3 Tips to Lift Your Elevator Pitch off the Ground Floor

Last Updated Jan 20, 2011 3:12 PM EST

The first elevator reportedly dates to the first century, when Roman gladiators rode crude lifts to reach the floor of the Coliseum. The first elevator speech may have occurred not long after... possibly as a pair of combatants exchanged trash talk before an upcoming fight?

There's no doubt that today's small business owner doing battle in the marketplace can ill afford to miss a chance to make the right impression on a potential customer, investor, supplier or other possible partner when they happen to cross paths. This is the genesis of the modern elevator pitch, a 30- to 60-second presentation suitable for delivery in the brief interval when two people find themselves in close proximity between floors.

Almost everyone in business has an elevator pitch story. Sometimes it relates how an entrepreneur cleverly and smoothly landed an introduction to what turned out to be a linchpin customer. More often, it includes elements of confusion, delay, and regret at a missed opportunity. To make sure you don't miss your elevator opportunity when it arises, rid your mind of these three common elevator speech misconceptions, and embrace the truth.

Myth 1: An elevator pitch is a sales tool.

Reality: That's true only if you consider an advertisement a sales tool. An elevator pitch should not be prepared or presented as if the end goal were to get a signed purchase order on the spot. The environment -- a hallway encounter, waiting in a queue at a coffee shop, or standing in an actual elevator -- is not conducive to getting an actual sale. Rather, an elevator pitch should be an introduction, a primer and an educational tool, as described by Chris O'Leary in Elevator Pitch 101.

Myth 2: Pack your elevator speech with facts that will amaze the listener and demonstrate a mastery of technical nomenclature.
Reality: Trim your fact-packed presentation down to the one or two most important statistics or other data points. And avoid the jargon. As Audrey Watters says in The Art of the Elevator Pitch: 10 Great Tips, your goal is to inform and intrigue, not to overwhelm.

Myth 3: Once you've written and practiced your elevator speech, you're ready.
Reality: The problem here is that you need more than one elevator speech. The one you'll use in a given situation depends on your objective as well as the person who will hear it. You'll have one speech for an encounter with a potential investor, another for a potential joint venture partner and another for a likely sales prospect. Your abilities to quickly size up your elevator-mate, choose an appropriate goal for the ride, and select the proper speech from your repertoire are crucial, as described in How to Craft a Killer Elevator Pitch That Will Land You Big Business.

Sure, you may want to look at social media, email and targeted discounts a la Groupon for your marketing efforts. But don't neglect the art of the one-on-one, seconds-long presentation. Unless you live in a strictly one-story town, you'll need it.

Mark Henricks has reported on business, technology and other topics for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and other leading publications long enough to lay somewhat legitimate claim to being The Article Authority. Follow him on Twitter @bizmyths.

Image courtesy of Flickr user rintakumpu, CC2.0

  • Mark Henricks

    Mark Henricks' reporting on business and other topics has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Inc., Entrepreneur, and many other leading publications. He lives in Austin, Texas, where myth looms as large as it does anywhere.