An elevator pitch, or elevator speech, is a short, powerful description of what you do and why it’s important to customers or investors. Here’s how to write an elevator pitch that gets attention.
You’ve just encountered a potential customer or someone you’d like to have invest in your business. You’ve got less than a minute to introduce yourself and get their attention. How do you do it?
The answer is to have a well-rehearsed elevator pitch ready for situations like this.
What is an elevator pitch?
An elevator pitch, also called an elevator speech, is a short statement designed to get the attention and interest of investors, potential customers, and other people important to your business. It explains in simple terms what you do, why you do it, how you’re unique, and why it’s important to the listener. The elevator speech should do all of that in 30 seconds or less — typically the time an elevator ride takes or the time people have at networking meetings to introduce themselves.
Your elevator speech shouldn’t be a sales pitch, nor should it be a recital of all your company’s capabilities. A laundry list of your business capabilities squeezed into 30 seconds will be about as appealing as all the disclaimers that announcers race through at the end of advertisements.
Instead, an elevator pitch for entrepreneurs should present your business or project in a way that gets attention and makes a listener interested enough to say, “Tell me more.”
How to Write an Elevator Pitch
The first step to write an elevator pitch or speech is to know what questions your elevator pitch must answer to be successful. The questions and information you’ll provide will differ depending on the situation you’re in and the reason for your pitch.
To focus your thoughts, write out the answers to questions below. Don’t worry about the length of your answers at this point. Your goal here is to collect facts that you can draw from to create pitches for different audiences. Remember, though, that your answers should play to your listeners’ self-interests, not yours.
Who are you?
Whether you’re pitching to investors or potential customers, the first thing they’re going to want to know is who you are and what your involvement is with what you’re about to pitch. Write down not only your name and title, but also pertinent details such as years of experience in the industry, your accomplishments, or anything else you think is appropriate.
What problem do you solve?
Explain what the problem is that you solve, who has the problem, and why it matters. Use easy-to-understand terms. Leave out the corporate jargon about “end-to-end solutions” and “groundbreaking transformative technology.” Buzzwords and jargon don’t explain what you do and make listeners tune you out.
“It’s important to give the audience some context for your pitch,” explains Dan Murray, an entrepreneur and investor from Colorado. “If you jump right into describing how your ‘redesigned XJ-9 Valve improves the eco-efficiency of blah blah,’ you will have lost 98% of the crowd right off the bat. Remember, you’ve been living in the narrow world and domain of your startup, but the rest of us haven’t. We don’t know an XJ-9 Valve from a Jaguar XJ sports car, so set the stage and give us some appreciation for why this is an important issue to the marketplace.”
Why is solving this problem so important?
What difference does your product or service make for people who use it? How does using it have a positive effect on their lives, businesses, or the environment? What or how you do something won’t have much appeal unless you draw attention to the significance of the problem and the relief your product provides.
One effective way to do this is with storytelling, says Precious L. Williams, a 13-time elevator pitch champion and CEO of Perfect Pitches by Precious LLC. A story “paints a picture” of using your product, explains Williams. She says stories should be used to build engagement and elicit an emotional response.
Murray agrees. “The best pitches I’ve heard have a big dose of personal experience and heart in them,” he explains. One was by a woman suffering from Parkinson’s disease who is reinventing clothing options for those with limited dexterity. Her pitch was so personal and so heartfelt that it immediately connected with almost every person in the room, and she even took home a cash prize for the best pitch based on audience votes.”
“Open up a bit,” he adds. “Go beyond the left brain, logical elements to describe how this is personal for you. Try to show how incredibly passionate you are about your topic, which increases your odds of success in the eyes of a backer.”
How big is the market for your product or service?
What specific niche do you fill in your industry, and how big is that niche? If you’ve developed a new tool for appliance repair service businesses, investors aren’t going to want to hear that the appliance repair business is a $5 billion industry. They’re going to want to know how they’ll make money when and if they invest in your company. They’ll want to know how many appliance repair businesses there are, how many of this tool they’ll buy, how often they’ll buy, and how they (the investor) will profit.
If your elevator speech is targeted at getting new customers, not investors, your market size won’t matter to your listeners. What will matter to customers is how your product or service will help them reach a bigger market, service more clients, cut costs, improve safety, or accomplish other important goals.
What makes you unique?
Where there’s a need, there are almost always multiple ways to fill that need. How is your solution an improvement on existing products or services?
“Once you set the stage, it’s important to get specific and give the audience some clear-cut, meaty benefits on why your company or solution rocks,” says Murray. “It might be okay to say, ‘We want to be the market leader in cloud-based hiring solutions,’ but it’s much better to articulate specifically how your approach is different and better than what’s out there. Generic-sounding statements won’t win the day with investors.”
Generic statements aren’t likely to win many new customers, either. If your elevator pitch is aimed at customers, your listeners are going to want to know how you differ from your competitors, and why that difference is significant enough for them to go to the trouble of switching from their current provider or way of doing things to your solution.
What action do you want listeners to take?
Although your 30-second elevator speech isn’t a sales pitch per se, it is a pitch. It should be written in a way that not only gets attention but also lets listeners know what action you’d like them to take.
What to say and how much you can say will vary depending on the situation and who you’re addressing. To make the most of each opportunity, list all the circumstances that might give you a chance to talk about your business, and then list what you would want to achieve by that interaction.
- Meeting a potential investor on that proverbial elevator ride or next to the coffee machine
- Making a formal (and longer) presentation to potential investors
- Convincing a supplier to lower prices or lower minimum quantity or provide some other benefit because of your expected future growth and the size of future orders you will then place
- Convincing someone to join your company as a co-owner, partner, or top employee based on the potential future growth of the company
- Introducing yourself at a networking meeting where all the attendees get a chance to stand up and briefly state what they do
- Introducing yourself in a networking situation where attendees are encouraged to state who is their ideal client or customer
- Answering the “What do you do” question when you’re chatting with someone you’ve just met in a social or other non-business situation
Write several versions of your elevator pitch
One by one, create a pitch for your business to use in each of the situations you listed above. Start with the situations that you’re most likely to be in and/or that are most important to you.
For each version, put yourself in the listener’s shoes. Summarize your answers to each of the questions you answered above in just a few words and in terms that will matter to the listener. For example, a sunglasses customer would want to know that your fold-flat sunglasses do away with bulky sunglasses cases and tuck easily into a pocket or purse without scratching or breaking. A retailer will want to know how they will sell more sunglasses by giving your brand part of their limited display space. An investor is going to want to know how much demand there really is and what realistic expectations are for a return on their investment.
Once you’ve summarized the answers for each version of your pitch, refine your summaries, making sure each is clear, concise, and compelling enough to elicit a “tell me more” response. Remember that you want to be thinking in terms of how the products will be used and how that use is of tremendous benefit to your listener. A new car salesperson, for example, isn’t likely to promote the car’s “radar detection device that lights up when it senses motion two feet away and one to six feet behind either side of the vehicle.” Instead, they’re going to tell you about the blind spot detector that prevents lane-change accidents by alerting you when there’s a vehicle in your blind spot.
Once you have each pitch refined, test it on people you know but who don’t know a lot about what you do. After you give them your pitch, ask them to tell you what you’re selling and why people will want to buy it. If they don’t seem to “get” the importance or understand what you do, rework the pitch.
Have answers ready for objections
Chances are no one will object to what you say in a 30-second introduction at a networking event, but if you’re pitching to potential investors or customers, expect and prepare answers for objections, warns Williams. Potential investors and customers are bound to have questions about what you’re pitching.
“Objections,” she adds, are a “mechanism” people use to “get comfortable” with something that’s proposed to them before agreeing to it. Be prepared by “formulating skillful and persuasive answers to tough questions in advance,” she advises.
Practice makes perfect
Once you’ve fine-tuned your elevator pitches, reduce the chance that nervousness will make you flub the pitch by practicing them. Practice the variations over and over until you can deliver each of them smoothly in appropriate situations. You’ll make a much better impression with your elevator speech if you deliver it confidently, enthusiastically, and without stumbling over words.
RELATED: How to Write a 15-Second Networking Pitch
A Final Word About Business Pitches
Sometimes the best “pitch” is simply to get people you are speaking with to talk about themselves and their needs.
As an example, I was flying back to New York from Chicago one day when the plane was held up on the runway for over an hour due to bad weather. The woman sitting next to me and I began to chat. We talked about why we were flying that day, our past experiences with flight delays, and other travel-related things.
She sounded like she traveled a lot, so I asked her what she did for a living. She was the co-owner of a business in an industry I knew little about, so I asked her about it. I asked how people in the industry typically sold their products, what her biggest challenges were, and other questions. She, in turn, wanted to know what I did, and I gave her a brief description. Right before we landed in New York, she said she was looking for a consultant and asked me for a business card. She called a few days later and hired me for a project.
Disclaimer: The content on this page is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.