Elevator pitch: 8 ways to take yours to a higher level

Plenty of people worry about getting stuck in elevators, but what about going into labor in one? Katie Thacker of Spanaway, Wash., was one surprised mother-to-be when she got stuck in an elevator at the hospital right before she was to give birth. Baby Blake "couldn't wait any longer," the Seattle Times reported, and was born in the elevator weighing 7 pounds and 15 ounces. Thankfully Thacker had nurses in the elevator to help, and the baby was born with a healthy cry. istockphoto

Whether you're at a networking event, job interview or even in the grocery store, having a solid elevator pitch at the ready can mean the difference between an opportunity snagged or squandered.

"A well-crafted elevator pitch will give you the best possible shot of giving a good first impression. If you look at the things at the top of most employers' lists of the characteristics of a good employee -- organized, self-starter, good communication skills, etc. -- you can see that an effective elevator pitch will help establish that you are someone who is all of those things," says Chris O'Leary, author of Elevator Pitch Essentials. Here's how to take yours up a notch:

Do a thorough self-review

An elevator pitch is a form of marketing, and you need to know the product -- you -- well. "If you haven't taken the time and effort to truly understand your strengths and what differentiates you from others, your personal brand won't be as easy to communicate and won't stand out to others in your networking," says branding expert Chris Perry, MBA, founder of Career Rocketeer.

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The easiest elevator pitch to deliver

Hone it into 3 parts

Editing your story into three parts can simplify a complicated pitch. Consultant Bill Faust outlines these in his book, Pitch Yourself. First, there is the set up. "Create buy-in with something of interest about you that reflects their needs," says Faust. Second, show the evidence from your experience that you can meet their needs. And third, give them confirmation of your ability to meet those demands, with hard facts to prove it.

Avoid cheese

Elevator pitches should be engaging, but they shouldn't be a gimmick -- remember, this is more of a conversation starter than a used car sales pitch. "The ones that in my mind do not work are when people stand up and say 'I'm Jonathan Smith and I help people reach their dreams,'" says Paula Asinof, author of BE SHARP: "Tell Me About Yourself" in Great Introductions and Professional Bios. Be engaging, and let your message stand for itself.

Memorize and customize it

Once you have your basic pitch, you want to memorize it in order to be able to customize it on the fly, depending on who you're talking to and what the goal of the conversation might be. "You want to memorize your elevator pitch so you look organized, but also so that you can watch the listener and pick up any clues about how your elevator pitch is going over," says O'Leary. That way, if you're losing your audience you can take a different approach, or cut it short and bring the focus back to them.

Ask yourself "so what?"

"Ask yourself that question at least three times during your elevator pitch. That question will help you to focus on making your solution meaningful to the listener," says Chris Westfall, author of the e-book Five Great New Elevator Pitches.

Keep it tight

Leave your audience wanting more. "That doesn't mean it's always short, because in truth it depends. Instead, a great elevator pitch is like an accordion; it can be lengthened or shortened to fit in a time window of between 15 seconds and 2 minutes," says O'Leary. But you can only do that if you know your basic pitch inside and out, and can customize it without breaking the conversation.

Don't be afraid to brag

Listen up, ladies: "One common problem that women have is that they think that talking about results is bragging, and they have been taught that bragging is bad. As a result, their elevator pitches aren't as compelling as they could be. That fact is that it's not bragging if it's true and if it's relevant to the job you are trying to do," says O'Leary.

Stop talking

Once you have made your point, shut your mouth and open your ears. "While it can be challenging to do, your silence will prompt the other person to respond and/or ask deeper questions. This will spark conversation that may lead to a stronger relationship and/or even a new business or career opportunity," says Perry. In other words, let your efforts do their intended work.

  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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