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What Is an Elevator Pitch?

image for IPGGutenbergUKLtd / Getty Images
IPGGutenbergUKLtd / Getty Images
  • An elevator pitch must define a problem and solution in the simplest terms for a winning strategy.
  • Always keep your target market in mind when relaying your elevator pitch.
  • Time is of the essence; you must arrange your ideas in a logical manner.

Imagine that you are on an elevator. It stops, and the vice president of a company you want to work at steps in.

"The doors close and you have 20 or 30 seconds to grab his interest," said Melanie Winograd, marketing specialist at IMPACT Group. "Quick! What do you say?"

While you likely won't have many real-life elevator encounters like this, similar situations – where you only have a moment to spark someone's interest – happen all the time. Taking advantage of the short time you have with a prospective investor, employer or networking contact is crucial, Winograd said.

This is where the elevator pitch comes in. This short, preplanned statement, designed to pitch yourself or your brand, can be your secret weapon when done right, opening the door for additional communication.

According to Winograd, an ideal elevator pitch should spark interest, be interesting and memorable, and last about 30 to 60 seconds (the length of an average elevator ride, hence the name). Any longer and you risk losing your audience's attention; any shorter and you might leave out important information. Include details about your business that encourage open-ended questions and conversation from whomever you are pitching, she said.

Iris Kloth, a Hong Kong-based career coach with IMPACT Group, uses some basic templates to help her clients form their elevator pitches. Consider these three questions, using your answers to create one to three sentences about yourself, said Kloth.

  1. Who do you work with? (This applies to internal employment as well as external coaching or consulting positions.)
  2. What do you do, or what role do you play?
  3. What result is achieved? (Describe the change or success you bring to this role.)

Career and transition coach Fabienne Hansoul recommends utilizing your LinkedIn profile to get started and generate ideas.

"LinkedIn lists your experience, expertise, core skills and personality traits," she said. "These elements paint a clear picture of your strengths. Tie these key points about yourself together by sharing an accomplishment, your career objective and your skill set."

According to Hamilton College, the ideal length of your elevator pitch when you're looking for investors (as opposed to a job opportunity) depends on your audience and not the volume of ideas you would like to get across. An elevator pitch's role is not to introduce all the dimensions of your business idea, but to spark interest. The pitch should be intriguing and attention-grabbing, leaving your audience wanting more information. Avoid cramming too much information into the pitch, as it takes your attention away from the target audience.

Where you have more time, focus on explaining the crucial points of your business idea. Give your audience the chance to challenge your idea and ask questions so you can offer clarity. Be receptive to feedback on their areas of concern.

When you present your pitch, you don't want to overwhelm your audience with boring details about yourself or your business; you need a clear outline and points that are interesting and beneficial to your audience. Here are a few key points on how to craft your elevator pitch before you present it.

Have a goal in mind for your pitch. If you are searching for a job, your elevator pitch should present your best skills. If you intend to start a business or need more funding to expand, focus on mutual benefits to you and your audience.

It's important to realize that other people are hoping to get a similar position or also pitching their business ideas. In your pitch, focus on what is unique or special about you or your business idea.

Read your elevator pitch while looking in a mirror, listening to your tone of voice and watching your facial expressions. No matter how great your elevator pitch is, it will be useless if you cannot deliver it in a confident, compelling way.

There are several circumstances where you can use an elevator pitch. Here are some ideas from MindTools and Elevator Pitch Essentials.

An elevator pitch that captures who you are is essential to effective introductions. Have confidence while presenting your best skills or what you do in an organization. The right people who are interested in your skills or business idea may be present and offer you an opportunity. 

People often visit various booths during trade shows. They don't stick around at any one booth for long, though, so you only have a minute or so to capture an audience's interest.

Other opportunities to use an elevator pitch include group discussions, lunch meetings and group travel.

Here is a sample pitch from HubSpot that you can use in individual introductions:

"Nice to meet you. You can call me John. I'm a sales rep at Better Than the Rest Cable. We help hotels across the U.S. pair with the perfect cable provider and plan for their region and needs. With regional experts assigned to each account, we help hotels identify the most cost-effective and guest-delighting cable plan for them."

This captures your audience's interest, giving them a lot of important information about you within one minute.

When you develop an elevator pitch, consider how you want others to perceive you in these situations. Career coaches agree it's important to clearly communicate what you do, your strengths and why you are great at what you do. The goal is to get the audience to understand what you or your business can do for them.

"Remember that it's not about you," said Gee Ranasinha, CEO of marketing services provider Kexino. "Put yourself in the position of the listener. Shape the value message as a solution to a problem, and keep away from technobabble and jargon. Talk about how you offer a solution to the problem without getting into under-the-hood mechanics of how it works, or why it's better than the competition. Don't tie up every loose end – leave openings for questions."

Ranasinha stressed the need for concision in your pitch. You need to make your point early and clearly.

"Think of your pitch like a blog post," Ranasinha said. "Start off with your strong headline – your value promise – and then spend the rest of the time backing up your position with evidence, case studies or testimonials."

Ranasinha also noted that your elevator pitch shouldn't be a static, memorized statement. Instead of regurgitating a canned speech, try to engage your audience by asking a question posed as a problem that your product or service solves.

If you take the time and effort to craft, edit and refine your pitch, you could turn your next unexpected meeting into a world of new opportunities.

Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.