Do you or your board volunteers stammer when someone says, “Tell me about your organization?” Telltale signs are avoiding eye contact by staring at the floor and starting the reply with “Ummm.”

Describing the association should be straight forward and succinct. It ought to be expressed with confidence.

Three Words

Some associations have identified just three words to describe their organizations. These words are the platform for communicating with impact a message that grabs the attention of the listener.

The Empire State Society of Association Executives has integrated the three words into their logo: Guide.  Empower. Lead.

Note how each is punctuated with a period to make a stronger point. A comma would make it look like a run-on sentence.

Three Words Association Description
Guide. Empower. Lead. A society offering career and professional development opportunities.
Confident. Competent. Compliant. The association provides the education and opportunities that support member skills for successful careers.
Value. Vision. Voice. The organization delivers value to members, is positioned to be innovative, and serves at the voice of the members to government and media.
Better. Faster. Stronger. An association of young entrepreneurs that provides benefits advancing member success.

Sell the Sizzle

“Sell the sizzle, not the steak” refers to a sales technique. The listener wants to hear about results, not the details. Imagine a steak on the grill where customers can hear and smell the sizzle, making their mouths water.

Too many volunteers describe the steak, not the sizzle. They talk about the annual trade show and a monthly newsletter rather than the outcomes and return on investment such as improved competencies, leadership development and prosperity, for instance.

Listeners want to hear about impact. They’d prefer to know the association is improving standards of excellence and quality of life rather than hearing about meetings and newsletters.

Elevator Speech

An elevator speech is a few key sentences to portray an impactful image. It should include a brief mission, describe the membership, portray strengths of the association, and a summary, easily stated before the elevator doors open.

My colleague Nataliia Zhuhai taught business association executives how to create an elevator speech. She is a Program Officer at the Center for International Enterprise in Ukraine.

Based on her journalism experience she said to imagine you are in the Ukraine Parliament Building when a lawmaker says, “Tell me about your organization before I have to get off on the third floor.” An association should develop and practice a consistent message, using an elevator speech.

Brief is Better

Whether you select just three words to describe the sizzle of the association, or draft an elevator speech, realize there may be only one chance to communicate the importance of the association.

Collaborate with the board to draft the best message with the greatest impact. Write an elevator speech volunteers can use. Discuss the three words that best describe the association. Keep the mission statement to a length that is tweetable.

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Note: Bob Harris, CAE, provides free governance tips and templates at