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Monday, September 13, 2010

Which Way is Up?

Thank you to Bridget at J.B. Chicoine Unsupervised and at Large, whose email comment initiated a train of thought resulting in this post.

In my years of employment at a corporate headquarters, I was never a fan of “office-speak,” those clich├ęd phrases that percolate through the ranks. Lines such as:” There’s not enough band width on this one” made me cringe. After too much, “thinking outside the box” I longed to throw the container away, and when asked to “pick the low-hanging fruit,” I sighed. We weren’t “employees;” we were “associates,” which, I guess, is better then what Disney refers to as: “cast members” but still, can’t we just call it what it is? Apparently not. Toward the end, I squirmed in my seat when someone on the other end of the phone line told me, “We decided to re-purpose the meeting.” Ugh.

Even before it became personal, I despised the term “downsize.” Then it happened to me; and horror of horrors, “outplacement” meetings became a tool toward my own “re-purposing” and I gritted my teeth when asked to produce an “elevator speech.” However, in the spirit of moving forward, I spent the first months refining my goals and paring them down into a statement that could be expressed during the length of a ride from the bottom floor to the top. “I am an HR professional with skills in communication, writing, staff development, budget management and talent acquisition” (the last one another expression that caused a shudder). Then I never used it.

Now as a self-employed freelance copywriter, I have another of elevator speech, though sometimes, it's a struggle to communicate those few critical phrases designed to elicit interest. This became clear Saturday. Over the potato bins at the grocery store, a former senior executive at my old employer who had retired before the large layoff that swept me away, greeted me. Once he determined I was no longer with our old firm, he asked what I am doing now, and I bobbled it.

For the record: the speech should go as follows: “I have my own freelance business writing firm. I work with individuals and small businesses and focus on resumes, marketing materials, print and web advertising, flyers and business letters.” Instead, I looked down, looked up, and stumbled through: “Well I’ve been doing my own thing, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’m copywriting. Resumes, marketing materials; here let me give you my card.” He smiled, pocketed it without looking at it and then moved on after wishing me well. It was evident that during that brief exchange, my plummeting elevator had jammed between floors.

Pushing my cart to the check-out, I mulled over the many things I could have told him. In the last eighteen months, I’ve developed my own copywriting business, created and written regularly in this blog, have been published in two print magazines and one on-line anthology. I volunteered weekly for the Council on Aging, took two courses, and successfully completed multiple freelance writing projects including business letters, fliers, resumes, Web language and email communications.

I work part-time job at a cheese and gourmet food shop and am beginning the process to sell my photographs, via 5”x7” note cards on the Web. Oh, and there is one more thing. I haven’t told many people this yet, and it may go no further than the bottom of the drawer in which it currently sits, but I’ve finished the first draft of a novel. (The catch here is if the book ever gets beyond its current stage, it will need an elevator speech too.)

I know—even if I were riding to the top of a fifty-floor tower, this recitation would be way too long, but packing up my purchases and pondering it, I smiled in relief. The art of pushing elevator buttons may be beyond me, but at least I can say that I’ve climbed a few flights of stairs.

What is your least favorite office-speak phrase?


jbchicoine said...

...well, then, I guess it’s true that words do have impact—all the more reason to use them with care; they could actually spur a thought—or a whole post, lol!

I have managed to by-pass the entire office environment, but I do so find those catch phrases amusing. I have to say, though, that I prefer the vamped up version of ‘House Wife’ to ‘Domestic Engineer’, or 'Medicated', to 'Pharmaceutically Enhanced'.

Jan Morrison said...

Lisa - this is a wonderful piece of writing. I too hate the jargon with a passion. I even hate blogging jargon - lol makes me cringe - how else does one laugh after all? I think all you need with your stairwell speech (for you are a green networker!) is a bit of practice. I'm doing that right now because my psychotherapy practice is very thin, my govt. writing for educational websites etc...is almost nonexistant and a friend and I are going to networking (eep) events. Also, I'm going to a local book and writing festival in two weeks - going to pitch my mystery to a group of publishers and will have lots of chances to talk to agents and publishers on the floor. Yikes. I'm trying not to hate this part of my life because it seems essential am I to continue in the lifestyle I enjoy. My guy is also self-employed and has just taken a huge hit so we need to keep on keeping on. It is hard and we can do it, eh?
I think you've done loads to be proud of - you could say you are 'well situated' ARGGHH!
I'm off to practice my stairwell speech.
Jan Morrison

glnroz said...

i think you did great. Your former "Senior executive" friend felt that way too. If he had any "salt" he recognized that you have the ability to develope and maintain your goals without his or someone else's help.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I've made every effort to wipe office-speak from my memory since I left the corporate world a couple of years ago. I'm a living being, not a commodity. And I think that's what we need to remember, not to measure ourselves by the rules corporations establish. You've done some impressive things on your own. Be proud, be strong. (By the way, easy for me to say but I struggle with it, too.)

Piedmont Writer said...

The most dreaded question for me?
"What do you do?"

I used to say "I have my own catering business." or "I have a personal assistant business."

And that always garnered questions and the prompt for a business card or two.

Now when they ask, and I say "I'm a writer" a glossy look comes over their eyes and they don't seem to know what that is.

A little story -- I finally spoke with the guy who lives across the street from me (after 3 years) and he asked me what I did, why I didn't work. And I replied, "I do work, I'm a writer." And he asked,
(no, wait for it,) "Why?"

Robin said...

Liza, it could be worse. You could be me and your answer would have been... "I'm filing for bankruptcy, Chapter 7, you know the BIG one, and Social Security Disability. When I feel well enough I do some writing. I'd give you a card, but I don't have one." Now, that would have been something to see!

Your truth is that you have your finger in several money making ventures. That is awesome. The fact that they cannot be summed up easily makes them more, rather than less, impressive. You could have just said you are a writer. A freelance writer. You are being paid to write. That is true. Not the whole truth, but part of it. An impressive part.

You want to know another truth? Most people don't really care. He asked out of politeness. If he had shown signs of actually caring it would have led to conversation. At that point, you could have been more forthcoming.

I don't know how many years that yo-yo worked with you, but the people who read this blog are far more invested in your future than a good many of the people that you actually know face to face. Now, that is sad but true. Why? Because we take time out of our day, every day, to get to know you. And you do the same. The people that I am talking about that know you by face never did that and never will. Well, they might once your book gets published. But until then... Just saying.


Helen Ginger said...

I think you did great. Next time this comes up ... smile, take a breath to center yourself, then start talking. Giving yourself that second long pause will let you gather yourself.

N. R. Williams said...

It's been too long since I was in an office to have something to say about that. What you wrote is beautifully put.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Simon C. Larter said...

You've finished a novel draft!? Congratulations on that, good lady! Well done there. Really. Very well done.

Screw the elevator speeches. You're doing pretty well in my book.

Anonymous said...

Where do I begin? 10 years in banking and finance I've heard too many. Any snentence with the word paradigm in it for sure.

Stephen Tremp

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

It's funny because I've never really worked in a traditional office, so much of those phrases are absolutely lost on me. I've worked in a library and as a university instructor. our phrases were much different :P

But it's funny because I think you pretty much have to have an elevator pitch no matter what you do, even if you stay home--everyone will ask you what you do. It's funny because this weekend I had to actually pitch my manuscript. Scary stuff. I rambled my way through the pitches because I was so nervous, whatever pitch I'd prepared was pretty much lost to me.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Ha! Love it. Touche' for you. :)