The Art of the Elevator

April 2, 2013 by Community Member
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Guest post by Tania Zamorsky (learn more about the author at the end of the article)

The “elevator pitch.” The phrase refers to one’s ability to summarize their brilliant idea or experience, for a captive audience, in the time it takes an elevator to descend to the lobby.

Elevators aside, knowing how to sell yourself succinctly can also prove invaluable during interviews, at cocktail parties and even upon first meeting the in-laws. So, as a successful professional, why haven’t you composed your own version yet?

Maybe you are confident in your ability to wing it, if and when the need arises. After all, you know what’s on your own resume, don’t you?

Your written resume or bio is probably one extremely long run-on recitation of every kind of work that you do, and for every type of entity or industry. Unless you are inclined to push the emergency STOP button in your “elevator” you simply don’t have that kind of time. In addition, while you might assume you can rattle off this information on demand — ask a friend to test you — you might be surprised to hear yourself stumble.

Perhaps you are thinking, “Well, I’ll need to tailor my pitch to the person I’m speaking to at that time, so why bother preparing anything in advance?”

Unless your business is marketing, marketing yourself does not come naturally to most people. So, laudable last minute adjustments aside, you should make at least some basic pitch preparations – especially if your business is client-driven and you are tasked personally with business development.

So Where Do You Start?

All elevator pitches will necessarily contain the basic “bio bits” – that is, what you do and generally for whom. As attention spans are now officially extinct, your goal here is short “sound bites.” Pretend you are on TV. Like salt or accessories, you can always add more.

First, in one sentence, briefly answer the question, “Who are you?” For example:

“I am a partner in the White Collar Litigation department of XYZ law firm.”

OR “I am an artist, and the co-founder of a small toy company.”

Now, in another sentence comprised of no more than two or three individual concepts, briefly summarize what you do. For example:

“I focus on compliance efforts, crisis management and helping clients who are facing investigations or enforcement proceedings.”

OR “All of our products are hand-carved from wood, painted with non-toxic and water-based paints, and made here in the US – in fact, in our very own state.”

Once you’ve created this manageable one-two punch, rehearse it occasionally, perhaps with one or two variations (depending upon your audience and their specific needs), to engage your mental muscle memory and make your delivery sound more natural.

You’re Not Done Yet.

Ideally, you are now engaged in conversation, which entails listening to the other person as well. Here’s your chance to get a little creative.

You may not be an aspiring screenwriter traveling down from the 30th floor with a famous Hollywood producer, but even a business pitch can feature a memorable character and compelling story arc. If the person you are speaking to still seems interested or — better yet — has asked you to elaborate, now is the time for you to tell a tale and show the specific differences you bring to the table. Practice delivering these details (your own) as well:

“Well, for example, I recently helped a company be proactive in terms of compliance so that, when a possible FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) question arose, the matter was quickly dismissed,” the lawyer in our example might say.

OR “After years watching my husband make the toys I had designed for our children and their friends, it occurred to us that we had something very special going. My husband, whose father was also a master carver, is passing on the tradition to another generation – including our own son who now works for the company.”

Once you’ve reached the literal or figurative lobby, a strong pitch will end with a business card (or catalog) that appears smoothly, without too much digging, and is neither wrinkly, linty nor accidentally already scribbled on. In a relaxed and friendly manner, and if it feels appropriate, either lawyer or toymaker might then say something like,

“It was so nice to run into you. Listen, here’s my card. I’d love to stay in touch.”

AND/OR “Could I possibly follow up with you in the next few weeks? I’d be interested in learning more about what you do, maybe over coffee or breakfast.”

After all, in order to succeed, this fledgling relationship will be a two way street, where you can help each other – if only for referral purposes as part of each other’s professional network. When it comes down to it, relationships are the route through which most good business gets done.

If the other person doesn’t offer their card to you, or it didn’t feel right inviting them to coffee, etc., at the time, don’t fret. Unless they really are a famous Hollywood producer, you’ll probably be able to find this person’s contact information online. Sending them an article you’ve recently published or been quoted in, which might be helpful to them for some reason, is one good and relatively unobtrusive way to justify a follow up. (At the very least, consider adding them to your mailing list for your annual holiday card; even this small gesture can keep you top of mind should a business opportunity ever arise.)

Final tip: If you do reach out after your initial elevator effort and you don’t get a response right away, wait – at least a little while. With too much pressure applied, advances from a service provider or vendor can easily become irritating. Nobody likes a spammer. A confident but light touch is the best approach.

About the Author

On an in-house, agency and/or freelance basis, Tania Zamorsky has done PR & media relations, communications and marketing for numerous B2B and Consumer/Lifestyle clients, including some of the country’s top law firms. She is also a freelance writer/editor. Opinions expressed are hers alone. She can be reached at tzamorskATgmail.com.

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Noah Parsons April 4, 2013 at 11:42 am

Great write-up for a “real” elevator pitch. Too many articles about pitches are thinking about a more figurative elevator where the goal is to deliver the entire business value proposition in a single monologue.

You’ve really hit the nail on the head here where the goal of the pitch is really just that simple introduction and conversation starter. Hopefully you come away with a business card or even a meeting where you can deliver your full pitch. Too many people who are providing advice on elevator pitches focus on the entire 1-2 minute pitch… who’s really going to do that in an elevator??

I find that beyond just practicing this simple “intro pitch” that you describe, it’s also a good idea to have a more detailed pitch presentation or executive summary prepared as a follow up. If someone asks for an email with more details, it’s great to be prepared so you can send the email as soon as you get off the elevator.

Jeri Vespoli April 4, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Great reminder to be prepared. You can get valuable practice at networking events like those hosted by local chambers of commerce, especially events that are structured to include or even focus on introductions among attendees, like power networking events.

While practicing relaying the who and what of your unique solution is a great first step, you can make an even better impression when you practice the WHY of what you do, and focus on what’s in it for your market. Identify a market pain (they WHY) and relay how you solve it (what’s in it for me, or wii-fm) For example, the attorney might say “Has your company ever faced a crisis or policy question and found your written policies and procedures lacking? (pain) Clients of White Collar Litigation tell us they feel better prepared for crises, investigations or enforcement because of our firm’s timely and proactive review of their policies and procedures as new legislation is introduced. (wii-fm solution)” Or, for the toy maker, “Tired of finding random plastic parts of toys with questionable origin cluttering the toy box (pain), my husband and I combined our artistic and wood crafting skills to make fun, quality, non-toxic toys that that moms and dads who frequent our store and web site tell us both they and their kids love. (wii-fm solution)”

Z. Jones April 5, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Great insight. It only takes sixty seconds to “pitch” to the prospective donor. Keeping it succinct and on target is very important and can make or blow the connection. Your suggestions really clarified what should be said within that sixty seconds.

marion l April 13, 2013 at 5:16 am

This made me smile, it brought me back to my early days as a sales rep where we were taught the importance of this type of pitching, however to lighten the mood in the room we had a variety of stories of just how wrong this can go with several people sharing their horror stores, the resulting hilarity made this style of pitching stick in my head and it meant any time I did use it, I also always remembered how NOT to do it!

Luke Bendum October 22, 2013 at 5:18 pm

This is the basic elevator pitch. 20 years ago it worked to a modest degree. Now it is almost useless.

A far superior way to give an elevator pitch is to invert it. Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, shows how to do it much more effectively. You’ll never give an elevator pitch in the style mentioned above ever again. See his YouTube video for details: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4ZoJKF_VuA

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