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Tips for Perfecting Your Elevator Pitch

image for Jacob Ammentorp Lund / Getty Images
Jacob Ammentorp Lund / Getty Images

One of the first things taught in sales is that having an elevator pitch is a must. You give this pitch when you meet prospects at any networking event, in passing and at meetings. Elevator pitches are also commonly used among people who are looking for a job.

An elevator pitch is a sales pitch that is typically 30 seconds long. Legend has it that it originated in Hollywood when a screenwriter would "catch an unsuspecting executive on an elevator ride."

Screenwriters and sales executives have limited time to get their unique selling proposition across, making a well-crafted and tested elevator pitch a must.

Before you set pen to paper or finger to mouse, you should do your research. You need a full understanding of what you're selling, who your company is and what you have to offer.

One thing that will set you apart from your competition is your knowledge. Study your products and services like you would study vocabulary for a school quiz.

It's easy to say, "We're a gardening company, and we sell pots and plants," but so do all the other gardening companies. Prior to crafting your elevator pitch, dig into the details of your products and services. Consider what you sell that is unique and what sets your business apart from the competition. Perhaps you sell pots and plants that only a few people (like you) can access from a certain part of the world – your prospects need to know this.

As part of knowing your products and services, you should understand the problems they solve and your prospects' pain points. The better you know your products and services and your target audience, the more confident you'll be when giving your elevator pitch and answering follow-up questions. If you'll be presenting to different types of audiences, you'll want to customize your elevator pitches accordingly.

What you need to do is develop buyer personas – representations of your perfect customers – from market research. There's a lot of ways to conduct market research, but the easiest methods are interviews with your current customers and surveys of groups who meet certain criteria for your target audience.

Most businesses have a lot of moving parts, but there's no time to tell a long story in an elevator pitch. Instead, pull out the key points of your business and top-selling offerings to engage your audience. Think about the big picture: Instead of just listing product benefits, show value.

Every good elevator pitch should be built on a standard foundation:

  1. Your name and job title
  2. Your company name
  3. What your company sells
  4. Who you sell your products and services to
  5. Your unique selling proposition
  6. A call to action

While some sources say elevator pitches can be 20 to 60 seconds, 30 seconds is the prime time. Prior to giving your pitch, present it to friends, family, and co-workers and ask them to time it for you.

Practice your elevator pitch in the mirror. It may feel silly at first, but it can help you with facial expressions, timing and confidence.

Knowing that you don't have a lot of time to give this pitch, it can be tempting to say it fast to get more content in. However, talking too fast is a big no-no when delivering an elevator pitch. If you speak too quickly and not clearly, it can be difficult for your audience to make out what you say.

It's also important to be conversational. A good salesperson never sounds like they're selling something, but rather having a conversation with prospects as if they were good old friends. The elevator pitch should be your tool for starting a conversation.

People want to do business with people they like. When you deliver your elevator pitch, it's important to smile and let your personality shine through. Your message should come across in a way that shows you're passionate about what you're selling and that you're a trusted source.

Like the old saying goes, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Your elevator pitch may not lead to an extended conversation the first time or even the fourth time you give it. If you find that it's not working, tweak it and continue to test it over and over again.

We asked several professionals to share their successful elevator pitches with us to give you some ideas for how you may want to craft yours.

"My name's Mark Armstrong. I'm an illustrator. I do business as Mark Armstrong Illustration – clever name, right? I help brands get noticed and connect with people. I specialize in humor, which helps humanize a brand and makes it easier to relate to. Humor also gets people to drop their shields long enough to hear what you have to say. I also illustrate books and do editorial work for magazines. Mark Armstrong Illustration, at your service!"

What makes it a good pitch: It's clear and to the point, adding a bit of curiosity with the question he asked along with humor.

"I'm Megan Moran, and I'm a wardrobe stylist for busy businesswomen. I help them take the stress out of getting dressed by cleaning out their closets, mixing and matching what they own, and shopping for what they need, ultimately saving them time, easing frustration and leaving them feeling confident in their clothes."

What makes it a good pitch: It clearly and concisely explains who she helps, how she helps them, and the results they get.

"Hi, my name is Jessi. It's nice to meet you! I'm a speaker and personal development coach, specializing in helping my clients break free from expectations and discover their passions and purpose. Through my past struggles with mental health and familial expectations, I discovered key, actionable strategies that helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my life, craft a powerful motivational statement, and create an attention-focusing tool that immunized me from distractions. I also found that many of my peers were struggling with the same thing, so my mission today is to help them navigate those struggles in their own lives and to come out the other side living a life that's passionate, purposeful, and authentic. I love meeting other individuals with similar passions and missions – follow me on Instagram so we can keep in touch!"

What makes it a good pitch: Along with following the foundation for writing a pitch, she includes a personal connection to the person she is speaking to ("it's nice to meet you") and a sentence about what she does. 

"The fact that you're looking should be clearly stated without embarrassment," Armstrong said. "New graduates should mention a project or study they were part of, either in school or during an internship. Older job seekers should state their specialty, then put it in context by mentioning a specific achievement at a particular company."

Example: "I'm Jonathan Mendoza. I am originally from Alabama but recently moved to New York City, as it has always been my dream to live and work in the city. I graduated in December 2018 from the University of Montevallo, located in Alabama, with a Bachelor of Arts in communication studies and a minor in public relations. With experience in content creation, I was lucky enough to quickly land a position as a content marketing specialist at Fueled, a technology consultancy, where I write copy for landing pages, create and publish blog content, and manage social media. I am seeking opportunities in the digital marketing industry. I would love to hear more about your company."

"Interviewers are looking for candidates to be direct and to the point," said Tom McGee, vice president and general manager of executive recruiting firm Lucas Group. "Candidates should have the knowledge of what the interviewer is looking for based on their recruiter or from the job description they were given or saw online. It is essential for candidates to point out examples of the work they have done that matches what the client is looking for.

"Where candidates go wrong in an interview is answering the question and then continuing to talk, instead of stopping and waiting for the next question. You have to be concise and stay on message – just talking for the sake of talking won't help you. The key for a candidate is to point out how they have made their recent company money or saved them money."

Example: The company is looking for a VP of sales who has grown a sales team from 10 to 50 and increased revenue by 100%. 

Elevator pitch: "My name is Joe Smith, and I was informed you were looking for a VP of sales. I recently left a VP position after the private equity partners sold the company. I was brought in to grow the sales team from 10 to 55 within two years and increased revenue by 150% over that time. Given my experience and proven track record of success in this field, I would love to meet and discuss this position."

Dominic Lawson, co-founder of Owls LLC and host of podcast The Startup Life, says the No. 1 thing to remember when giving a pitch as a job seeker is to be confident.

"Potential employers want to know that you are able to rise to the challenge and effectively do the job. Also, remember that no one has the script to your pitch, so if you mess up a few words, the receiver of the pitch will never know it. Keep going. Research the company if you can, and add some of their words and phrases so they know you have bought into their culture and want to be an asset within it. Most importantly, be clear about what you want. You definitely do not want to appear all over the place."

Marisa Sanfilippo

Marisa Sanfilippo is an award-winning marketing professional who has more than six years experience developing and executing marketing campaigns for small and medium sized businesses with a focus on digital marketing. After graduating Stockton University with a B.A. in Communications and minor in writing, Marisa worked as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, ultimately earning a position as an e-marketing specialist for a credit union. While in that position, she earned HubSpot's Inbound Marketing Certification and helped build the organization’s digital marketing strategy from the ground up. Her efforts helped lead the credit union to success on and offline including: a 200%+ organic increase in Facebook followers, a sales generating blog, and much more. Later on, she worked on a social media campaign that gained recognition by The Huffington Post.