Your Elevator Pitch / Notes from the War Zone


According to the Harvard Business School the average Elevator Pitch is 231 words long, contains four serious cases of repetition and lasts 56 seconds.

But you’re not interested in that. And you’re not going to fall for the official version either (riots spread to South Milford, one man stands alone, valiantly defending the local shops against drug-crazed teenage looters…)

As many of you know, last Friday I rode my bike into a tree. And a remarkably short time later my face – and plenty of other parts of my body – made violent contact with said tree. My plan had been to spend Friday night at the pub. Instead I spent it in A&E.

Thank you all for the e-mails, texts, and phone calls. I managed to get shaved yesterday morning so I no longer look like a not-very-successful hobo, but it’s still not pretty. And I’m at that stage where the bruises are starting to change colour. Never mind South Africa calling itself the rainbow nation: South Milford has a man with a rainbow face.

Anyway, while I’ve been overdosing on pain-killers and realising the true horror of daytime TV, you’ve been at work. So let’s get back to the Elevator Pitch – the chance to describe your business, pitch an idea or beg for funding in the time it takes for the typical elevator ride.

We’ve all been there. Someone asks, “What do you do?” And you have to reply; quickly and succinctly with a few words that might get you some business – or at least the chance to talk about some business.

As networking events proliferate, we all need to deliver an elevator pitch more frequently. And yet I’m constantly surprised at the number of people who simply can’t do it. Why is that? Is there some peculiar British notion that extolling the virtues of your business isn’t quite right? Even some people you might politely describe as ‘slightly pushy’ seem to stumble over it.

So here are a few quick rules to help you with your elevator pitch – especially when it’s a set piece occasion like a networking breakfast.

Keep it Short – an audience doesn’t remember much at the best of times. So concentrate on getting the key points of your message across

Help – it’s not what you want to say, it’s what your audience wants to hear. They don’t want to hear how brilliant you are. They do want to hear how you can help them.

And why you? Why are you – why is your company – different to all the others? If it’s just that you try harder, say so. It worked for Avis.

And the final rule? Practise. I refuse to believe that anyone can’t learn a one minute speech and deliver it with feeling – especially when it’s about their business.

But, supposing you’re not networking. Supposing it’s one to one? Supposing you meet someone at a conference? In a corridor? Perhaps even in an elevator? And they say, “What do you do?” Are you going to deliver your 56 second elevator pitch then?

My answer is an emphatic “no.” Your aim then is to start a conversation. You need to say something interesting. Something that makes the other person say, “Oh…how do you do that?” 56 seconds is far too long to be pitching to a complete stranger. People have phoned the Samaritans in less time.

Try and distil your message. Try and find something really intriguing to say. Here’s a great example (click here) of how a company really worked on their message, so it became not a 56 second elevator pitch, but a three second tease.

Time to take some more painkillers. But before I do, let me leave you with the best elevator pitch I’ve ever heard. It was last Friday: Ten words – and the guy had my total attention. “Hi. I’m Dr Campbell. I’m here to fix you up…”

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6 comments

  1. Tom Morton · August 11, 2011

    “I help business owners take better decisions more quickly”.

    Many commiserations about the accident. On the way >to< the pub, you said?

    Another belting blog, Ed. And I notice they're getting earlier in the week……

    • edreidyork · August 12, 2011

      Only getting earlier because of outrageously early start this morning, particularly with my creaking body! I like your pitch; may consider using that myself…

  2. Dick Jennings · August 11, 2011

    The other place any business needs a 3 second summary is on their website. That’s somewhere you just HAVE to grab attention in a few words. My message is in the words “Solicitors” and the phrase “Right management for business”.

    I don’t know how many websites I’ve viewed, particularly for service, IT and facilities businesses, where all I get is yards of jargon and I finish with no idea what the business actually does!

    Dick

    • edreidyork · August 12, 2011

      You’re right (again) Dick. Got to be compelling, concise, and meaningful, for your audience, and not just for you. Always welcome your comments – thank you!

  3. Andy Gambles · August 12, 2011

    Me: “So how do you set the world on fire?” (Clever opening line I thought)
    Reply: “I murder people” (The best response I have ever had!)

    The man runs a commercial theatre group that perform murder mystery evenings for hotels/corporate events etc. But his opening line certainly intrigued me and made for a great conversation.

    • edreidyork · August 12, 2011

      Andy – that is a tough one to compete with – fantastic! Thanks, as ever, for your comments

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