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The 30 seconds in an elevator that changed my life

30 seconds is all that you have to use the power of interesting words to engage a celebrated person to have a conversation with you.

The 30 seconds in an elevator that changed my life

Tuesday November 28, 2017,

4 min Read


In the fall of 2005, while pursuing a master’s degree at Northwestern University, my elevator speech changed the direction of my life.

It was a Monday morning; I had woken up late and groggy. I had to dash to get to class (Northwestern University) on time. Every minute mattered, and when I got to the McCormick Tribune Center (my class was held here), I had no option but to scurry for the elevator. As I hurriedly stepped into the elevator, I heard the name, ‘Lee Heubner.’

Lee Heubner was being introduced to a graduate student by a prominent faculty member at Medill School. All three of them had got into the elevator before I did. Just when the doors were about to close, I managed to get into the elevator, with a Chai Latte and cheese sandwich in one hand, and my heavy backpack (containing my laptop, books from the library, and a small box of delicious After Eight mint chocolates) in the other. You can well imagine how full my arms and hands were.

My eyes popped out when I heard the name, Lee Heubner. An alumnus of Harvard University and Northwestern University, Lee was the publisher and CEO of the Paris-based International Herald Tribune. He had also served as deputy director of the White House writing and research staff during the US President Nixon’s administration. Among other accomplishments, Lee was a former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in France.

In the elevator, luck smiled at me. Seconds later, the faculty member and the graduate student got off on the second floor. Lee was heading to another floor. Only he and I were in the elevator.

You know how eager and energized you feel when you are in the presence of an outstanding personality. After all, it is not every day you meet a person who has worked for the President of the United States, is an alumnus of distinguished universities, and has excelled in various capacities.

I seized the moment and introduced myself as a ‘marketing, business, and communications specialist who loves to write about people, relationships, products, and services.’ My elevator speech was succinct and caught his attention.

The affable, Mr. Heubner remarked, ‘You must now do two things — author a book, and learn how to write and deliver speeches. Authors are often called to make speeches.’

‘Incredible advice,’ I told myself.

I had an elevator statement ready when I took the unexpected yet momentous elevator ride with Lee Heubner on a Monday morning in fall 2005. His advice transformed my life, even as I went on to author three books, got invited to speak at universities and events, and mentor young executives and entrepreneurs.

Prepare your elevator speech bearing in mind that you are different, unique, and a brand that can redefine the world around you. You have been created for a reason and your call is to discover the true purpose of your being.

You never know where and when you could meet your Lee Heubner. It could be in a mall, car parking, hotel lobby, restroom, friend’s house, on a flight, or an event; and yes, never rule out a small elevator ride. But before that ask yourself, do you have an elevator speech?

An elevator speech or elevator pitch essentially explains your work, idea, profile, business, project, product, service or specialization in 30 seconds (the average time span of an elevator ride from the first floor to the top floor or vice versa).

Thirty seconds is all you have to use the power of “interesting words and sentences” to engage the celebrated person to have a dialogue with you.

You never know when you will meet the most influential and well-connected people within and outside your profession, at places, times and moments when you least expect it. So develop your elevator pitch soon, it’s an expression of entrepreneurship that comes handy everywhere you go!