Your Elevator Pitch – It Doesn’t Have to Suck

For many of us, the words “elevator pitch” elicit a response of fear and stress, not unlike the words “mother-in-law” or “full body cavity search”. The reason for this often irrational fear is primarily that most people don’t know what an elevator pitch is supposed to be.

First, let’s try to dispel some of the myths around this beast. First, you don’t have to be in an elevator to use it. Second, the word pitch doesn’t quite do it justice. “Pitch” implies that you’re either selling something or playing baseball, and in reality you should be doing neither of these things while using your elevator pitch. If you’re selling something, you’re going about it all wrong. And if you’re playing baseball…if you can play baseball and network at the same time you’re either really good or really bad at both. In either case I probably can’t help you.

So what exactly is an elevator pitch? In a nutshell, it’s the long answer to the question “what do you do?” Named because it should take approximately the length of an elevator ride to deliver, it’s basically an introduction for you to use in order to garner interest in someone getting to know more about you. I’ve heard it said (and it may have been me that said it) that an elevator pitch is like a verbal cover letter. It’s also been said (and I know this one was me) that an elevator pitch is your professional pick-up line. And that’s how you should think of it. If you’re too cheesy or forward it will fail. The same thing will happen if your delivery is boring. Even if perfectly executed, your elevator pitch is not going to get you a job or close a deal, but it can give you the opportunity to speak at more length. It should be conversational, take less than 30 seconds to deliver, and give the recipient an idea of who you are, what you’re about, and why they should care. Now I realize that what I’ve given you so far probably isn’t relieving any anxiety about your pitch, so please allow me to break it down for you. There are three basic parts that every pitch should have. In life we have the 5 Ws (who, what, where, when, why). In elevator pitches we only have 3.

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Why should anyone care?

Each of these parts is equally vital to your overall pitch, and if you break your elevator pitch down into these three manageable sections I think you’ll find the prospect significantly less daunting.

The first part is easy – Who are you? Say your name, genius. The best pitch, without a name, will go over like a great commercial that doesn’t name the product. I know I want to buy something, but what?

The second part is the meat of your pitch – it’s the facts. What’s your job, your business, your product? It doesn’t have to be or sound sexy; it just has to be coherent and easy to understand. A couple of sentences is all you need. If your job title and company are important to your pitch, throw them in. if they’re secondary to a product you sell or a service you offer, focus on the product or the service. Remember, this is just enough to get someone interested – it doesn’t have to be a full autobiography.

The last part is the hardest part to put together and it’s the part that can make or break your pitch. Why should you be of any interest to whomever you’re talking to? Well duh, you may be thinking – have you MET me? Yes, clearly you are an extraordinary human being and we’d all be lucky to know you, but if you can’t put into words why anyone should care you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. This last part is your chance to get a bit personal and to make a lasting impression. When I say personal, I’m not talking about unveiling any deep, dark secrets – nobody wants to hear about your struggles with glue sniffing or your spot-on impression of the Queen Mother. I just mean that this is your chance to introduce yourself as a person and not just as a function. Having trouble thinking of why anyone should care? Start with why you care. If it’s meaningful to you, it might just make an impression on someone else. Why do you do what you do? What do you love about your job or your function?  These are the things to think about in your elevator pitch conclusion.

Hey! I just read this and I put together my elevator pitch! Want to hear it? Here it goes:

I’m HR Dave. I’m a Human Resources Director with a heavy focus on recruitment, employee relations and career coaching.  Currently I’m heading the Talent Acquisition team for a company in New York City. On the side I write a blog where I dole out job search advice and tough love because too many smart, talented people are making bad job-search decisions and I’m trying to counteract just a little bit of the bad advice that’s out there. Because if you think about it, the more educated and effective job seekers there are, the easier my job is as a recruiter.

OK – Your turn!

Once you’ve solidified your pitch, know that it is and will remain a work in progress. You want it to feel natural, like you’re just making it up on the spot. The minute it starts sounding like you’re reading it from a script, it’s time to change it up. The rule of thumb is that if you’re bored saying it, they’re bored hearing it. So keep it fresh, keep experimenting with new ways to improve or change your pitch, and most importantly now that you’ve written it USE IT!

Now get out there and make something happen. Going up?

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Questions or comments about this topic? Please leave them below.


6 thoughts on “Your Elevator Pitch – It Doesn’t Have to Suck

  1. Hey Gaspin…yours works not because it’s personal but because it’s funny! Folks need to lighten up and be human. Be self deprecating… Does anyone here want to take a stab at an elevator pitch that is brutally honest?

    1. Steve – Thanks for the comment. In the end we’ll all be remembered for our personalities, not our latest performance reviews.

      If nobody will remember and like the 30 second rehearsed version of you, why would they think they’ll like the full version?

    2. point 3 reminds me of my farotive quote about space travel which in retrospect seems to be equally applicable to start-ups: Once you’re in orbit, you’re half way to EVERYWHERE. Robert Heinlein

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