Sometimes, opportunity knocks when you least expect it. In those situations, it's helpful to have an "elevator pitch" at the ready: a prepared speech used to explain what makes you or your company unique.
Even if you're a natural wordsmith, it takes time and effort to distil your history and qualifications into a handful of talking points. This guide will help you understand the importance of an elevator pitch and give you some guidance that can help you create your own.
What is an elevator pitch?
According to legend, the first "elevator pitch" happened in 1853 when Elisha Otis sought to sell a new type of elevator equipped with a safety brake.
Since then, the term "elevator pitch" (or "elevator speech") has been used to refer to a short speech designed to catch the attention of a business prospect. Think of it as a "sales pitch" for you, your company, or your ideas. The phrase itself refers to the need to distill your value into a talk that lasts the duration of a short elevator ride, roughly 30 to 90 seconds.
Why is an elevator pitch important? In the hustle and bustle of today's business world, you may often have only seconds to make a good first impression. An elevator pitch helps you deliver your key points to gain additional interest and create new business connections.
If you've ever seen the NBC reality show Shark Tank, then you understand the importance of an effective elevator pitch. On the show, contestants have a short time to convince a panel of judges to invest in their next big idea.
The cameras might not be rolling, but as a business owner or job-seeker, you'll also need to package your distinct values in a quick but convincing speech.
When to use an elevator speech
When's the best time to use an elevator pitch? There are actually quite a few circumstances where it helps to have an introductory speech at the ready.
On your resume or online profile
While your professional resume will contain more content than a quick speech, it can still be helpful to start with a brief synopsis of who you are and why you're valuable. In the online world, an elevator pitch can help you introduce yourself to others in the virtual world and increase the possibility of meaningful connections.
A career fairs
At a career fair, job seekers have a limited time to interact with a potential employer. Elevator pitches can help you introduce yourself in a compelling way and may help you land that first interview.
During a job interview
Typically, the first interview question is something like: "Tell me about yourself." That's your "in" for your elevator speech, giving you the chance to explain who you are and what skills you possess.
Some studies have shown that one out of four hiring managers make a decision within the first five minutes of the interview, so an elevator pitch is your chance to catch their attention and help yourself stand out.
Professional networking event
Like job fairs, networking events provide only a brief time to meet new colleagues and forge new professional relationships. A business card is a good start, but having an elevator pitch at the ready also allows you to share your ideas and find points of commonality.
How to write a good elevator pitch
Remember, an elevator pitch shouldn't be complicated. In fact, the hardest part of writing your elevator speech might be narrowing down your life experience to a few main points.
Every elevator pitch can be broken down into the following four steps:
1. Introduce yourself
Don't blow the easy part! Start by introducing yourself with a firm, professional handshake and giving your full name and current job title. Stick to the basics and try to steer clear of small talk, especially when time is short.
2. Explain what you do
Here's your time to shine. Your goal now is to explain the value of your capabilities or your company. Job seekers can explain their educational background and their most recent professional experiences. Focus on your most recent accomplishments, and provide the other person with a better understanding of your work experience.
The same applies to company managers and business owners. Focus on your company's unique value proposition. What does your business do? What makes your company stand out from other companies in the same industry?
Try to focus on around three main talking points. Any more than that, and you reduce the likelihood of the other person remembering.
This step sounds simple but can often be the most challenging step of the whole process. Spend some time thinking about the most important aspects of you or your business.
What would current customers say about your company? What do you want to be remembered for? These questions can help you zero in on your best qualities and help you articulate these qualities point by point.
3. Describe what you want
What is the goal of your elevator pitch? If you're speaking to a hiring manager, you'll likely be explaining why you want the job, as well as how your skills and experience match those listed in the job description. This interaction can happen in a formal interview, but you can also explain what you're looking for during a career or networking event.
Business owners may have a wider range of goals. If you're meeting with a prospective customer, you may want them to follow up by visiting your website, scheduling a consultation, or visiting your actual location or office.
In other cases, you may be seeking to create a new business partnership with the other person or the company they represent. In these circumstances, it can be helpful to explain how your two businesses can benefit from this relationship, and you can describe how you see your respective companies working together moving forward.
4. Make a specific request
Finally, conclude with a "call to action." Don't be afraid to be very specific, and ask directly for what you want. For example, your elevator pitch might conclude with a request to:
- Accept your resume
- Schedule a job interview
- Set up an additional meeting
- Arrange a phone or video call
- Add your company to a bid list or list of vendors
- Visit your store or website
At the risk of sounding manipulative, phrase your question in a way that expects an affirmative response. For example, instead of asking, "Do you think I can schedule an interview," ask, "When would be the best time to set up an interview?"
In the former example, the other person has the chance to say, "I'll let you know," while in the latter example, you and the other party have a chance to hash out details.
Elevator pitch examples
Looking for some inspiration? Here are two elevator pitch examples that might give you an idea of how to craft an elevator statement of your own.
"Hi, there! I'm Maria. I've recently graduated from UCLA Berkeley with a bachelor's degree in public relations. During my time there, I interned at one of the largest human resources firms in the country and served on a team that developed a market-driven approach to acquiring new talent."
"I'm interested in joining your company, as I feel my past experience would make me a great fit for the position of assistant marketing director. Here's my resume. When would be a good time to schedule an interview?"
"Greetings! I'm Andrew, and I'm the co-founder of a powerful new marketing startup. I earned a bachelor's degree in business administration, and since my company was founded, we've been helping clients across the U.S. develop new approaches to digital content marketing."
"In the last year alone, we have helped over 500 businesses gain a competitive edge. I understand that your company is seeking to reach new markets, and I believe we can help you deliver top-quality blog content. Here's my business card. How soon can we do lunch?"
How can an elevator pitch be made to sound natural?
An elevator pitch will be the most effective when it sounds natural rather than rehearsed. Here are some tips for keeping your pitch conversational rather than having it sound like a marketing presentation:
Tailor your pitch to your audience
Memorizing a one-size-fits-all speech is probably not the best way to deliver your pitch. The best elevator pitches are designed with the audience in mind. Your past experience may be the same, but during the conversation, you'll want to highlight key areas you want the other person to hear.
For example, if you're speaking with someone in web development, you may want to tailor your pitch to highlight your skills in graphic design or blog creation to position yourself as someone of strategic benefit.
Avoid insider jargon
Keep your pitch at the level of a conversation. It may be tempting to use a lot of industry jargon to prove you've got the experience, but this can seem contrived.
Instead, focus on talking about your experience and goals using everyday language. This approach may even help you stand out from others, and your audience may appreciate your ability to share your story without sounding like a technical manual.
Watch your body language
Your elevator pitch depends on what others see as much as what others hear. When possible, dress professionally, and introduce yourself with a firm handshake and professional smile.
Practice maintaining eye contact — but don't let nerves get the best of you and forget to blink. Avoid crossing your arms, which can make you appear unapproachable. If you're a smoker, try to avoid cigarettes before a professional meeting.
Practice giving your speech to others
The three best ways to improve your elevator pitch are practicing, practicing, and practicing. Your friends or family might be a great captive audience, and since your pitch is short, they usually won't mind hearing it a few times.
Close friends may also have a better idea of how to improve your pitch or might even point out skills or career experiences you may have neglected or undersold.
Be prepared to answer questions
Questions are good — they mean the other person is interested. Your resume might include additional information, but it's also helpful to have some answers about your background or skills. Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know." It's an honest answer and may even keep the conversation going as the other party might have additional insight or follow-up questions.
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Frequently asked questions
Still working on that elevator pitch? Here are the answers to some common questions that might help you as you refine your pitch:
It's all about the elevator ride. Typically, a pitch should be no less than 30 seconds but no more than 90 seconds. If you write it down beforehand, you'll want to aim for approximately 75 words. When you practice your pitch, you'll get a better idea of how long your pitch is and can adjust it accordingly.
Apart from your education and background, your elevator pitch should avoid a lot of personal details. It's okay if these come up naturally in conversation, as some people love hearing about pets and kids. But avoid these sorts of details in your formal pitch or interview setting.
Just about anyone can use an elevator pitch, but it's especially helpful for entrepreneurs. Being able to explain your business ideas or present yourself as the best person to tackle a job is an important skill.
Anxiety can be tricky. Sometimes, there's no real way to overcome it, but there are some ways to persevere through it.
Practice your pitch beforehand so you have the content mastered. When you meet someone, speak slowly and clearly, as speaking too fast can make you appear underconfident. Think of your first few meetings as real-world practice, and don't take any one conversation too seriously. With time, you'll be a pro.