Going Up? Crafting a Strong Elevator Pitch
Writing an elevator pitch is an important first step in understanding your business model and conveying your company’s purpose and mission to the outside world (not to mention potential business partners and investors). It’s also an art form that has been sorely mistreated since its inception, leading to myriad missed opportunities.
When done correctly, an elevator pitch can serve as a metaphorical “foot in the door” and lead to further meetings, proofs of concepts, or a request for proposal. Simply put, there’s a right way to write an elevator pitch and a wrong one — so let’s learn how to do it right!
What Is an Elevator Pitch and Why Is It So Important for Your Brand?
An elevator pitch is a brief and direct statement that summarizes what your company does, what sets you apart, and how your products and services will benefit consumers. (If you don’t have the answers to these questions, then you’ll need to figure them out before you can even begin working on a pitch.)
Elevator pitches get their name from a theoretical scenario: you’re in an elevator with a potential customer or client, so you have them as a captive audience, but only for the length of the elevator ride. This means a true elevator pitch needs to generate a lot of interest in a short period. It also means an elevator pitch should never exceed 200 words (and even that is generous) and should take no longer than 60 seconds (again, generous) to deliver. Although an actual elevator ride with an important decision-maker could come up occasionally, you’ll more likely end up using your elevator pitch at a variety of networking events.
The opportunity to pitch potential partners, investors, and even consumers is a valuable one and shouldn’t be wasted. Too often, however, people show up to important networking events with nothing more than a few bar tokens and a hastily designed business card. They’re simply not prepared to describe their brand or present their ideas. Instead, they unjustifiably assume people will be waiting around the block to buy their product or service without knowing the first thing about it.
Rather than operate like these poor souls, you should do everything you can to stick out from the competition by building a well-written, well-rehearsed elevator pitch that you can deliver to promising prospects. This pitch should be drilled down to the point where you can recite it while half-asleep since you don’t want to fumble even one word of your speech when the big moment finally arrives.
But before you can present your pitch, you need to write it, which requires an objective understanding of how your business works at a fundamental level. This sounds easy, but you would be surprised at how difficult it can be to distill down to just a few choice words exactly what your company does, how you do it, and how your products and services benefit consumers.
A Tried-and-True Process for Writing a Strong Elevator Pitch
Above all else, elevator pitches need to be memorable. There’s no sense talking about your business if your listener is going to forget about you and your company before they finish their next cocktail. You need to wow your captive audience, but you need to do so in a way that is accurate, compelling, and distinct from your competitors. And when it comes to crafting an elevator pitch, Shakespeare’s words have never rung truer: “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
(As an example of a famous — and famously brief — elevator pitch, the team behind the Bourne Identity series of films received approval from the studio to make the first Bourne film based on a one-sentence pitch: “What if a man with amnesia has forgotten he’s the world’s deadliest assassin?”)
So, when you sit down to write your elevator pitch, you should follow a series of steps: questioning, surveying, researching, outlining, drafting, editing, proofing, polishing, and memorizing. This might seem like a lot of work for a 30-second speech delivered between sips of watered-down Moscow Mule in a conference room, but this is your business we’re talking about, and any 30-second meeting with the right potential customer or client could unexpectedly become the most important half minute of your life.
Step 1: Answer a Few Simple Questions
You can’t pitch your business unless you understand it. Ask yourself the following basic questions and take a few days to come up with honest and legitimate answers. You might just learn something along the way.
- What does my business do? This is more than just what you create. It also includes the craftsmanship and dedication that goes into your creation — whether that’s special materials, innovative techniques, or a unique method of providing a service.
- How do we do it? Is your model sustainable? Have you hired the right technicians to develop and deliver a premium product or service? What does your creation process look like?
- How is this different than what our competitors are doing? Refer to your mission statement to identify and perhaps update your unique value propositions (UVPs) — those things about your business model that separate you from the competition.
- How does this benefit consumers? Does what you do and create benefit your customers? What problem are you solving, and how do your customers and clients engage with and utilize your products and services?
- What sort of long-term potential does our business model have? Fixing a need in the short term is a great start, but how do you plan on remaining top of mind with your consumers over the long haul, especially as new competitors enter the field? Do you envision opportunities for new product or service lines? What about diversifying your current offerings to reach different audience segments?
Step 2: Survey Colleagues and Consumers
Nothing about your business should develop in a vacuum, and that includes your pitch. Create a survey designed to get honest and useful feedback from customers and colleagues about how and why they use (or might use) your products and services, and then present that survey in-person, on social media, or through an email campaign.
Avoid open-ended questions (except for the obligatory “Is there anything else you would like to add”) — you’re looking for either “yes” or “no” answers or answers that fit on a 1–5 or 1–10 scale. To make sure you got honest answers, reassure your audience that their responses will remain anonymous. The results may provide some refreshing perspective about who your company is, where you excel, and where you have opportunities to improve.
Step 3: Research the Competition
If you don’t understand who you are competing against and what their UVPs are, you’re never going to comprehend where you fit within your industry. By learning what your competitors are doing, you can better define and occupy your unique niche and capitalize on gaps in the industry. And remember: be honest! This isn’t an exercise in trashing other businesses; that approach isn’t going to benefit you. Look at the things your competitors are doing right and do your best to emulate them or (even better) improve on them. And meanwhile, uncover the things they could be doing better and seize your opportunity.
Step 4: Outline Your Work
It’s every writer’s least favorite step: the dreaded outline. Few people enjoy making outlines, but if you want the perfect pitch, you have to structure it in a way that makes sense from the very beginning. Take the answers to your questions, aggregate your survey data, and compile your research, then begin outlining your pitch from introduction to conclusion. Break the sections of your pitch down into the following:
- Who you are
- What you do
- How you go about creating your product and service
- The benefits you provide your end users
- Your plans for growth in the future
- Why your listener should consider working with or investing in you and your business
Step 5: Begin Drafting Your Pitch
Finally, all your work is starting to pay off. Once you start writing, your first impulse will probably be to oversell your product or service. You need to rein that urge in and stay focused on your primary objective, which is to present and promote your business in an honest, professional, and effective fashion.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t be casual or even use a tasteful joke or two. Using humor in a pitch is a delicate balance: You want to be affable and witty, but you don’t want to come across as clownish. Play with a few different icebreakers to present during the next step, but first, focus on the meat of your pitch and create a strong, memorable close.
Also, remember: your first draft should not be your final draft — that’s not drafting, that’s scribbling. Ideate, iterate, create, and cut. Then do it again. Then keep doing it. Drafting should be the most thoughtful and time-consuming component of developing your pitch, but it’s also the most fun, so enjoy yourself, relax, and keep pushing to improve your material.
Step 6: Seek Objective, Third-Party Editing Help
The moment of truth has arrived. It’s time to share your work with the world to get their feedback. You can ask your friends, family, and co-workers to review your initial draft(s), but be prepared: they may be too polite to provide the brutally honest feedback you need.
Instead, seek out professional colleagues, industry experts, and other people you respect and explain what you’re trying to accomplish before sharing your work. These people need to understand your objective and the legwork you’ve done up to this point, and they should know that you need a serious critique of what works and what doesn’t in your pitch. Ask your helpers to track changes so you can choose to accept or deny each edit, and let them know that including comments in the margins explaining any edits will help you develop your thoughts further. And remember to express your gratitude: if you want their help again in the future, you might consider sending them a nice card, six-pack of beer, or tickets to a local game or concert.
Step 7: Implement Edits and Proof Your Pitch
If you gave your pitch to the right people for editing, you’ll get back edits — lots of them. The amount and scope of criticism might trigger emotions ranging from embarrassment to insecurity to frustration to anger. Every writer struggles with how to take criticism, so don’t feel bad about any feelings that surface. Instead, carefully read what your editors have to say, then set the project aside for at least a few hours. Take the dog for a walk or grab a bite to eat. Watch a movie or shoot some hoops. Whatever you need to get away from a negative headspace, do it.
When you come back, you’ll have already started to work through the raw emotions and begin coming up with logical solutions to your challenges. You’ll be better equipped to digest and interpret your editor’s suggestions, and you’ll probably have a better understanding of what they were trying to say it (even if it stings a bit). Take their criticisms as constructive and begin working through any of them you feel are applicable and accurate.
Once you’ve implemented any edits, create a clean draft and send it back out to the one or two people who were most helpful for final edits.
Step 8: Buff, Polish, and Publish
At this point, your elevator pitch should be ready for you to apply a few last minor edits, trim any unnecessary language, and begin testing it out in the mirror and with your friends and family. To memorize the pitch in no time, create a recording of yourself reciting the speech. Listen to the recording during your daily commute, in the shower, or whenever you jog, exercise, cook, get trapped in Reddit rabbit holes — whatever you like to do in your free time.
You should also practice the speech in front of your friends, family, peers, and even pets. Any audience is a good audience and will help instill confidence and comfort with the material. Lastly, get new business cards made that have the main bullet points from your pitch printed on the back. This should help create a more memorable experience and hopefully keep you top of mind when your pitch recipient is considering their options.
Once you’ve memorized your pitch down to a syllable, you can start to deviate from it or improvise without getting turned around, which is extremely important. During a real elevator pitch, you may have to field questions from your listener, and you’ll also need to read their body language and expression and respond in real-time. You can’t afford to simply recite your pitch like a robot, but knowing the pitch is your first step to adapting it.
After all this, if you’re not seeing results, don’t give up. Sometimes, a simple tweak or two can make all the difference. Maybe you didn’t answer all the questions honestly, or maybe you’re still not sure where your company fits in your industry. The name of the game is persistence and refinement over time, so keep looking for new sources of inspiration, continue drafting, and eventually your elevator pitch should hold their interest to the top floor and beyond.
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Gregory, A. (2018, February 24). 7 steps for writing a powerful elevator pitch. The Balance. Retrieved from https://www.thebalancesmb.com/how-to-write-an-elevator-pitch-2951690
Post, J. (2017, January 30). What is an elevator pitch? Business News Daily. Retrieved from https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/3937-elevator-pitch.html