The Elevator Pitch

“What do you do?” or “what does your business do?” can be quite a daunting, if not laborious, question. Especially when it’s your own business and you don’t have a title per se, and the reality is that you do everything and that the exact nature of what you do is sometimes simply undefinable (even to yourself!). If you’re a business owner you’ll understand.

This came up again recently when I read an interview with sock entrepreneur Nicholas Haralambous of Nic Harry in the Sunday Times. I was particularly interested in his answer to the following question:

How does your background in media and tech help the work you do today?

He answered: My journalism degree has been a massive help thus far. I didn’t know it at the time, but understanding words and communication has become an incredibly important part of building a business. If you can’t talk about your business, communicate the value you offer and promote your brand, then you’re in trouble.

I have the same journalism degree, but that’s not the point. Talking about your own business is surprisingly difficult. It’s difficult because you’re so close to it, it’s difficult because you often assume too much knowledge on the part of the listener, it’s difficult because it is hard to know which aspect to focus on and where to begin exactly.

This got me thinking about the elevator pitch and how important it is to have one. And how important it is that it is clear, concise and relevant.

Intrigued by the notion of the elevator pitch I scoured the internet for tips, advice and best practices. Here are my notes.

What is it exactly?

It’s a short, prepared “speech” about your business. It’s concise and to the point. It’s the story of your business/product/service/idea told in the time it takes for an elevator to get from one floor to the next – approximately 20 seconds. 

Wikipedia says “the name ‘elevator pitch’ reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately thirty seconds to two minutes, and is widely credited to Ilene Roseznweig and Michael Caruso (while he was editor for Vanity Fair) for its origin”. It’s your strapline on steroids, so it needs to pack a punch.

How to go about it:

There is nothing wrong with practising your elevator pitch. In fact, it’s a very good idea and a way of ensuring you have your pitch down exactly when you are asked (perhaps off the cuff) to talk about what you do. Here are some pointers for getting started.

  • Define what the goal is with your elevator pitch. It may vary from time to time, or depend on who the audience is. It could be to simply introduce your business, to sell a particular product, or it could be to make your work sound interesting. The important thing is to be clear about the objective of the elevator pitch

    On that note, I’d like to introduce the tennis ball analogy (it’s my favourite takeaway from the two years I worked for a large corporate organisation). It goes like this: If somebody threw one tennis ball at you you would almost definitely catch it. If they threw two tennis balls at you there is a good chance that you would be able to catch it. But if they threw three tennis balls at you you’re likely going to having some difficulty catching all three and may even end up dropping all of them. It’s the same with messaging. One message is easy to catch. It’s possible to catch two messages. But go beyond that and you probably lose the listener all together.

  • Think about the one thing you want people to remember  (refer to the tennis ball analogy above)
  • Include your unique selling point – this could be your approach, your materials, your clients etc.
  • It could be useful to include a question – this is a nice way to turn it into a conversation and to gauge the listener’s level of understanding (e.g. what is your business currently doing in the way of content marketing?)
  • Practice makes perfect – there is nothing wrong with practicing your elevator pitch in front of the mirror or to test it on friends (rather that than sound like a babbling idiot when you do happen to get into an elevator with your dream client/potential investor)

Touchy feely stuff

Remember that you’re talking to a human being so make sure your tone and body language reflects that. Also bear the following points in mind.

  • People want to know you care – offer a solution to a problem and make the benefits clear
  • Don’t be afraid to name drop – the subtle mention of clients/brands you work with that they might know adds credibility to your work 
  • Make them come back for more – you don’t need to include the kitchen sink, share enough that it gets the listener interested enough to want to follow up, or Google you at the very least
  • Be normal (or as normal as you can be)
  • Use adjectives – emotion is useful because people relate to it (original, bespoke, unique, the best etc.)

And then just some tips that also apply to speeches in general:

  • Place yourself in the position of the listener/potential client
  • Tailor the offering to suit the audience (somebody who works in digital probably understands “content marketing”, your mom’s friend might understand “online marketing” better)
  • Adjust and refine as and when necessary
  • Emphasise different aspects to different people
  • Use an example to illustrate what you do better 
  • Sometimes it works to start in the middle or at the end (unless the fact that it started in your spare room is relevant, leave it out)
  • Have a one sentence version
  • Make sure there’s a hook (listen/look for cues)
  • Try to avoid industry jargon and meaningless terms like “integrated”, “holistic” etc. – nobody actually knows what that means

And because I love alliteration, some dos and don’ts presented as Elevator Essentials and Elevator Elimination.

Elevator Essentials (the do’s):

  • Keep it short
  • Make sure it is persuasive
  • Add something interesting or unusual 
  • Make it as relevant to the listener as possible

Elevator Elimination (the don’ts):

  • Don’t ramble 
  • Avoid monotones – the excitement for your idea/business/plan/service needs to come out in your voice

Finally, keep it short and sharp and your elevator pitch will elevate your enterprise (did I mention that I love alliteration?)!

Sources/further reading:

The 7 Key Components of a Perfect Elevator Pitch [with Video]

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