The Big Idea - Elevating your Pitch
By Deborah Done
You’re probably familiar with the concept of the elevator pitch: a short summary to define very quickly a person, profession, product, service, organisation or event, explaining what it is and why it’s worthwhile. But getting it right is really quite a tough thing to do.
According to business folklore, in the days when it took more than a minute to take an elevator ride to the top of the GE Building, an intern’s career could be made or broken by his or her ability to articulate what they could bring to the business during that ascent.
We all come across situations where we need to get across what our business does in a very short time. Whether it’s a business breakfast, a presentation or, indeed, a chance meeting in a lift, you never know when you’ll need to be able to explain your business succinctly and effectively. Capturing your audience’s attention quickly is vital and if you blow it, that chance might not come again.
So here are some top tips to help you have the perfect pitch on hand. If you use them to plan your elevator pitch and then rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, you’ll find you won’t fumble, mumble or trip over your tongue when those lift doors open and that golden opportunity is standing in front of you.
1. Start strong
The way you open is vital. The average attention span of an adult is (terrifyingly) around eight seconds. Which means you’ve got about two sentences to catch their attention. If you can get them hooked within the first two sentences, then you’ve still got around another 45 seconds to reel them in. So make sure your opening is powerful and compelling.
2. Tell them a story…
One way to really demonstrate what your company does is to tell a quick story. It doesn’t have to be long or detailed but should be simple and eye-catching. Think about the one story that really encapsulates a situation where your company really added value, or really demonstrates, very simply, what your company does. And then hone it down and hone it down until you can tell it beautifully but succinctly. If you work in a visual industry, why not carry around a small photo board, sample or model that you can whip out to show them; remember that a picture tells a thousand words - which is obviously helpful in an elevator pitch situation.
3. Keep it fresh
You may be reading this thinking, “I’ve been doing this for years – I’ve got my elevator pitch down to a tee.” In which case, step back and take a breath. Things change. The pitch you’ve been using may no longer be appropriate for today’s market. You may sound dated. You may be taking your audience for granted – they may have moved on in their thinking and expectations. Check your pitch regularly as you would any other marketing material to make sure it’s reflecting what you really want to say.
4. Know your audience
Not all audiences are the same. So be prepared. A room full of CEOs or FDs may not receive your messages in the same way as a room full of a young IT crowd. So, if possible, research beforehand the composition of your audience and make sure you are playing to your strengths in the messages you present. One size does not fit all, and the audience can tell if you’re simply going through the motions rather than engaging with them personally.
5. Be yourself
The main thing that people are evaluating when they meet you for the first time and hear your elevator pitch is – is this someone I could work with? Your ideas and company may be great, but what you are trying to get from the elevator pitch is a second meeting where you can explain the details at far more length. So don’t try to be someone you aren’t – it’s you they’ll be buying into. Authenticity is vital.
6. Keep it simple
This relates to the previous point. Don’t overcomplicate things with technical language or business jargon. Whilst you don’t want to patronise your audience, equally you don’t want to bore them rigid or lose their attention immediately. So make sure you are communicating in a way that an “intelligent layman” could understand – the time will come, if your pitch is effective, to get into the technical nuts and bolts.
7. Remember the end goal
It’s very easy to deliver the perfect elevator pitch without saying what you want out of it. This could leave the recipient impressed but confused as to what the next steps should be. So make it clear at the end what you are hoping to achieve. End your pitch with something concrete to take forward. “I’d love to meet you again to discuss this at more length.” “I’m looking for investment in my start-up and I know you are looking for great companies to invest in”. “I admire your company enormously and would like to pick your brains for some advice”. “Could we schedule a meeting to develop this conversation further?”
8. Make a connection
If possible, try to use the time after the pitch has finished to connect with the person you’ve been pitching to. Ask them about their business, their ambitions, their plans and goals, and listen carefully and attentively. This can start an actual conversation and allows you to make a real connection even when the pitch itself has finished.
This is obvious but often overlooked. If you have an event coming up where you know you’ll need to use an elevator pitch type format, then rehearse it and refine it until you’re really happy with it. Practice with your family, your kids, your friends and get their feedback. Sometimes people from the outside can give you an entirely different perspective on your business or your approach. And make notes, either mental or physical, after events where you’ve used your pitch to remember what worked and what didn’t – then refine your pitch accordingly.