Every single day at work, thousands of knowledge workers like you and I try to communicate complex information with their audience - information about the work they do, the value they add, and the opportunities they deserve - hoping to persuade and convince them. If you were to take a guess, what percentage of all professionals do you think, are able to do this effectively? Even if you don't know the exact number, you know that it is worryingly low.
In the fall of 1853, an American craftsman named Elisha Otis, who had found a solution to one of the era's toughest engineering problems, went looking for a grand stage to demonstrate his invention. At the time, many buildings had elevators. But the mechanism of how these crude contraptions worked - a combination of ropes, pulleys, and hope - hadn't changed much since the days of Archimedes. A thick cable pulled a platform up and down a shaft, which often worked well - unless the cable snapped, at which point the platform would crash to the ground and destroy the elevator's contents.
Otis had figured out a way around this defect. He attached a wagon spring to the platform and insalled ratchet bars inside the shaft so that if the rope ever did snap, the wagon spring safety brake would activate automatically and prevent the elevator from plummeting. It was an invention with huge potential in saving money and lives, but Otis faced a skeptical and fearful audience.
So he rented out the main exhibition hall of what was then New York city's largest convention center. On the floor of the hall, he constructed an open elevator platform and a shaft in which the platform could rise and descend. One afternoon, he gathered a large crowd for a demonstration. He climbed onto the platform and directed an assistant to hoist the elevator to its top height about three stories off the ground. Then, as he stood and gazed down at the crowd, Otis took an ax and slashed the rope that was suspending the elevator midair.
The audience gasped. The platform fell. But in seconds, the safety brake engaged and halted the elevator's rapid fall. Still alive and standing, Otis looked out at the shaken crowd and said, "All safe, gentlemen. All safe."
Otis, you might have guessed by now, went on to found the famous Otis Elevator Company. More importantly, it was a simple and effective way to convey a complex message in an effort to move others - it was the world's first elevator pitch.
Is there an obvious call to action here? Maybe. But I do want to leave you with a thought - as modern-day knowledge workers, we're no longer purely in the information business. It is our job to also capture the imagination of our audience and entertain them. Remember, people want to be informed, but more importantly, they want to be interested in what you have to say. Modern-day professionals are, as some might say, in the infotainment business.