Ditch the elevator pitch: Jim Signorelli on perfecting your personal brand

Jim Signorelli is not a big fan of the elevator speech. It may be the buzzword du jour, the 21st century equivalent of the icebreaker, and the go-to gimmick for everyone from young job seekers to senior salespeople, but for Signorelli, there’s a lot more value in being an authentic author — rather than merely a seller — of your personal story.

“Don’t concentrate so much on the elevator speech, concentrate on what’s happening during the elevator ride, and afterwards as well,” advises Signorelli, author of StoryBranding and CEO of Chicago’s eswStoryLab. “Because no matter what you say in one sentence, it’s not going to be as important as what you do, and how you say it. If I get on an elevator and someone opens the door for me and says, ‘What floor do you want?’ then gives me a smile and says, ‘How’s your day going?’ you know I’m going to be a lot more interested in that person than someone who says, ‘I’m a leading salesperson for my insurance company.’

“It’s just being real. That’s really what it’s all about. And it’s about inviting people into your world as opposed to forcing their attention in areas that you want them to attend to.”

When it comes to branding — which is what we all do on a personal level each day as we go about our business — Signorelli knows his stuff. In his 30-year career, he’s lent his branding expertise to such corporate heavyweights as Citibank, General Electric, Toshiba, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and McDonald’s. And for three straight years, his agency, eswStoryLab, was named to the Inc. 500 list of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S.

At the Oct. 22 In Business Expo & Conference, Signorelli will share some of that expertise during his keynote breakfast address “If You Have a Birth Certificate, You Are a Brand.”

Signorelli will help attendees:

  • Clearly understand the importance of having an authentic vs. “manufactured” personal brand.
  • Use tools to define their personal brand the same way some of the most successful brands in the world define theirs.
  • Develop a plan to cultivate their personal brand once it’s defined.

On that first point, Signorelli stresses the importance of telling one’s story in a genuine way. As he notes, we all have a story, whether we like it or not, but the question is, how is that story being told? Are we simply conveying dry factual information about ourselves, or are we exciting people’s imagination?

“As sellers, we learn to push,” said Signorelli. “But if we think of ourselves as an author telling our story, we think of it differently. We don’t tell people how to think of us, we give them something to think about. An author invites our imagination. A seller uses words to control our imagination, and I’m going to explain how that works.”


Personal branding, as it’s honed through the storytelling approach, has a parallel in the high-stakes world of corporate branding, says Signorelli. For instance, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple after a decade-long banishment, he helped right the ship by focusing on — at the risk of sounding grandiose — the company’s soul.  

“It really comes down to your intention, and intention is really informed by knowing who you are and what you’re all about, and going beyond what it is that you do,” said Signorelli. “If you’re thinking in terms of products and services, often what marketers do is they think about what we refer to as their outer layer — that is, what people see, in terms of what the product does, the advantages that is has, the benefits, the problems it solves. That’s good, but what’s really important is why you’re making a product like that.

“When he came back to work after he was fired, Steve Jobs said, ‘We’ve really got to know who we are and what we are about, and what we’re really all about is being crazy enough to change the world.’ And so everything that they do comes out of that intention. And Apple doesn’t care so much about you knowing the stats of its product as much as they want you to know that whatever they come up with is going to be something that is probably going to change your life a little bit.”



It’s just as important, says Signorelli, for individuals to get in touch with their authentic stories — for the sake of personal as well as professional success — as it is for companies to understand what they’re all about.

“Success is a function of confidence, and if you’re just going through the motions, you can’t really be confident, because that’s not you,” said Signorelli. “You have to know who you are and what you stand for in order to really have any esteem for who you are. And that esteem comes off automatically, without even trying. It’s there for people to see, and everybody’s got their antennae up, and they can tell, is this an authentic human being, is this someone who really believes in himself and what he’s talking about, or is he just telling me what he has to tell me in order to make a sale?”

One of the tools Signorelli has developed to help people define their personal brands involves the basic archetypes, or personality types, that individuals fall into. He discusses the archetypes in his book, but he’s currently developing an assessment tool (which he plans to unveil at the IB Expo) that will help people develop their personal stories.

“There are 12 basic archetypes that are defined by a set of values and beliefs,” said Signorelli. “For instance, there’s the rebel who believes in zigging when everyone else is zagging. There’s the purist who believes in doing things the right way even when other people aren’t looking. There’s the magician who is always looking for new ways to excite people, to put imagination to work. Those are values and beliefs that maybe people can identify with to some extent, and what we’re going to do is provide a tool to help them identify the archetypes that best describe their persona, and by virtue of doing that, they’ll become more in touch with what’s important to them and what they’re really all about.”

And once that persona — that character, if you will — is defined, one’s personal story can emerge and begin to shape one’s personal brand.

“A story is really nothing more than a character overcoming some obstacles to achieve some goal, and when you think in terms of that character, who that character is, beyond what that character does — when you think of that character as having a set of values and a set of beliefs as opposed to a bunch of benefits and advantages — all of a sudden you start to see that brand, or that character in this case, as something much bigger and something that is much more important.”

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