You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
That axiom is certainly true in a literal sense, but the meaning behind it is more pronounced when put into a business context.
We’re talking about your elevator speech (also often called an elevator pitch).
A well-crafted elevator speech can be many things: a simple introduction, a compelling story, a persuasive monologue, a quick teaser or a commercial about you. Then there are the different types—depending on whether you’re talking about your company or yourself, and what you want to accomplish with your elevator speech.
No matter what your aim is, an effective elevator speech takes time to formulate. And even after you have a sense of what you want to say, there’s the matter of tailoring it to your audience and getting better at your presentation.
Here, we’ll run through seven things you should consider when you’re creating your elevator speech.
1. The basics
As you begin to hone your elevator speech, start with the basics.
One rule of thumb is to keep it short, usually about a minute. It’s called an elevator speech for a reason—you should be able complete it in the time it takes to ride from one floor to another.
At its core, an elevator speech should be a high-level introduction, a way for you to present yourself (or your product or idea) in a bite-sized manner. You want to be conversational, refrain from jargon, buzzwords or smaller details, and hopefully start a conversation.
Think about your objective and tweak your message to meet your audience’s needs. Hit on the major themes you want to convey in a simple, straightforward fashion.
It’s a bit of a delicate balance, but in the end, you want your elevator speech to be persuasive without being pushy.
John Torrens, an assistant professor at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, has the following advice, via Business News Daily:
“You want to stand out and generate excitement. Don’t regurgitate a memorized pitch that sounds like a pharmaceutical ad. When I hear a pitch, I don’t necessarily want to feel like I am being pitched. I would rather have it be more conversational. Start with the problem you are trying to solve, the way the current alternatives are lacking; then, briefly describe your solution.”
2. Who are you?
Before you begin creating your elevator speech, think about who you are and how it affects the main point of your pitch. A recent college grad’s elevator speech will be much different from business pro with a decade of experience. Keep this in mind as you prepare.
Another tip for your elevator speech is to be your authentic self. Show some personality, be honest about your purpose and demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about.
If it goes well, you’ll need to be able to answer follow-up questions and start a real conversation. By being upfront and honest about who you are and what you can do, you’ll be able to more easily transition into a discussion that benefits you and your audience.
3. What’s the point?
Now that you have an idea of what perspective you’re elevator speech is coming from, you can move on to important stuff: What’s the point?
Generally speaking, your pitch should include a few key elements—an introduction, accomplishments and goals, and a hook.
You want to position yourself as a person who can solve a decision-maker’s problem, according to a post on INC. Try to address potential pain points, offer solutions and get them interested in you.
For a new graduate, that could mean showing you can fill a role within a company. If you’re a company’s representative at a conference, it could mean demonstrating how your tactics meet a specific need.
An elevator speech is often situational, and you’ll need to know your audience and illustrate your (or your company’s) worth. Give examples or scenarios. Mention past successes. Address potential issues.
Ultimately, an elevator speech should be able to answer this question: “What can you do for me?”
4. It’s not a sales pitch
This is what separates an average pitch from a great one.
An elevator speech is not about closing the deal; it’s about getting your foot in the door and leaving your audience with a call to action.
Sure, you’ll want to talk about yourself or your business and discuss what you can offer. But it’s not an overt sales pitch.
Instead, a strong elevator speech is more about solving a hypothetical problem. Talk about how others have benefitted from you or your methods—be specific and think about how you could benefit this person.
You want the listener to continue listening.
Which brings us to our next point…
5. Tell a story
When we talked about mentioning your value and accomplishments, we didn’t mean a regurgitation of your resume.
Your elevator speech should be a mini story that outlines who you are and what you can do.
“The story is the meaning factor and gets the listener to ask, ‘Tell me more,’” Chris Westfall, who actually won an elevator pitch competition in 2011, told U.S. News and World Report.
Try to draw in your audience. Connect. It’s easier said than done, but by crafting a small story within your elevator speech, you’ll have a better chance of getting people excited about what you bring to the table.
That can often mean leaving them with a bit of a cliffhanger, according to a post on Entrepreneur:
“The secret sauce should be saved for later. All you’re required to do is be able to confidently broadcast that you know exactly what you’re doing.”
Saving your secrets can entice your audience and help further the dialogue.
6. A commercial about you
We’ve now reached the crux of an effective elevator speech.
In many respects, it’s a “commercial” about you.
Whether your focus is on your company or yourself, you want to get your message across clearly and in a compelling way. And do it in a hurry—people have short attention spans and the quality of your opening line cannot be overstated.
Consider the commercials that make you laugh or cry or think—what traits do they share? Incorporate those elements in your pitch. You want to differentiate yourself and get the listener interested in your “product.”
Scan back to some of the earlier points we discussed and keep these in mind as you craft your commercial.
Be creative. Be succinct. Give them that wow factor.
Once you have a sense of what you want your elevator speech to look like, it’s time to practice. (And continue your revisions along the way.)
Get feedback from others; see which alternatives are most persuasive; have multiple versions ready for different situations.
Even if you’re happy with the actual content of your pitch, there are other factors to consider. Remember: It’s not what you say but how you say it.
A few things to focus on:
- Body language
- Tone of voice
- Eye contact
Pitch yourself in the mirror or take a video of yourself. Make changes and get better. Practice makes perfect!
Hopefully, we’ve given you some direction for an effective elevator speech. Not every encounter will go as you hope. Be OK with a “no.”
For that yes, however, one last note: Always have a business card handy.