An elevator pitch is a short overview of your products or services, typically used in face-to-face networking. It’s something that you should have prepared no matter if you work in a corporation, in a small company or if you run your own business. It also doesn’t matter whether you’re a programmer, accountant, lawyer, doctor, realtor or an executive. You can use this simple tool any time someone asks you: What do you do?
Some people think it’s just for salespeople, so they try to persuade themselves that they don’t need it. But it’s not true and in this article I’ll explain why it is vitally important to have an elevator pitch up your sleeve. There will be many situations in your life when you find it’s necessary.
Jokes about an elevator pitch
An elevator pitch has actually become an object of ridicule. I believe some people have misunderstood it, causing it to be presented in a grotesque way. You can even see a spectacular presentation of a company in one of my favorite gags from How I met your mother, where Barney Stinson describes his company, Goliath National Bank, by singing a corporate anthem.
Seems funny and unbelievable. But, believe it or not, I worked for a company which in fact trained their employees on how to explain what the company actually does. It wasn’t all that extreme, but still, really grotesque. Could you imagine telling another person something like this?
Me too. I wouldn’t be able to say anything like that completely sober. This would be really embarrassing for me and the other person would probably think that I completely lost my mind. That’s a perfect example of what an elevator pitch shouldn’t look like.
The problem with an elevator pitch
As Rob Biesenbach, a communication consultant and speaker, mentioned, the problem with an elevator pitch starts with the name – pitch. Nobody likes to listen to marketing monologues and not everyone is confident and comfortable enough talking purely about him or herself. Although I’ve met plenty of such people.
But keep in mind that no matter what kind of beautiful words and phrases you use, effective communication is a two-way street. Meaning that two people need to have a conversation instead of a monologue.
Identify the purpose
Before crafting a perfect pitch, you need to first think about its main objective. What would you like to achieve? Do you want to get a job, sell a product to a potential customer or just explain in an engaging way what you do for a living?
There are many situations in your everyday life when such questions appear. You can hear it when you meet a new colleague in your company, during various types of trainings, conferences, networking events or simply when you meet someone at an after-work party.
Depending who your recipient is, you need to customize your pitch. It should focus on solving a problem. For instance, if you are at an interview, you need to think what kind of problems this company is struggling with. During networking session when you meet another expert, you have to put yourself in his shoes and imagine what his needs are before starting your pitch. And when a stranger asks you: “What do you do?”, you shouldn’t bore him or her with uninteresting facts.
What you do
Instead of mentioning fancy positions you hold, you should describe what problems you can solve. No one cares whether your title is Principal Branding Synergist or Global Transformation Supervisor (http://www.bullshitjob.com/title/). People want to know how you can help them.
Your job title doesn’t necessarily prove it. An elevator pitch is not really about what you do, but rather about how you can help others. Ask yourself what you would like your audience to remember about you and define it in one sentence. Below you can see two different approaches of introducing yourself. The first one is based on pure facts – position and name of the company. The second one is based on skills and abilities. Which one do you prefer?
If you want to increase your chances of being remembered, add something that makes you different to your pitch. There are plenty of engineers, managers, accountants, lawyers all over the world. But maybe there is a certain quality that makes you special. Something unique that your competitors don’t have. Behind position and company name that you mention in the conversation there are things that can make you unique.
Let’s say you’re a Key Account Manager. If you just mention that you’re an Account Manager, you won’t be remembered. But by adding just a few words, your answer will become more engaging. Think about a special approach you may use to reach out to new customers or the way you keep them satisfied.
If you’re a Software Engineer, maybe you’ve got some additional skills which make you outstanding, e.g. UX, marketing or management? Anything that is on top of your regular skills can make you more interesting and that is worth mentioning. Thanks to an extra portion of such information, people will be able to get to know you a bit better. They will feel closer to you.
The way you speak
Remember that your pitch should first excite you. If you yourself find it boring, don’t expect others to be interested. They don’t need to remember all the things you mention about yourself. But they should at least remember your enthusiasm and passion. Show people that you’re passionate about what you do. That’s what makes us interesting. People like to spend time with enthusiasts who can inspire them. Who would want to work with a burnout?
Tailor the pitch
An elevator pitch should be short and concise. It shouldn’t last more than 20-30 seconds, because there is a risk that the other person will lose interest and find it boring. Moreover, monopolizing the conversation is simply rude. That’s why you need to forget about meaningless marketing phrases, buzz words and use as few words as possible. Less is more.
What is also crucial is that it should be understandable to your recipient. You need to tailor your pitch and use words tailored to your audience. You should probably use different words depending on whether you talk to students at the university, a recruiter during a job interview or a CEO.
Control your engagement
Ok, so now you know how to get the initial attention. That’s great. But if you talk too much about yourself or for too long, your pitch can become overwhelming. The other person can get bored with it and won’t be listening to you. You don’t want to be labeled absorbing or boring.
One of the best methods to engage your listener is to ask questions. Any time you notice that your pitch becomes a tedious monologue, engage the other person by asking a question. You can even start your elevator pitch like that:
- “Alex, what do you do?”
- “Do you know that feeling when you’re a great expert, but you don’t know how to present? How to explain your ideas?
- “Yeah! I know that feeling.”
- “And any time your manager asks you to deliver a presentation you’re nervous, so you draw a blank?”
- “Mhm, I hate presenting in front of others.”
- “And you’re not the only one. I help such people. I teach them how to present, discuss, persuade and negotiate, so they can use the full potential of their knowledge. Thanks to that, they can take their careers to the next level.”
In this example, I’ve started a pitch by asking a question to grab the attention. Note that the question and the whole pitch should be tied to the recipient. If he’s an engineer, look for problems he can struggle with on a daily basis. For managers, accountants or salespeople, you should have different ideas.
Sometimes people ask you what you do just to be nice and friendly. They don’t expect you to elaborate on your daily chores. But if you’re able to involve them for a short period of time, maybe they will feel the need to ask for more. Engagement is the key to a great pitch.
Where you can use an elevator pitch
You can an use elevator pitch in any type of business setting: networking, job interview, conference, training session or any other situation, in which you are asked to say a few words about yourself. If you assume that an elevator pitch is the tool to talk in an interesting and engaging way about what you do, you can use it everywhere.
You should treat your pitch not like a self-centered monologue, but a chance to have a compelling conversation. The good news is that such an approach is easier and more natural than telling a 1-minute monologue in the form of a commercial presentation. An elevator pitch should also be seen as a conversation starter. Its goal is to encourage a listener to ask for more.
Practice makes perfect
The way you deliver your pitch is as important as what you say in the pitch. You can learn every word of it, but that’s not enough – you also need to sound natural. It needs to be a smooth conversation, not an aggressive sales pitch. Talk slowly and use pauses. More words in less time doesn’t make you sound more professional. Of course, it takes time to hone your pitch and don’t expect to a prepare perfect pitch in 15 minutes. Use every opportunity to practice and improve the way you talk about yourself.
Being able to talk interestingly about your work is essential from many angles. You’re supposed to be seen as a satisfied professional who is engaged in his work. From the recipient’s perspective, it’s just much more pleasant to listen to an interesting pitch which touches upon relatable problems. And from the company’s perspective, they will be happy to have an enthusiastic employee who can act as their brand ambassador.