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How To Give A Great Elevator Pitch About Your Business

Posted on Mon, Feb 2, 2009

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By Suzanne Bates

How many times have you asked someone at a networking event what they do for a living, only to regret it? You find yourself trapped by a person who has taken your question as an invitation to deliver a long, detailed “elevator pitch.” The conversation is hijacked by a live, two-minute commercial. Whether you are interested appears to be irrelevant. Your eyes glaze over as you furtively search for the closest bartender or fire escape.

In the “old days” before we were coached to prepare these elevator pitches, we used to say, “I’m an accountant,” or “I have a law practice.” It wasn’t clever, but it did the job. If the person was interested in learning more, they would ask. At least you didn’t feel like you were shilling. Today we have been encouraged to give introductions on steroids – and some are so long and dull; the listener can only nod and pretend to be fascinated.

The elevator pitch has become an abomination – no longer helpful in networking settings. Many “pitches” are so silly they are driving people away. Whoever is providing this advice – whether it’s sales trainers or career coaches, it’s time to take back the whole process, reexamine the purpose of the pitch and talk about when it’s even appropriate.

Let’s start with the big myth – you don’t have 30 seconds. Not at first. You might have 10 or 12. When you start a conversation and someone asks what you do for a living, you should not consider it an invitation to get on the soapbox. Make it a conversation. Say something brief and interesting about what you do. Don’t try to be too clever – that doesn’t invite questions – it just puts people off.

Once you state what you do, ask the other person a question. They won’t be interested in you, until you’re interested in them. The way to express interest is by trying to actually learn something about them; finding common ground. Once you have made a genuine connection the conversation will flow naturally and they will probably ask about your business, as well.

In social conversation it is inappropriate to launch into a pitch unless and until you have explicit permission from the other person. Think of it not like a pitch in baseball – more like a tennis game with two players volleying. Good players watch the ball coming over the net; position themselves on the court, and swing. In conversation you listen, consider an appropriate response or question, and return the volley. It should go back and forth easily. Once you finish making a point, ask another question.

Yes, there are times when you must be prepared to stand up and give a little pitch about what you do. At many networking events, the meeting leader asks people to describe their business.

Even then, proceed with caution. Your pitch should be less than 30 seconds, and should be relevant to the audience and the event. You will not impress people if you sound like a robot. Think of these venues as mini-presentations. The first rule of all public speaking applies. It’s not about you. It’s about them. That may sound counter intuitive, because you’re supposed to be talking about your business. But it will be more memorable and interesting if what you say includes your audience.

Let me give you a great example.

My book agent, Ken Lizotte, was attending a meeting of the Society for Professional
Consultants. The host asked each person to stand and explain what kind of consulting they do.

Ken was racking his brain to come up with something relevant to this particular group. When his turn came, it finally came to him. He stood up and said, “Hi I’m Ken Lizotte, and I make people famous.” That got their attention! “I do this by getting clients published in magazines and newspapers, and helping them get their books published, too.” After the meeting, he was immediately surrounded by a crowd of keenly interested people.

How can you apply this lesson to your elevator pitch? First, remember, it isn’t easy to make it simple. You have to analyze what you do for people, and boil it down to something interesting, concrete, and about them.

“Our company has a new drug that helps people sleep without the usual side effects.”

“I’m a political speechwriter working primarily with women running for national office.”

“Our firm works with family business owners looking for exit strategies.”

If the other person expresses interest, you can follow up to explain how you do your work.

Provide a couple of tangible, memorable phrases about how your product or service works.

Leave the jargon at the office. If your friend or significant other wouldn’t understand it, don’t say it. Jargon is a big turnoff, even in business conversation.

Remember, you don’t have to speak for 3 minutes, even 30 seconds if your message is relevant and on the mark. Here are a few general tips:

• Make it succinct and clear

• Create a word picture

• Make it concrete and simple

• Don’t try to be overly clever

• Talk about results of your service or product

• Don’t talk about yourself unless people ask

• Make the description inclusive – not too specific at first, so as not to eliminate
potential customers or clients

Remember that you may need a variety of elevator pitches depending upon the audience. Here are a few that I’ve used in my own business:

“We coach business people to give great speeches, presentations and media interviews.”

“We teach our clients how to communicate like pros.”

“We’re former television reporters who help business people get comfortable in the spotlight.”

It’s always a good idea to try out your new pitches on people who know you and understand what you do. Make sure they are friends who will be honest. Watch their faces, and really gauge the reaction. Don’t accept “That sounds fine.” Work on it until it feels right, you are comfortable saying it and it makes sense to a 7th grader.

If you feel anxious about delivering an elevator pitch- practice out loud. There is nothing worse than feeling your hands get clammy and your mind go blank as you stand up to speak. Get a tape recorder to practice, and do it until you can say it in your sleep. Keep refining – not lengthening.

Make it short and interesting, and people will want to know more.

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders

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