Creating an Elevator Pitch? Push the Right Buttons

Written by Tom Bentley on January 9, 2017

I was in a wine bar a couple of years ago with some friends, putting my nose into a glass of pinot, in my version of a sophisticated technique. One of my friends had invited one of their friends, a stranger to me, who talked about his coaching of a women’s bicycle racing team in Silicon Valley. Pinot paves the way to easy chatting, and the fellow asked what I did for a living. Creating an elevator pitch on the spot, I dove in.

Telling him I wrote marketing and promotional materials for small and medium-sized businesses made our glasses clink. After a bit more digging (and drinking), he offered me a gig on the spot: Write an overview of his racing team members, their successes and their upcoming events to try to get some investor backing. This elevator ride might have been on a comfy couch in a wine bar, but the pitch went directly to the right floor.

A helpful thing to consider when crafting your pitch is to know your audience. In early chatting I’d learned that the bike guy was a Silicon Valley small businessperson, so when the opening arrived to say what I was up to, it was easy to direct the compass toward his universe. I’m also a book editor, travel writer, essayist and fiction writer too, but that’s casual chat for the third glass of pinot, not when you’re focused on creating an elevator pitch.

Simple Speaks the Loudest

Putting all of that mongrel load of occupations into my bike guy’s head wouldn’t have helped him to think I could solve his problem. That’s where you have to think lean: What defines the essence of what you do, in simple language that demonstrates reliability and competence in helping a client? Saying, “I do a little house painting and sometimes repair ukuleles, but I’m really looking for work in the sciences,” might get you a laugh or two, but saying, “I’m a full-service house painter with 20 years of experience and loads of references” is more likely to land you a job.

Force-feeding Not Advised

Networking events can be dandy places to (surprise!) network. But if you’ve ever been to a networking event where a new acquaintance, perhaps even before they’ve gotten your name, launches into a hard-sell, ten-minute spiel on how if you put his company’s cybersecurity dongle on your laptop, your smartphone and in your inner ear, the world would be a safer place, you know that you immediately had to excuse yourself to go to the bathroom.

Forcing your elevator pitch into closed ears, eyes and mouths won’t get anyone fed. Look for the casual moment in a rhythmic context, to let your conversationalist know what you’re about. If they demonstrate interest, elaborate to suit. If they don’t, talk about basketball.

Deliver Your Pitch With Confidence

Creating an elevator pitch using mealy-mouthed language just won’t cut it. You know what I mean: “I’m sort of a mid-level manager with duties that might cut across several departments and …”

No. The “sort ofs” and “mights” and “a little bits” won’t cut it. Be ready to definitively say what you do, succinctly and with a smile. Hovering around your pitch, backing up, apologizing with your tone — those don’t advance your prospects. You don’t have to shout it, just say it, simply. Confidence is charming.

Don’t Jar Them With Jargon

I was a tech writer for a while, and I’m a marketing writer now. As with any profession, there’s a native language that can confuse more than make clear. Saying you “map out lead-nurture drip campaigns for the middle of the funnel” might thrill a marketing maven to pieces, but the same will send someone outside your trade into a zombie-like trance. Better to drop the frills and tell them you “write marketing materials to attract new customers” and only get in the trenches when you’re invited.

Have a Business Card

Like resumes and email, business cards have been declared dead a couple of times. Hey, grab my Instagram feed to check my website address! But those stubby little squares of paper are stubborn: Handing them out when there’s an open hand to receive them is like sealing the deal on creating an elevator pitch. The card will stick in their paws longer than your crisp handshake. They’re like an elevator pitch on paper, so have some and use them in the appropriate spots.

And if that spot includes a couple of glasses of pinot, you’re probably golden.

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