Pitch perfect – creating a great elevator pitch

Business opportunity is everywhere, and a good elevator pitch helps you uncover it.

True story – I was meeting with my ENT surgeon prior to an op. “What do you do?” he asked. I assumed he was just being polite, but without even having to think about it, I gave my answer: “I help technology companies to win more business through better communication.”

His next words amazed me: “That’s interesting. I’m an investor in a tech company and we really need to communicate better”. One week later I met the company and three days after that I had a new client.

The elevator pitch is a business tool

“What do you do?” It sounds like a simple question and it’s one that we’re likely to be asked in a range of social and business situations –  from standing round the barbecue, to networking meetings and, as I learned, every scenario in between. It’s a question that actually represents a great opportunity – if you can answer it well. And to do that, you need to have an elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is a short and succinct description of what you offer – who you help, how you help and the outcomes your clients achieve. It can be from 15-20 seconds to a minute long.

An effective elevator pitch is one of the best business tools you will ever have. But it’s deceptively hard to do it well. The shorter the time you have to communicate, the harder it is to pick exactly the right words.

The role of the elevator pitch

The job of an elevator pitch is not to sell, not to give your life history or all your company’s credentials. It’s about connection, and generating interest. Succinctly. Clearly. Without waffle and irrelevance.

Its only job is to engage the other person, so that they want to continue the discussion and hear more. The ‘what do you do’ moment can open the door to opportunity or slam it firmly shut.

Why are elevator pitches difficult?

I have met a lot of people –  from sales reps, to business owners, to CEOs –  who struggle with an elevator pitch. They may have a strong message in their company’s written material, but what they don’t have is punchy, pithy, short verbal message.

Why is it so hard to put into a succinct verbal format what we do? My observation from working with clients to develop elevator pitches is that people tend to fall into one of  the following three traps:

Trap 1 –  In at the deep end

For some, the issue is diving straight into too much detail, without really communicating the core message. This is very common – I once had a meeting where someone talked about his business for half an hour solid and I still didn’t understand what his company did, who their clients were or what they offered.

It might seem strange – after all, it’s your business, you should know how to talk about it. But that’s exactly the issue – because you know your business ‘inside out’, it is hard to think about it from the ‘outside in’, from the listener’s perspective. When you know something well, it’s really hard to know what to leave out. You know all the detail and the trap is trying to share it all from the very first moment.

Trap 2 – Title is everything

If you work for a company, especially a corporate, it’s easy to answer the ‘what do you do?’ question by giving your job title, rather than saying what you actually do. Many companies operate as hierarchies where your title and status is very important – important to you that is. But it’s not necessarily the key thing your listener needs to hear in the first 15 seconds, and it can often be a ‘closed’ answer that shuts down any further engagement.

Trap 3 – Too high

The third trap is the opposite of the first. Some people give such a brief, high level answer that it doesn’t invite any further questions or engagement. For example, ‘We develop software’, or ‘We’re a solution provider’. These statements can make a good opening to your elevator pitch, but you then need a ‘hook’ that will invite further questions, such as who the software is for and what it helps them to achieve.

Elevator pitches are worth the effort

Elevator pitches are not easy. Short forms of communication are the hardest to get right. When you only have a few seconds, every word carries more weight and importance, and  there is no room for extraneous detail. It all comes down to using the right structure for your pitch, preparing it and practicing until it becomes a Pavlovian response.

Once you have it ‘down pat’ you’ll welcome the question ‘What do you do?’ and see it for what it is – an open door to opportunity.

Need help with your elevator pitch?  Words2Win offers one to one coaching and group workshops to get you to your perfect pitch. Talk to us about crafting your elevator pitch. 


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