3 steps to a great elevator pitch

By Guy R. Powell

Has this ever happened to you?

  • You're in an elevator. The CEO of your hottest prospect is also in the elevator and realizes that he recognizes you. He says, "I was curious, tell me what you do again. I can't remember." What do you say?
  • You're at a party. You just happen to run into the VP of the company you want to work for. You mention that you're looking for a job, and then the VP says, "Glad to meet you. Tell me more about yourself!" How do you respond?

The elevator pitch is the most powerful and concise description of you, your company, or your products boiled down to 25 to 35 words. It answers five basic questions, and it encourages the listener to request, "Tell me more."

What is the purpose of the elevator pitch?

Elevator pitches are developed to relay just enough information to cause your interlocutor to ask, "Tell me more." If you're lucky, the CEO will remain on the elevator and say, "If you have a few minutes, I want to hear more." If you're even luckier, your prospective VP will ask you to set up an appointment the next day to meet with him. All of that from the development, memorization, and tweaking of a few simple yet incredibly powerful words.

How do you get ready to step on the elevator?

Building an elevator pitch consists of three steps:

Step 1: The five W's

Step 2: Iterating

Step 3: Adjusting to your audience

Step 1: The five W's

The first step is to develop answers to the following questions:

  1. What does your company do? (For example, begin your answer with "We provide.")
  2. Whom does your company do it for? (For example, begin your answer with "For small and midsized healthcare providers.")
  3. Why do they care? Or, What's in it for them? (For example, include in your answer "so that they can," "who can no longer afford," or "who are tired of.")
  4. Why is your company different? (For example, begin your answer with "As opposed to" or "Unlike.")
  5. What is your company? (For example, begin your answer with "My company is an insurance.")

Optional W's

In some cases, it may be important to develop answers to questions about other aspects of you, your company, or your products that can help lead to that all-important "tell me more" request:

  • What environment is your company operating in? (For example, begin your answer with "My company's industry is challenged to implement Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.")
  • What single thing does your company do better than anyone else? (For example, begin your answer with "My company is recognized as the leading provider of.")

Examples of answers

Trey Research     "For restaurants that need to measure and improve customer satisfaction, Trey Research provides the answers you need in half the time through its proprietary combination of online and offline survey techniques." (31 words)

Proseware, Inc.     "For companies requiring compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley, Proseware is a custom financial software developer providing software and consulting solutions in half the time so that you can sleep at night again." (30 words)

John Smith     "I graduated in record time from Coho University with an undergraduate degree in microbiology. I just started researching the influence of algae on prolonging the life span and increasing the population of bottlenose dolphins." (34 words)

Step 2: Iterating

It looks simple, but the hard part is getting your elevator pitch to contain 35 words or less. Keep editing it; rehearsing it; practicing it by saying it to your spouse, your friend, and people inside and outside your industry.

Make sure that they get your elevator pitch. Smile when they ask, "What do you mean by … ?" or "Does that mean you can help me to … ?"

Keep improving your elevator pitch until it becomes routine for you to say and crystal clear for your audience to understand. Like a fine wine, it can only improve with age.

Examples of answers

Trey Research     "If you're a restaurateur and can't keep your regulars coming back, you're lost. Using proprietary online and offline survey techniques, Trey Research will find out how you can stop the losses and start generating profit." (35 words)

Proseware, Inc.     "With the spotlight on public companies and the severe penalties for noncompliance, Proseware's customized compliance solutions, delivered in less than half the time, let you get a good night's sleep." (30 words)

John Smith     "Bottlenose dolphins depend heavily on algae for survival. Having just graduated from Coho University in microbiology, I'll be one of three researchers helping to prolong the dolphins' life span and population through this important research." (35 words)

Step 3: Adjusting to your audience

Every audience is different. You wouldn't tell your son's fourth-grade class: "I design J2EE software applications to deliver SOA for F1000 companies." So make sure that your terminology and your acronyms fit your audience members. Keep your elevator pitch at their level.

Examples of answers

Trey Research     "Trey Research helps restaurants improve customer satisfaction so that people keep coming back. Nobody else does it the way Trey Research does it — with combined telephone and Internet contacts." (29 words)

Proseware, Inc.     "In the aftermath of some of the recent accounting scandals, Proseware helps companies make sure that they are following the law. No one else can help them comply as fast as Proseware can." (33 words)

John Smith     "Bottlenose dolphins need a certain algae to survive. With a Coho degree, I'm going to be one of three researchers figuring out how this algae can help dolphins live longer and increase their populations." (34 words)

Go for the gold

Elevator pitches that represent a company or a product must be used by all employees in the company, including the sales team and the executive team. Each of these groups can help hone the elevator pitch. They may even be able to provide alternate versions that they have tailored for their typical audiences. Soliciting their input and feedback on these critical 35 words can help take your elevator pitch "up to the next level."

Personal elevator pitches are important in job interviews and for meeting new business acquaintances or new friends. They can even be useful for better informing your friends about what you do.

Don't forget that the goal of a successful elevator pitch is to prompt your recipient to ask you the all-important "tell me more."

About the author     Guy R. Powell is president of DemandROMI, a company that helps marketing organizations measure the return on their marketing investments. DemandROMI helps companies prove and improve marketing performance so that they can deliver quantifiable revenue and profit as a result of marketing investments. Guy is author of Return on Marketing Investment: Demand More from Your Marketing and Sales Investments.

 
 
Applies to:
Word 2003