insulin sensitivity that’s really interesting – have you read any of it?
To your mother, when you’re home for the holidays
I was feeling really lousy before – I didn’t have any energy and I was always getting sick. So I started taking better care of myself and eating really well. The diet that I’m following – basically, if you think of evolution, it makes a lot of sense that we haven’t really adapted to the modern diet yet, so it’s healthier to go back and eat more traditional foods. So now I get lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lots of really high-quality meat. I cook it all myself, too – you should let me make you pot roast sometime! It makes me feel awesome all the time, and it’s really helping me lose weight. Actually, I thought of you the other day, because you were saying you’re having trouble with arthritis – have you ever tried looking into diet to help with that?
You can use these for ideas, or as the backbone of your own speech. As you can see, an effective elevator speech doesn’t have to be a literary masterpiece. It’s not difficult to create one, and it can be a great tool for explaining your Paleo diet and lifestyle to other people. As holiday social engagements start popping up on the calendar, having a concise explanation at the tip of your tongue can save you a lot of stress – and you might even convince a few people to try it.