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How to Craft a Memorable Elevator Pitch

(posted: February 1st, 2018)

We all know what an elevator pitch, or elevator speech is.

But if you are not a startup founder or a script writer, why do you need an elevator pitch?

Of course, the entrepreneur and the script writer need elevator pitches, but so do leaders, team members, job seekers and individual contributors.

An elevator pitch can sell your product, tell people what you do, or be part of the branding for a company. An organization might have a standard pitch that employees modify to include their contribution. A pitch can help you energize people around a change initiative you're leading. You could use an elevator pitch to sell a new idea to your CEO, or as a fundraising tool for a nonprofit. Or a CEO might use an elevator pitch to present a new direction to her board of directors. And it is the best way to introduce yourself at a networking event.

YOU need an elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is simply a short, engaging speech that you use to spark interest in your business, project, idea, product.

Creating Your Pitch

Your elevator pitch or speech is a living document and you should be prepared to change it over time. You also may need different versions for different situations or audiences.

An elevator pitch must:

  • Be short. Aim for 60-90 seconds or less.
  • Highlight your unique skills and qualifications.
  • Answer the questions: Who are you? What do you do? What are you looking for?

That's the pitch part of the elevator pitch. The other part is engaging your listener. It could be as simple as "Can I buy you a coffee?" but you need to finish up with a question so that the other person is compelled to respond. Note that this shouldn't be an "ask" in most situations, but rather a question to hook your listener into further conversation.

It is also important that your elevator pitch feels natural, confident, and conversational. That's why writing it out and practicing it out loud is critical.

Elevator Pitch Tips

The primary goal of most elevator pitches should be to begin building rapport that leads to more conversations. You want people to ask, "Tell me more!" or "How do you do that?"

Theses tips will help you write your personal or professional elevator speech.

Introduce yourself with your professional identity and your "why". This needs to stay short (not a long, detailed story) but still show your commitment and passion. Are you a bankruptcy lawyer? Don't say, "I'm a bankruptcy lawyer" but rather, "I help people become hardworking, productive members of their communities again by lifting the burden of debt from their shoulders." Ideally, you can pause here and let your listener ask, "Really? How do you do that?"

Don't talk about what you do, lead with who or how you help. "I'm a bankruptcy lawyer," is much less compelling than, "I help families use bankruptcy to escape the poverty trap of debt." Verbs like teach, develop, help, and create will identify you as an expert.

Avoid jargon. Explain what you do so that your 10-year-old nephew could understand it. The only exception is if you KNOW that a couple of very specific word choices will make your target see you as an expert. "Big data," for example, is one of those terms that is both trendy and also an indicator of expertise.

How are you different? This is often where you bring in your "soft" skills, like good communications, strong writing skills, more personalized service, etc. It could be that you are faster, your prices are lower, you have more experience, or even that you have unique life experience that gives you better insight into a client's situation. There may be several ways that you are different, so identify them all and tailor your pitch to use the one or two that will resonate most with each specific person you speak to.

Make the pitch more about them than you. That may sound counter-intuitive, but like in other public speaking situations it's critical in getting them to listen. You want to convey how you can help the other person, rather than simply describing who you are.

Here's an example from LinkedIN: "I'm Bernard Marr. I'm a big data consultant and I help companies demystify big data and put one of their most important assets, their data, to use identifying and answering the questions that will dramatically improve their business' bottom line. I'm always looking for opportunities to answer questions and offer my expertise to interested audiences."

In this example, his is "ask" at the end is not phrased as a question, but it is carefully focused on how he can help you, his listener.

Another example, this one from a founder looking for investors, engages from the very beginning by asking questions that highlight problems that the founder then solves with her product.

"Did you know there are more than 1.8 billion vaccinations given every year?"
"Did you know up to half of those are given with reused needles?"
"Did you know we are spreading and perpetuating the very diseases we are trying to prevent?"
"Imagine if there were a painless, one-use needle available for a fraction of the current cost. You don't have to imagine it; we've created it..."

Practice Your Pitch for (Near) Perfection & Confidence

Once you've crafted your elevator pitch and written it down, practice it until you know it by heart, and work on it until you can deliver it naturally, as though it's NOT memorized. Try it with a few trusted colleagues, friends, or family as you refine it. Then, customize it to the moment and the person you're riding that imaginary elevator with.

Keep in mind that the better you know your elevator speech, the more comfortable you are with it, the more confident you will appear.

Finally, as you practice your speech, think about your physical presentation as well. Speaking in the right tone and using the right body language are integral to selling the content of your pitch. Your listener is taking in multiple cues about you, and they will decide in seven seconds whether to keep listening or not. We'll talk more about confidence, body language and practice in a future post, but for now, remember that smiling and making eye contact will help you connect with your listener. As Amy Cuddy says, "It's not "fake it 'til you make it," it's "fake it until you become it."

Crafting your elevator speech is hard, but we are here to help! Our Presentation Skills workshop can be customized to include elevator pitch fundamentals and exercises, and is available in various lengths. For more personalized, intensive work, we also offer one-on-one coaching.

Challenge Yourself
  • What is the best elevator speech you've heard?
  • Have you developed your elevator speech? Why or why not?
  • If you have one, in which situations do you use your pitch?
  • Which of these tips are you thinking about trying?

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