Tips for Elevator Pitches

I’ve recently had a couple organizations I’m talking with express the need for having a better elevator pitch.

They’re looking for that 30-60 second “something” to tell someone they’ve met about the organization in order to draw them in.

Here’s my top 9 things to keep in mind about elevator pitches.

1. Don’t discount their importance

Sure, you’re unlikely to get in an elevator and be asked what you do.  But there are countless other social settings, from cocktail parties to formal networking opportunities, where you’ll have 30-60 seconds to make an impression while talking to 1-3 people.  These first impressions very much matter — if people start tuning you out, getting them to tune you in again is hard.

2. Avoid jargon

In the  words of a mentor (Joel Bradshaw), start where they are, not where you are.  You use jargon inside your organizations/coalitions because it’s really efficient to do so.  But when talking to outsiders, jargon makes the eyes glaze over at best.

3. Cover the what and the why, then engage.

You need to give people a teaser about what you do.  And you need to give them an emotional hook — the why — so they will recognize that you share their values.  Lastly, you need to close with an engagement question, such as: Would you like to hear more?

4. But put the why first.

This is probably really the number one challenge most people have.  Our rational brains want to say: This is what I do, and here’s why.  But lots of evidence suggests beginning with the why is far more compelling.

People will identify with and want to support you for the why.  The “what” involves important details, but it’s not what will drive people to engage.

For a great speech on the rationale for putting “why before what,” check out this Ted talk.

5. Make it conversational

Remember, this is for 1-3 people in a small group setting — it’s not for a big speech.  And it’s certainly not for the written form.

Speak like you’d speak in the real world — in short sentences, using contractions, simple words, ignoring punctuation rules.

6. Don’t try to be comprehensive

For most organizations, trying to summarize what you do in 30-60 seconds is impossible, so don’t try.  Remember, your goal here is to engage somebody to want to learn more.  If you try to summarize succinctly, you’re most likely to have to speak about your organization at such a high level of generality that you’ll only succeed in generating boredom.

Pick the 1-2 things that are most interesting about your organization and make them the focal point of your elevator pitch.

7. Brainstorm with a group to create it, but then let 1 person draft it

If your organization can take the time, getting 3-4 people to really focus on the “why” you do what you do for awhile, and see how that flows into a “what” answer.

But ultimately, somebody needs to go through the results of the brainstorm and create a draft.  Or a couple alternative drafts.

8. Test it out on the real world

Before getting your whole organization to start using it, test out the draft on a handful of friends who’re “outside” your organization/movement.  This could be family, friends, or anybody who you think will give you honest feedback.

Do they understand it?   Did they want to learn more?  What questions does it make them want to ask?

9. Once you finalize it, get people to practice it

You’re looking for the fine line between doing it well and not coming across as rehearsed.  The latter could be a blog entry entirely of its own.  Bottom line: let people get used to doing it in pairs through role playing, or set them up for situations where they’re testing it out on a stranger.

Find opportunities to use it.  Incorporate the language into other communication vehicles.  Have 1 person on staff role play it every staff meeting for several months until everyone’s internalized it.

Of course, the best pitch is in the eye of the beholder

Nobody’s ever going to be perfectly satisfied with their pitch because let’s face it, what we’re doing is so much bigger than can be explained in 30-60 seconds.   Not everyone in your organization will love it.  But it’s generally a useful exercise to create one, particularly if you emphasize the “why.”

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