The Art of the Elevator Pitch

Last Updated Jun 2, 2011 3:30 PM EDT

An "elevator pitch" is a concise, carefully planned, and well-practiced description about you, your company, or your product/service that your mother should be able to understand in the time it would take to ride up an elevator. Whether you are an entrepreneur with a start-up company trying to find investors, a recent graduate trying to find a job, a mom with ideas on how to improve the classroom, or a nonprofit looking for donations, you are in the business of persuasion and a good elevator pitch can help you sell your ideas.

But in today's ADD information overloaded society, how do you gain people's attention? The answer is to craft an elevator pitch, but don't think "sales pitch." Don't suffer from "diarrhea of the mouth" - this is a phrase one of my teachers was fond of saying to his students (okay, he really only said it to me!). An elevator pitch isn't about cramming as much information into a minute as possible. A well crafted elevator pitch is much more about finesse. It should evoke emotion more than thought.

The elevator pitch has gained fame with entrepreneurs who need to quickly tell their story to prospective investors. "Give me your pitch" is a common phrase among angel investors and VCs. If you've used part of your other 8 hours to invent something or start a company, don't be caught off-guard. Follow these rules:

Six questions your Elevator Pitch must answer:

  1. What is your product or service?
    Briefly describe what it is you sell. Do not go into excruciating detail.
  2. Who is your market?
    Briefly discuss who you are selling the product or service to. What industry is it? How large of a market do they represent?
  3. What is your revenue model?
    More simply, how do you expect to make money?
  4. Who is behind the company?
    "Bet on the jockey, not the horse" is a familiar saying among Investors. Tell them a little about you and your team's background and achievements. If you have a strong advisory board, tell them who they are and what they have accomplished.
  5. Who is your competition?
    Don't have any? Think again. Briefly discuss who they are and what they have accomplished. Successful competition can be an advantage-they are proof your business model and/or concept will work.
  6. What is your competitive advantage?
    Now that you've identified your competition, you need to effectively communicate how your company is different and why you have an advantage over them. A better distribution channel? Key partners? Proprietary technology?
What your Elevator Pitch must contain:
  1. A "hook"
    Open your pitch by getting the Investor's attention with a "hook." A statement or question that piques their interest to want to hear more.
  2. About 150-225 words
    Your pitch should go no longer than 60 seconds.
  3. Passion
    Investors expect energy and dedication from entrepreneurs.
  4. A request At the end of your pitch, you must ask for something. Do you want their business card, to schedule a full presentation, to ask for a referral?
Once you've written your elevator pitch, it's time to practice it over and over and over. Make sure it flows well. Say it to family and friends. Get their feedback.

But what if you aren't an entrepreneur? You still need an elevator pitch to concisely tell your story, attract interest from employers, raise donations, etc. Invest part of your other 8 hours to nail your pitch. Use the template above to get started so whenever you hear, "tell me about yourself," you can take a deep breath, relax, and wow them.

(Image of elevator panel by AllanThinks, CC 2.0)

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    Robert Pagliarini is obsessed with inspiring others to create and empowering them to live life to the fullest by radically changing the way they invest their time and energy. He is the founder of Richer Life, a community of passionate people who want to learn and achieve more in life and at work. He is a Certified Financial Planner and the president of Pacifica Wealth Advisors, a boutique wealth management firm serving sudden wealth recipients and affluent individuals. He has appeared as a financial expert on 20/20, Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, Dr. Drew's Lifechangers and many others.