Elevator pitches. What a bore, right? I thought so too…until a little networking blunder opened my eyes to the importance of being pitch ready at the drop of a hat. So bear with me.
It was a Wednesday evening just like any other. I’d just hit “send” on the last email of the day and was preparing to relinquish my claim to the most sought-after coffee shop table when something peculiar happened.
I looked behind me. Who was there?
Grabbed my phone. Who’s texting me?
Squinted my eyes and slowly opened my laptop again.
There it was. Dead in front of me.
“Reminder: You’ve got 1 event coming up today.”
It wasn’t just any Wednesday after all. It was the Wednesday I’d RSVPed for my first small business networking event.
I slammed my laptop shut, shoved it in my bag, and high-tailed it out of there.
Last to arrive at the event, I wiggled my way into a circle of chairs arranged around a communal table.
“Great! Looks like we’re all here. Let’s get started,” the woman to my left announced. “My name’s Adrienne and I’m a photographer. After graduating with my degree in business and working in advertising for three years, I saw a need for professional photography at non-agency prices. So I bought a camera for $50 off Craigslist, took a community class, and have been shooting for local startups and entrepreneurs ever since. Combining my background in business with creativity, I help my clients find their ideal balance of professionalism and personality.”
Then she looked to me. “Your turn,” she smiled.
“Oh, um, hey. I’m Erika,” I stuttered as I studied the water rings on the table. “I’m a writer. I write a little bit of everything…short stories, websites, blogs. And, um, yeah.”
I looked up. Everyone was staring at me so I coughed up a “that’s all” to divert the spotlight.
Unbeknown to me at the time, this was my elevator pitch. And it was truly awful.
Today, I’m sharing what I’ve learned since that pitch fail—so you can learn from my mistakes, rather than relive them.
What is an elevator pitch, exactly?
Think of your elevator pitch as your personal commercial. It answers four key questions:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Who do you do it for?
- How are you qualified to do it?
…all in about 30 seconds. Basically the time it takes to ride an elevator (get it?). Or, in my case, the time it takes to embarrass yourself in front of 20 strangers.
Similarly, your elevator pitch can be tailored to sell a specific product by answering questions like:
- What product are you selling?
- Who are you selling it to?
- How will it benefit those people?
- What sets it apart from similar products?
In either case, use your elevator pitch as a conversation starter. Keep it professional but conversational—like you’re catching up with an old friend.
(You won’t impress anyone with big words, technical nerd speak, or jargon. Trust me.)
The ultimate multi-tasker
Why care about your elevator pitch? Let me count the ways. But, really:
- You have mere seconds to make a first impression. A succinct, engaging, and personable pitch makes the most of your time—and theirs.
- Big breaks and dream clients lurk around everywhere. Avoid missed opportunities by putting on your pitch face every morning before you leave the house.
- Your elevator pitch is your guarantee. It lets people know what to expect when they hire you or buy your product. And yes, your delivery matters.
- An emotionally-charged pitch tugs at heartstrings. It draws your audience in and develops a personal connection. Being likable is half the challenge.
- Once you have your elevator pitch down on paper, you can quickly build your mission and vision statements around it (more on those another day).
Whoever you are, whatever you’re selling: your purpose is to bring people along for the ride. Ideas, services, digital products, and tangible ones all need buy-in to achieve results.
Make your pitch memorable
When I say “pitch,” what do you picture? Suited businessmen in corporate conference rooms? Powerpoint decks decorated with lame memes from 2010?
Hopefully not. But if you spent any time in corporate, these images might haunt your memory.
The truth is, every business owner or entrepreneur has a pitch whether they know it or not. Make yours stand out with these tactics.
1. Tell a micro story
Remember that story about how I embarrassed myself in front of 20 strangers at a business networking event?
Aside from me reminding you now, it likely lingered.
Stories stick. Why? Because, as Lisa Cron writes, our brains are wired for story All those little neurotransmitters darting around see a good plot line and drop everything to latch on.
Give ‘em something to latch onto by weaving micro story elements into your elevator pitch. Like how Adrienne mentioned buying her first camera for $50 on Craigslist, alluding to a story of thrifty creative entrepreneurship.
Your micro story hooks people, your business tells the rest.
2. Speak to your target audience
Growing up, I had the worst stage fright. My mom always said: “just picture the audience in their underwear, honey.”
So, I did. And I played the best Extra Villager #2 Baymonte Elementary had ever seen.
When you whip out your elevator pitch, don’t picture your audience in their knickers (or do, whatever works for you). Just imagine you’re speaking to one person: your ideal client or customer. Show you get them. Don’t worry about everyone else.
One way to do this is by anticipating questions or objections your target customer might have and addressing them head-on. Another is to present a solution to a problem they face.
3. Combine visual language with concrete facts
Visual language has a similar effect as storytelling. It tickles memory sensors and creates magnetic connections.
Facts, on the other hand, establish authority. They queue your listeners into your qualifications and support your claims.
Visual language gets attention. It’s tangible and approachable, like a porch swing on a breezy summer afternoon (see what I did there?). Facts are the beams that support the swing: when installed properly, they build trust and confidence and allow the user to relax.
4. Position yourself (or your product) as the solution to a problem
This goes back to your target audience. Before you pitch them on anything, know who they are and what struggles they face. Then, show them the solution they’ve been looking for.
Imagine you’re selling No. 2 pencils and have a meeting with the school supply committee. They need an alternative to pens, an unfortunate result of several vandalism incidents. Lucky for you, your soft-lead pencils leave no trace.
Discover your solution and draw attention to it.
Bring it all together
Now, you may not drive a Tesla—or even own a suit—but Elon Musk’s pitch for Tesla stands as a great example employing all four of these tactics.
“Why does Tesla exist? We have record high C02 levels in the atmosphere resulting in a steadily increasing temperature. And, it’s still climbing. Combustion cars emit toxic gases too, killing 53,000 people per year. What can we do to change this? How can we make a difference? What we’re trying to do with Tesla is accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport. At Tesla, we make great electric cars. This is really important for the future of the world.”
Elon’s pitch is so effective because it tells the story of a world in danger and presents Tesla as a solution, using visual language to set the scene and backing it up with facts. He stages the problem and solution by asking questions—and answers them concisely and persuasively.
Don’t stress. Your elevator pitch doesn’t have to save the world. It just has to resonate with your corner of the world.
Ready to get your pitch down on paper?
Don’t feel like writing your own elevator pitch? Pay me to do it for you: firstname.lastname@example.org