Elevator Pitch 101
You’re an entrepreneur and
are attending an emerging technology conference in a swanky
hotel. At the end of the day, you decide to change clothes
before going out for the night. You head over to the elevator
bank, push the “Up” button, and step through the doors of a
waiting elevator car. Just as the doors begin to close, you hear a
voice shout out, “Hold the door, please.” You swing your notepad
between the closing doors and, as they bounce back, through the
door bounds a 40-something man who just happens to be one of the
country’s top Venture Capitalists.
Or maybe you’re a salesperson and have spent the
last year penetrating an account. The client is ready to buy, but
everything is being help up by your contact’s inability to get the
approval of his V.P. After attending yet another status meeting,
you step into an elevator to go down to your car. The only other
person in the elevator is your contact’s V.P.
Or maybe you’re a project champion or project
manager in a large company and have just come up
with an idea that will save -- or better yet
make -- your company millions of dollars a year.
After giving yet another presentation and
getting yet another set of maybe’s, you get on
the elevator to go back up to your office. As
you step through the doors, you notice the CEO
of your company standing on your left.
Or maybe you’re a
job seeker at a job fair who realizes,
as you walk up to one of your target companies'
booths, that standing before you is the manager
of the department for which your skills would be
a perfect fit.
In each case, what would you do?
While the scenes I paint above may seem a bit idyllic,
encounters like these happen every day to entrepreneurs,
salespeople, project champions, inventors, authors, screenwriters,
job seekers, and many others every day.
By virtue of design, luck, or connections, they come
face to face with the person who can help them achieve their goal;
who can help them sell their Solution, regardless of whether it is an
idea, product, service, project, book, script, or themselves.
The problem is too few people are prepared to deal
with such a situation. They haven’t considered what they would
say, much less prepared something to say or rehearsed saying it.
As a result, instead of capitalizing on the
opportunity, they just let it walk out the door.
The goal of this book is to ensure that you know how to handle
situations like the ones described above; that you know what
to do, and what to say, if you have just a minute or two to catch
the attention of the person with whom you most want to speak.
This means developing an elevator pitch.
Before I get into the things that make an
elevator pitch effective, let me first take one of the lessons of
this book to heart and give you a general sense of what an
elevator pitch is and why you need one.
What's An Elevator Pitch?
At its core, an elevator pitch (aka elevator speech, elevator presentation,
or elevator story) is several things. Of
course, an elevator pitch is a communication tool; it will help
you articulate your message. An elevator pitch is also a sales
tool; it will help you raise the money, and close the deals, you
need to be successful.
However, and most importantly, an elevator pitch is a teaching
While it’s of course important that you eventually
close the deal, there is no point in trying to close the deal
if the audience doesn’t understand what you are talking about and
why they should care.
As a result, an elevator pitch is designed to play the
role of a primer; as a high-level and basic introduction to
whatever it is that you are selling.
Given that, an effective elevator pitch is designed to
give the audience just enough information that they will have a
sense of what you are talking about and want to know more. Second,
and just as importantly, it is designed to not give The Audience
so much information so that they feel overwhelmed (and tune you
Think drinking fountain, not fire hose.
If you are going to be successful, you’ve got to ease
the audience into your subject; you’ve got to give them a chance
to catch up to you and all of the thinking you have done over the
past months or years.
Why You Need An Elevator Pitch
While you no doubt love, are fascinated by, and are
passionate about what you are doing and could spend hours talking
about it, most people aren’t like you.
In all likelihood, when it comes to the people whose help you will
need to bring your Solution to life, they aren’t going to be nearly
as knowledgeable about or as interested in it as you are. As a
result, they are unlikely to appreciate -- or even notice --
the intricacies, subtleties, and details of it. Instead, they
will only understand and -- initially at least -- be interested in
the big picture.
Even if they do share your interest in and knowledge of
your field, the odds are that they are extremely busy. Just like
you, they have too many things to do and too little time to get
them done. That means that they must constantly -- and quickly --
decide what to pay attention to and what to ignore.
What’s more, it never fails that the more potentially
helpful a person is, the busier they are likely to be.
As a result, you must come up with a way of explaining your
Product that will grab the attention of someone who has seventeen
other things on their mind. You must assume that people are
looking for a reason to tune you out, not that they want to hear
what you have to say. You must explain your idea in a manner that
requires The Audience to do the least amount of work.
Above all else, you must get to the point.
Only by doing that will you get the attention of The
Audience and even have a chance of getting into the details of
what it is that you are selling.
Elevator Pitch Definition
Now that I’ve given you a high-level overview -- or in other
words an elevator pitch -- of what an elevator pitch is and why
you need one, let me give you a definition...
An elevator pitch is an overview of an idea, product,
service, project, person, or other Solution and is designed to just get a
While that definition is fairly self-explanatory, let me take a
moment to discuss exactly what the most important of those words
The point of an elevator pitch isn’t to get into every detail
of your Solution. Instead, all you want to do --
and all you have time to do -- is to make sure the audience
understands what you are talking about and what’s in it for them.
Idea, Service, Project, Person, or Other Solution
While the term “Elevator Pitch” is generally used in the
context of entrepreneurship, and in particular in selling ideas
for new businesses to Venture Capitalists, the truth is that the
idea can be used to help sell a wide variety of things.
Just Get a Conversation Started
One reason why so many people deliver completely ineffective
elevator pitches is they don’t understand the purpose of an
elevator pitch. They act like the purpose of an elevator pitch is
to close the deal while in truth the purpose of an elevator pitch
is to just interest the audience in continuing to talk.
The Nine C’s of an Effective
Now that you have a high-level sense of what an elevator pitch is,
and what an elevator pitch is designed to do, let me drop down a level
and discuss the characteristics of an effective elevator pitch.
After working with hundreds of would-be entrepreneurs, and
studying hundreds of effective and ineffective elevator pitches,
I have found that an effective elevator pitch is nine things.
I discuss each of The Nine C’s at length elsewhere, but in the
interests of repetition -- and one of the themes of this book is
that repetition is good -- let me give you quick sense of what I mean.
An effective elevator pitch contains as few words as possible,
but no fewer.
Rather than being filled with acronyms, MBA-speak, and
ten-dollar words, an effective elevator pitch can be understood
by your grandparents, your spouse, and your children.
An effective elevator pitch explains the problem your
An effective elevator pitch explains why you are qualified to
see the problem and to build your Solution.
An effective elevator pitch stays at a fairly high level and
does not go into too much unnecessary detail.
As much as is possible, an effective elevator pitch is also
specific and tangible.
An effective elevator pitch addresses the specific
interests and concerns of the audience.
Every version of an effective elevator pitch conveys the
same basic message.
being to close the deal, the goal of an elevator pitch is to
just set the hook; to start a conversation, or dialogue,
with the audience.
About Elevator Pitch 101
Elevator Pitch 101 is an excerpt from Elevator Pitch Essentials,
a business book by Chris O'Leary that teaches entrepreneurs, salespeople, project
champions, job seekers, and others how to get their point across in two
minutes or less. Elevator Pitch Essentials goes into much
greater detail about each of The Nine C's and is full of real-life examples
of effective and ineffective elevator pitches.
Buy Elevator Pitch Essentials
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