The elevator door slides open. It’s empty, save for Elon Musk. You step inside, probably somewhat in shock, and say hello. He introduces himself. Naturally, you tell him your name. Then he asks you what it is you do for a living.
You try to explain your business and how an investor like he could benefit, but your nerves are tripping you up. By the time you finish, he looks confused or (even worse) disinterested. Just then, the elevator door opens and he rushes off to his next meeting, leaving no opportunity for follow-up questions.
Luckily, you wake up and realize it was all a nightmare, but it gets you thinking: “Is my elevator pitch strong enough to withstand a chance encounter with such a successful entrepreneur and investor as Elon Musk?”
If you’ve found yourself in too many situations where you attempt to explain to new people what you do for a living, just to have their eyes glaze over, perhaps it’s time to nail down your elevator pitch.
Even if you’re confident you could win an investor or potential customer over with your current pitch, it’s beneficial for you and your business to examine how you answer the question, “What do you do?”
A good elevator pitch should be concise yet persuasive, touching on what you do, who you serve, and what differentiates your business from the competition. The goal isn’t necessarily to start a sale but instead to spark a conversation, and ideally a relationship.
First, it’s important to start with the very basics. Using this elevator pitch formula, fill in the blank spaces with the appropriate answers about who you are and what you do:
Hi! I’m (name/title) with (business or company you work for). We work with (type of customers you serve/target audience), who (challenges your customers or clients face). We help them (solution to their challenges) so they can (how they benefit from your business).
Here’s an example:
“Hi! I’m Andi with Eco Weddings. We work with couples planning their weddings who want an eco-friendly ceremony and reception to celebrate their nuptials. We help them find environmentally friendly, earth-conscious, and sustainable vendors and products so they can plan their special day from beginning to end without making a negative impact on the environment.”
Once you’ve got the basic format down, you can start building upon it, or even pare it down (but only if you know you can get your point across in just a few words).
To get your elevator pitch from good to excellent, follow these eight tips:
Don’t forget how the elevator pitch got its name—it alludes to the average amount of time you might spend on an elevator with a stranger (approximately 30 seconds). Therefore, you only have that much time to clearly explain who you are, what your business offers, and why it’s important. All these things should be understood by the other person by the end of your pitch, without the need for follow-up questions.
2. Pretend you’re talking with a friend
When we’re nervous or excited, it’s easy for us to speak fast and sound like we’re reciting lines in a middle school play. Speak to the other person (not at them) as if you were speaking with a friend. When you’re more natural and conversational in your tone, the less it will feel like a robotic business pitch to your listener, which could turn them off. Try describing what you do as if you were describing a different part of yourself, like where you grew up or what kind of music you like to listen to.
Also don’t be afraid to show your passion or excitement for your job. By using vocal variance and letting your enthusiasm show, it lets people know you truly enjoy what you do, and will keep them engaged with you.
3. Be Specific
When someone asks you what you do, don’t just tell them your job title. Explain how your specific talent(s) help customers achieve what they need, and how that leads them to success.
Lauren Fonvielle, a freelance writer in Philadelphia, used to say she simply wrote “web content,” an overly general term she found created more questions than answers. She now explains not only what she writes, but the type of clients she serves and the benefits they see by working with her:
“I write web content for solopreneurs and small business owners in the B2C market. I focus on helping my clients hone in on their ideal customer, clearly define the problem they solve, and create copy that resonates and increases their sales. This includes writing content for websites (home pages, About pages, Sales pages), lead nurturing email campaigns, and weekly marketing pieces like blogs or e-newsletters.”
4. Don’t get too granular
While you don’t want to undersell what you or your business provides, you also shouldn’t get too specific, especially if it’s something out of the mainstream realm of business. Avoid using jargon-y or industry-specific terms (unless you’re speaking with other professionals in the exact same line of work).
Instead of saying:
“I’m Sally Frank, a data engineer at Initech, an integration platform-as-a-service that helps businesses connect their various cloud-enabled applications by integrating their application programming interface with our platform so that they can easily access their data analytics through a comprehensive dashboard,”
“I’m Sally Frank, a data engineer at Initech. We provide powerful data integration technology to small-and-medium-sized businesses who want to speed up their business operations. We help them do this by giving them a tool to combine all their important business data in one central, easy-to-understand dashboard, so they can quickly view, analyze, and act on their business data insights.”
5. Paint a relatable picture
You can help the person at the other end of your pitch clearly understand what it is you do, and encourage them to engage with you, by using vivid, but concise, language and relatable analogies.
Take Jessica Jimenez of Los Angeles Tribe’s elevator pitch:
“I am a postpartum doula. This means that I work with all kinds of families who are caring for a new baby. I am like a personal trainer in that I guide families and support them as they go through this amazing, chaotic time of their lives. I provide different kinds of support from infant care and feeding education to self-care tips and professional referrals with the goal of working myself out of a job.”
In her pitch, Jimenez aims to educate prospective clients about both her business and her profession. Many new parents don’t know what a doula is, and even those who are familiar with birth doulas don’t always realize that Jimenez can help after baby’s arrival. To an anxious parent-to-be, her services sound too good to be true, but by comparing her services to that of a personal trainer helps set a realistic expectation for her clients.
“Using a comparison to a personal trainer gives people a reference point and lets them know that I don’t do the work for parents, but I sort of train them to be able to thrive on their own,” she said.
6. Avoid overused clichés
While comparisons are a good tool to use when illustrating what it is you do, try to avoid overused clichés. We’ve all heard someone call their business “the Uber of XYZ.” While it was once a clever comparison that helped people understand the business model of those that made it, it’s become a tired and overused cliché that some may view was a cop-out.
If you do decide to go that route (because hey, maybe it really is the best way to describe your business), it should only be used to underscore what your business does. Explain what your business is on its own merits first, and how it benefits all parties involved.
7. Don’t be afraid to be unique
It’s important to clearly communicate who you are, what you do, and how you do it in your elevator pitch, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be in a traditional format.
Financial coach Chellie Campbell’s opening line is sung to the tune of “Tomorrow” from Annie: “You're gonna be rich tomorrow...if you take my class today!”
She goes on to say, “I'm Chellie Campbell and I treat money disorders: spending bulimia and income anorexia. My 8-week Financial Stress Reduction Workshop is designed to help you make more money and have more time off for fun. I'm also the author of three bestselling books, “The Wealthy Spirit,” “Zero to Zillionaire” and “From Worry to Wealthy.” So if you're living on peanut butter and jelly and would like to afford deli, call Chellie!"
Campbell’s pitch shows that taking her financial workshop might actually be fun, despite the sometimes dry topic. It almost always gets a laugh and often earns her prospective customers who come to talk with her after hearing her pitch.
Unique pitches are also an excellent way for people to remember who you are and what you do. Although those on the receiving end won’t always become customers, they’re more likely to remember your pitch and recommend your service when they encounter someone else who might benefit from it.
Your elevator pitch isn’t about selling. It’s about starting a relationship. By introducing yourself, informing them about what you do, who you serve, and what differentiates you from all the rest, they’ll have exactly what they need to turn a quick conversation into something more. So, keep it short, simple, concise, and memorable. You may just end up with more than a new client. You could walk away with a new friend.