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The concept of an elevator pitch is to engage your audience, make your point quickly, and leave your audience interested and wanting to hear more - not an easy feat when you have two minutes or less to state your business.

An elevator pitch, also called an elevator speech, is a quick 30-second to two-minute sales, recruiting, or marketing speech - roughly the length it takes for an elevator ride to complete its journey from the first floor to the top floor of an urban high-rise building. It's a clear, concise and compelling pitch to an individual that shows what you or your company bring to the table.

There are at least two parties in an elevator pitch, the person speaking and the person(s) listening. The speaker introduces him or herself, provides a very brief introduction to the speech, then launches quickly to a speech summary and conclusion, capped with a call to continue the conversation later, or at least an exchange of email or phone numbers. 

Elevator Pitch Structure

Structurally, you'll want to build these elements into your elevator pitch:

  • A great "hook" - You want to engage your audience right away. That's where a good "hook" comes into your dialogue. For example, a hook can be a product the audience needs to solve an immediate problem, or a specific background experience that puts the speaker at the front of the line for a new job.
  • Tell your story. If you hook your audience in the first 10 seconds, use the next minute to personalize your story and tell the audience who you are. This can run the gamut of conversation possibilities, but the goal here is to convey the direct value you bring to the table.
  • How will you deliver the goods? Your takeaway should include a direct promise to solve a problem the audience needs solved, along with an explanation of how you're going to get the job done.
  • A handshake, a look in the eye, and a promise to continue the conversation. When you've made the case that needed to be made in an elevator pitch, end the speech with a firm handshake, looking your counterpart directly in the eye. Your goal here is to keep the conversation going. After all, you've cast your line, the fish are biting, and now you need to reel them in.

What to Avoid in an Elevator Pitch

There's definitely a fine line with elevator pitches. You don't have much time, so there's no margin for error. Increase your odds of having a successful elevator pitch by avoiding these mistakes:

  • Don't be generic. The worst mistake you can make with an elevator pitch is to be boring - and being generic is a direct path to boredom. Be direct, use examples, and strive for the colorful connectivity you'll need to keep the conversation going at a later date.
  • Not making eye contact. Trust is built between two parties when they look at each other eye-to-eye. Failing to look at your audience eye-to-eye, or worse, looking at the ground as you talk, will likely be taken as an absence of confidence on your part.
  • Not making the case for yourself. It's one thing to make a promise or bring up an offer, but if that offer doesn't solve your audience's problem, you've likely lost the connection. You've got to succinctly tell your audience how you're going to provide value and solve their particular problem.
  • Talking too fast. Yes, an elevator pitch is quick, but that doesn't mean you should talk like an auctioneer. It's actually better to speak clearly and conversationally, and slow it down when you get to the point where you describe how you're going to solve your audience's problem.
  • Coming off as desperate. It's understandable that you're pressed for time in an elevator pitch, but resist the temptation to rush through your speech without taking a breath. Rushing is just another way to describe desperation. If you've written a great elevator pitch, and every word is pure gold, there's no reason to rush, nor is there a reason to come off as desperate.

How to Write an Elevator Pitch

It's always a good idea to write your elevator pitch well in advance, and then hone it to perfection, and learn to deliver the speech perfectly.

Start that process with a rough draft - just get your thoughts down on paper - keeping it clear, concise and compelling. You'll want to focus on these writing goals:

  • Know your subject. Your first goal is to identify your audience directly. Who are they, what specific problem do they have, and how can you solve it? Take time to write a compelling line on who your client is and what they do. Example: "We love what you guys are doing in the robo-advisery business. You're cutting edge, but we can make you even better."
  • Present your case. Once you've identified your audience, open with an attention grabber about who you are and what you bring to the table. Here's an example: "I'm a business owner who has the tools to solve one of your biggest business problems, saving time and money in the process."
  • "Here's what I do." Now, tell your audience specifically what you do. Use your company mission statement if you have to. Example: "We build software security tools that solve that data breach issue your industry has been having. Our track record in preventing client breaches is amazing."
  • Here's what makes us unique. Here, you want to tell your audience what separates you from the pack. For example: "I know you're opening up a new division in Barcelona and I speak perfect Spanish - and have specific training in what your division plans to do."
  • Summarize and capitalize. End your elevator pitch with a call to action - a promise to deliver promised materials, a date for a conference call, or another opportunity to continue the discussion. Example: "Let's solve that problem of yours - are you free next week to talk/meet?"

Always remember, the best elevator pitches are half about you and half about your audience. The tie-in must be simple and direct, i.e., "I am qualified to solve your problem."

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Elevator Pitch Tips to Keep in Mind

An elevator should be both succinct and provocative. Speech experts encourage speakers who only have 30 seconds to make their case to an individual or audience to focus what they call the "Three C's" - clear, concise and compelling.

  • It should be clear: Make your point directly and efficiently. Use a quick example of what you're discussing.
  • Keep it concise. Be short and sweet. Cut the fat out of the pitch and focus on the message.
  • Have a compelling angle. Make your audience want to continue to the discussion - make them want to hear more.

It's also a good idea to keep arcane, overly technical or overly academic language out of your elevator pitch. Make it clear and keep your audience engaged. Personalize the elevator pitch as much as possible - people tend to engage more when they hear their name, title, company, or industry.

Where to Make Your Elevator Pitch

Elevator pitches can happen anywhere - even on elevators (after all, people use elevators all the time to get down to a hotel lobby or back up to their room.)

Industry conferences and symposiums are also a great place to meet and greet your intended audience. That's why wearing a name tag is always a good idea when attending industry events.

Another good place for an elevator talk: a business mixer. At industry conferences, there's usually a meet-and-greet session connected to the experience. It could be a pre-conference breakfast or a happy hour where people let their hair down for a while. People don't want to be button-hooked for 20 minutes or so, but taking two minutes to meet your intended audience and make your speech is usually not a problem.

Even meeting your desired audience at the gym is doable. People are more relaxed at the gym, and may be up for a quick talk before they hit the treadmill.

You can also make acquaintances via social media (LinkedIn is a great place to start, as just about every career professional is on the site.) Or, turn to industry online forums to connect with your desired audience.

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An Elevator Pitch Example

Here's a good elevator pitch, based on a small-business owner connecting with a senior vice-president of a large company that's experienced problems with hackers trying to lift clients' personal data.

Hi Ms. Smith, my name is Bob Jones and my company makes a product that reduces data breaches by 90%. I know we can help you with your data security issues, and at a reasonable cost and quick implementation.

Our data shows that 60% of clients will either leave or consider leaving a company that's experienced a data breach. We can take that concern right off the table for you and I'll be happy to tell you how and why.

Are you free to talk about our security package, and how it stops data breaches cold? We have a great free demo that shows you what we do, and how it can solve your data breach problem. I know your busy, but I'll reach out to you on LinkedIn within 24 hours.