Elevator Pitches – So Short, Yet So Hard to Perfect by ITEN EIR Jack Scatizzi

October 1, 2019 – Most people, even those not active in startup communities, are aware of elevator pitches. From Shark Tank to local pitch competitions, they seem to be everywhere these days. However, they are more versatile than public pitch competitions and investor introductions.

Effective elevators pitches can be used in all networking situations. Think of how often someone has asked “what do you do?” In fact, they are called elevator pitches since they were designed to be a rehearsed narrative if you ever found yourself alone in an elevator with a sales prospect. Your ‘elevator pitch’ is what you would you say to get a follow-up meeting while they were a captive audience for a few floors. Despite their versatility and the frequency of opportunities to use them, if you were to ask most entrepreneurs to describe their business in 90 seconds they would stumble around with their response and 5 minutes later you would be more confused about what their business does than before you asked them.

Like most things related to communication and marketing, developing a strong elevator pitch takes a lot of effort toward crafting the narrative and practicing the delivery. The good news is that the process and structure required to develop compelling investor and sales pitches can be applied to elevator pitches. Meaning there are a couple of key things to cover in your elevator pitch. Thus, just about anyone- with the right coaching– can become good at delivering an elevator pitch. And that developing a strong elevator pitch will help you refine your business model which will lay the foundation for a strong investor pitch and sales pitch. 

There are three things to keep in mind when crafting a strong elevator pitch.

  1. Less is always more
  2. You have a brief amount of time to capture someone’s attention
  3. By creating a strong backbone/narrative you can leverage it to create an effective elevator pitch for many situations

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that less is always more. An elevator pitch is not supposed to tell the entire history of your company, discuss every detail of why your product/solution is awesome, or why the problem you are solving is the most important problem someone could ever solve. Elevator pitches are designed to engage someone into asking additional questions, wanting to schedule a meeting with you, or requesting additional information. A great elevator pitch should elicit one of the following responses:

  • Wow, that’s interesting. How did you solve for X?
  • Can I get your business card, I’d love to set up a coffee meeting to learn more?
  • Here is my card, can you send me your investor pitch deck?
  • I would love to consider deploying your product/solution. If you send me an email, I’ll connect you with my team.

If you are not routinely generating those responses after delivering your elevator pitch, then you need to spend some time improving your narrative and delivery.

Just behind less is always more in importance, is get to the point. According to a study of 2,000 Canadians– the average attention span has dropped from 12 seconds when measured in 2000 to only 8 seconds in 2015. Since goldfish have a 9-second attention span, this means the average attention span for an adult is now less than that of a goldfish. All joking aside, what this means is that if you are not grabbing someone’s attention in the first two sentences of your elevator pitch, then you have lost them.

When I worked with entrepreneurs on developing strong elevator pitches for another local Entrepreneurial Support Organization, the organizer would start each working session with the following:

NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOU or your idea! Your target is busy. Their lives are crazy. Spouses, bosses, kids, customers, friends, deadlines- approaching or missed, are all competing in their mind for attention while you are pitching them. And these are things THEY CARE DEEPLY ABOUT!

How do you get them to CARE about YOU and your brilliant business idea?

Sales science tells us that you have 7 – 10 seconds to get your targets OUT OF THEIR OWN LIVES and to begin to just listen to yours. Miss this tiny window and you have lost them for the balance of your pitch.

While the introduction is a bit blunt, its pretty spot on. Effective elevator pitches need to grab your audience’s attention right away. Don’t bury the most exciting part of your business or market opportunity in the middle of your pitch, and certainly don’t save it for the end when odds are, they have stopped paying attention. And be sure to follow your strong opening with a clear and concise narrative that keeps your audience’s attention all the way through to your ask.

Which brings us to What Questions Should an Effective Elevator Pitch Address? also known as What is the Winning Formula? A strong elevator pitch will answer these 5 questions and end with a call to action.

  1. What is the problem you are addressing?
  2. How do you solve it?
  3. What have you accomplished so far?
    • i.e. what is your traction or where are you in product development
  4. Why now?
    • This is where you should discuss the overall market opportunity highlighting any changes to the landscape that will drive market adoption for your product or service
  5. Why are you and your team the ones to solve this problem?
  • Your Ask
    • You should always have a call to action, which can range from scheduling a follow-up meeting, offering to send additional materials, outlining your current or simply asking if they have any questions.

Keep in mind that you only have 1-2 minutes and that your goal is to hopefully excite your audience and give them enough information about you and your company/product that they will generate their own questions and want to further engage with you and the opportunity.

Your elevator pitch should blend these topics into one succinct and cohesive narrative. Once you have that narrative you can begin to experiment with variations that are more situationally specific. For example, if you are at an industry-specific conference and speaking with a potential customer, you may want to remove or de-emphasize the Why Now discussion in favor of a deeper discussion of your product/service and add a brief mention of your pricing model. And you would probably want to adjust your ask to be more specific to gauge their interest in using your product/service while initiating your sales process. If you meet a local Angel Investor at a networking event you may want to expand on the problem and the market opportunity and go deeper into your current traction, including revenue generated to date as well as projected revenues. And you would want to adjust your ask to discussing your current fundraising efforts while gauging their interest for participating.

Two final comments, be careful with your word choices. People tend to lose interest in elevator pitches that are overly technical or use too much industry “jargon”, especially when your audience is not familiar with your specific industry. It helps to pretend you are describing your business or product/service to your grandparents and using words that they would understand in your descriptions. Also, try not to include too many numbers in your elevator pitch. When we are listening to someone and they start discussing numbers, we have to shift our thinking/processing from being language oriented to number oriented and back again. Every time this shift occurs your audience falls behind processing what you are saying and struggles to catch up. If you do it to often, you will eventually lose them. Therefore, it’s best to limit the numbers or statistics in your elevator pitch and to be sure to take an extra pause after each sentence with a number or statistic.

Keep in mind that even the best elevator pitch won’t be effective if you don’t follow-up with your prospective sales or investor leads or don’t follow through with any actions you promised during your brief interaction. If your audience seems genuinely interested in your product, business, or the investment opportunity you need to get their contact information and ask what additional information they would like to review and how you should proceed. And always follow-up with a new connection within 24 hours, ideally within 12 hours. If you meet someone at an evening networking event, they should have an email in their box the following morning from you with additional information they requested and a request to meet again.

Here are some additional resources that can be helpful to you in creating an effective elevator pitch:

Jack Scatizzi