Mark Twain said: It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech. If you’ve ever created a speech or presentation then you know that the less time you have to speak, the more time you spending preparing because you need to ensure that every word is carefully crafted and delivered during that brief opportunity.
Well, think of your elevator pitch as a prepared, concise mini-speech that highlights your company’s benefits to somebody in the proverbial elevator. Have you ever had the experience of walking into a business luncheon or getting on that elevator and realizing that Mr. or Mrs. VIP was standing in front of you? Were you ready to seize the opportunity? Perhaps it was a potential customer or an important financial partner or investor whom you really wanted to meet but didn’t expect to encounter any time in the near future. Did you find yourself unprepared and tongue-tied? Perhaps you were so nervous that you blathered on and on about your business, never quite finding the right words to accurately or concisely describe what you do, or to give this person any hint as to why she should be interested in you or your business. Did you send her running out the door once an escape was in view? Did you promise yourself that you wouldn’t let this happen again?
Even if this scenario hasn’t happened to you, chances are that you’ll be thrown into a similar situation at some point if you aren’t fully prepared. Not being prepared means possibly losing out on uncovering opportunities because others don’t know what benefit you can offer them. You definitely want to avoid that mistake.
An effective, appealing introduction is the first and usually the most lasting impression that you leave with somebody. If the person or group listening to your pitch can help you succeed, you want this time in front of that audience to count.
Elevator pitches have a few goals. The most immediate is to stimulate enough interest to give you the opportunity to explain and “sell” your business in more detail at another time. You’re looking for an invitation to follow up with this person. The long-term goal can vary from developing a partnership or getting angel funding to turning prospects into customers or hiring employees. As a result, many individuals develop several targeted pitches, one for each objective. Let’s start with one pitch for now, but as you improve, you’ll probably develop an arsenal of ways to present yourself and your business. Keep in mind the fact that the “elevator” part of the term should not be taken literally. These opportunities occur everyplace (usually not in an elevator), from the soccer field to a networking event or even a birthday party at your best friend’s house.
The “So What” Factor
Whenever students or clients practice their first elevator pitch, I oftentimes hear myself asking them, “So what, why should I care?” Many of them are taken aback, until they see that I’m smiling and am not trying to offend them. Still, I do expect an answer. While some of them can tell me why it’s important for the prospect to know what they’re telling me, many cannot and stumble through their responses. I urge you to go through this exercise while putting together your first pitch or trying to improve an existing one. It’s harder than it might seem. Having a fully polished pitch, one that will lead to an invitation for a longer meeting, requires you to ask yourself other questions as well. These include the following:
- What might intrigue this person about my business?
- What is important to him or her?
- How does this person make decisions relevant to my company’s product or service?
- Why would this person want to buy from my company or work with me?
- What impression do I want to leave with this individual?
- So what will this mean to the person I am speaking with?
- What’s the next step?
You must excel at answering questions about individuals who affect your business’s growth or your company will not be able to grow. Begin your pitch by clearly defining who the target audience is (i.e., who’s standing in the elevator with you). Remember, you need to deliver this message in 30 – 60 seconds or less, so choose your words carefully. Once you have answered the questions described above about the person, you can begin to script your pitch. There are no perfect elevator pitches. You must deliver one that feels natural to you. It should incorporate your own expressions and word choices. Otherwise it will sound fake and rehearsed.
Most important, once you’ve developed your pitch, there are three important steps to take: (1) practice, (2) practice, and (3) practice. Some people like to practice in front of the mirror, while others prefer to rehearse in front of friends and family. Choose what works best for you but I advocate that you tape your presentation so you can critique yourself and see what others see.
Think of your elevator pitch as a brief introduction of your company to somebody with whom you want to conduct business. It is designed to get the person to develop an interest in learning more about you and your company. Therefore, your challenge is to entice them to want to continue the dialogue. Don’t make the mistake of trying to tell them everything about your company. You need to tell them just enough to persuade them to set up a future meeting. Your pitch should last less than a minute (approximately the time it takes to ride a typical elevator, not the Willis Tower in Chicago).
Next, it’s critical to create your own elevator pitch. Use the worksheet to develop a pitch for at least one target prospect. Remember, the key to success is to make this something that is natural for you to say. If it appears rehearsed or “fake” in any way, then it won’t have the lucky impact that you are looking for.
6 Steps to a Winning Pitch
Your pitch should include:
- Your name, company name and your role in the organization
- A brief but compelling statement about your product/service’s value or benefit as it relates to the other person’s company
- Then a concise description of your product/service
- A statement that reinforces your credibility or demonstrates what sets you apart
- Your personal energy and passion for making the business succeed
- A closing statement that leads to a “next step” (i.e., an in-person meeting)
Start at the End. Before you create your pitch, consider what final impression you need to leave with this individual. Then use the six criteria above to develop your pitch. Remember, you will need a unique elevator pitch for different types of business relationships (i.e., a prospect doesn’t care about the same benefits that a potential investor does).