There is an oft-told tale that we only get one chance to make a first impression. From speed dating to business meetings, we're taught that people form opinions of us quickly—so we should always put our best foot forward immediately. By the same token, we're told that the initial impressions we form of other people are usually the most accurate.
Referencing numerous studies, author Malcolm Gladwell supports a theory called thin-slicing, which states that we make a fairly accurate assessment of a person based on knowing them for only a few seconds. To be sure, the average person has an attention span of a mere 30 seconds before their mind starts wandering. It is out of necessity, then, that the 'elevator pitch' was born.
What is an Elevator Pitch and Why Should I Care?
An elevator pitch is an answer to the challenge: How would you describe your business and make a sale if you were stuck in an elevator with your dream employer or a great investor and only had a short ride during which to talk? It is a 30 to a 60-second professional description of what you do and why someone would want to work with you that will optimally lead to a deeper conversation about the specialty of what you and your company can offer.
In short, an elevator pitch is your one opportunity to make an impression that grabs a person's attention immediately. If not, you're likely to lose them forever.
What are Elements of a Successful Elevator Pitch?
Chances are, you're already familiar with the questions, "What do you do for a living?" and "What is your business about?" If you've been interviewed for a job recently, you've probably endured the inevitable: "Tell us about yourself."
Whether you're mingling with colleagues or networking at a conference, knowing what to say and how to say it is imperative. Here are some tips to ensure your answer and presentation are stellar.
Keep it Short and Simple
This isn't the time to boast at length about what you have accomplished. Try to maintain focus so that your listener doesn't become restless. Before giving your elevator pitch, choose two or three accomplishments you'd like to focus on. Recent experiences far outweigh dated ones in terms of importance, so keep things relevant.
Notice how this simple elevator pitch succinctly summarizes what the person does and is passionate about --and manages to do it in less than 20 seconds:
"I create illustrations for websites and brands. My passion is coming up with creative ways to express a message, and drawing illustrations that people share on social media."
Use Powerful Words
Avoid jargon and overly technical or flowery language. The last thing you should do is make your listener feel inept or stupid. Instead, capture the person's attention so they want to know more. Grab their attention with powerful words and strong verbs that are readily understood, even by people outside of the industry.
Check out how this elevator pitch uses crisp, vibrant language to 'sell':
“I'm a human resources professional with a strong track record in helping identify and recruit top-level talent into management.”
Focus on Your Listener, Not Yourself
To reiterate an earlier point, your listener's attention will likely wander only a short time after you introduce yourself. About the time you're starting the sales pitch, a listener is trying to determine WIFM (what's in it for me?). It's important to recognize this so you can focus on how you meet their needs right away. That way, their attention doesn't linger on reasons why they should hop out of the conversation.
Use benefit-centered terminology to persuade your listener that you have the skills, experience, and savvy to get the job done well. Here's an excellent example of a business coach who did just that:
"When was the last time you printed and saved a thank-you email? I was at a trade show recently and took digital pictures of the booths of my prospects. When I got back to the office, I sent each one a thank you card with a picture of their booth on it. When I stopped by for a sales call a few weeks later, the card was proudly displayed on their desk. When you’re ready to make a lasting impression, hand me your business card for a free walk through of our proprietary system. My name is _______ and I want you to build better business relationships through effective follow-up."
Keep Your Eye On the Prize
A killer elevator pitch is crafted with a specific goal in mind. You may form different pitches according to different objectives. Some potential goals include making a sale, landing a new job, garnering support for an idea, gaining a client, or being handed a new referral. In any case, keep your desired outcomes in mind when shaping your pitch.
This personal statement for a financial advisor makes it evident what the anticipated outcome is in no uncertain terms: a referral to someone who is having difficulty paying monthly bills:
"I met someone at a party recently who was in so much debt he was having trouble paying his monthly bills. As a result of my free in-home consultation, I was able to consolidate their debt so they are paying it off nine years earlier while also saving $450 per month. My name is ______ and a great referral for me is someone who’s having trouble paying their monthly bills."
Include a Call to Action
Now that you know exactly what you want people to do after hearing your pitch, it's important to give them a way to do so. Think of the pitch as a beginning of a lengthy relationship rather than a means to an end. Provide listeners with a clear way to contact you so that they can follow up on your conversation. Also, ensure that they don't walk away from the conversation wondering what the point of it was.
Call to action statements are usually the very last line or two in an elevator pitch. Notice how this example provides the listener with some information about the speaker, as well as gently guiding them into doing what is required.
"When you're ready to book an appointment, give me a call. My number's on this business card. I'm available every day of the week and would love to schedule you for a complimentary session as soon as possible."
Clarify Your Unique Selling Point
Be sure to utilize an elevator pitch to make yourself stand out from the crowd. What do you offer that others don't? What makes you, your business, or your idea original? Highlight this, so you aren't just another face in the crowd, especially if you're in an industry already saturated with other aspiring stars.
To emphasize what your company's unique qualities are, you could say:
"We use a novel approach because unlike most developers, we visit each organization to find out exactly what people need. Although this takes a bit more time, it means that on average, 95 percent of our clients are happy with the first beta version of their app."
Share a Story
While we suggest providing a story to illustrate your pitch, it's important to keep it succinct. A story can serve several purposes: validate that you know what you're talking about, show you have direct experience with what the prospect needs, and give the listener something to remember you by.
In the following example, notice how the speaker simultaneously describes a problem, identifies how she solved it, and makes an enticing offer to the listener:
"The simple answer is that I manage the millions of details involved in getting a house ready to show so it gets the best possible price. Let me share a recent example. I was doing a walk through with a client and realized that he was so overwhelmed by other details that he had overlooked a critical issue: His oil furnace was a fire hazard. We were able to fix the furnace so it didn’t become an issue at the open house. If you would like a free report with 29 tips for getting your home sold fast (and for top dollar), you can visit the reports section of my website: _________."
Consider the elevator pitch the perfect foundation for a long and prosperous relationship. Approximately 150 words or less, it should include a hook or a way to capture the listener's attention, a glimpse at your passion, a summary of what you offer that others don't, and a request for your listener to do something. Consider your listener carefully as you craft your pitch so that they are motivated to listen.