Did you see the Big Bang Theory episode where Howard Wolowitz meets Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, while volunteering (very reluctantly) at a soup kitchen? The exchange goes like this:
Wolowitz: Howard Wolowitz, CalTech.
Musk: Nice to meet you, Howard. It feels great to come down here and help the less fortunate, huh?
Wolowitz: Aw, yeah. Nothing better than helping people. Which is something I realized when I was viewing Earth from the deck of the International Space Station where I spent two months as a payload specialist, a job I was qualified for because I’m an MIT-trained engineer.
Musk: And I thought I ladled the gravy on thick.
If you’re interested, you can see the entire exchange here. Obviously, Howard wanted to impress Musk and just as obviously he was clumsily winging it. He did end up getting his idol’s email address, but the team of writers behind that sitcom episode may have more than a little to do with that. Otherwise, we can infer that Musk’s patience is infinite because it’s pretty certain he’s heard a a ton of awkward elevator pitches in his time.
Because that was exactly what Wolowitz was delivering: an elevator pitch, a brief, persuasive speech that you use to spark interest in your product/service/idea/self. And while his situation was admittedly out of the ordinary, there’s a certain truth to the general concept. Some opportunities will come out of the blue. And then you’ll need to capture your listener’s interest in 20-30 seconds (the length of the average elevator ride). But like Howard Wolowitz, many of us probably haven’t created, let alone practiced, an elevator pitch. And that neglect might cost us.
Picture yourself running into your dream prospect at a networking event or holiday party. Or maybe you’re sharing a ride (elevator or car) with the higher up who can get your initiative/idea pushed through your company’s red tape. You don’t want to do an info dump that will cause their eyes to glaze or make them excuse themselves from your presence as soon as possible. You need to present just enough information to spark their curiosity. But that’s hard to do in the heat of the moment when you’re just so eager to make a good impression. Some people can pull it off, but for the rest of us, it’s best to prepare beforehand.
So use the steps below to craft an elevator pitch that will kick butt!
Determine your goal
Do you want to introduce your organization to potential clients or customers? Do you need buy-in from that higher-up or different people in your organizations? Or do you simply want to explain what you do for a living without confusing or boring your listeners? Once you know what exactly what you want to do, you can start creating and putting together the elements of an effective elevator pitch.
Start Off Strong
You need to start your elevator pitch with a positioning statement or a hook. Use your best or most popular offer as the basis. Use two sentences at the most (but preferably one) to do one of the following:
• Describe what your organization/product/service does
• Focus on the problem(s ) that you solve and how you help people
For the second option, emphasize an emotional connection when possible. For example, your statement could target a pain point. For both options, adding a relevant statistic or a related fact can highlight the value in what you do.
I’ve included examples of both approaches below:
- Our company’s software testing services and quality assurance process speeds ups the rate at which developers get their products to market, typically by 112%.
2. You know how lawyers preparing for trial have to spend hours putting links into a spreadsheet programs in order to create a electronic exhibit list? Well, XYZ Inc. has developed an app that can create and organize a hyperlinked exhibit list for, let’s say, 500 documents, in less than 20 minutes.
Include your USP
If your opening didn’t include an explanation of what’s different about what you do, that should be the next nugget of information you deliver.
Both of my examples could use the following phrase as the next component:
We’ve designed patented technology to streamline the entire process …
In this example, listeners hear that the solution being offering is specific to the speaker (the USP). What sets you apart might be the fact that you were the first to develop a particular system/approach. Or you might go the extra, extra mile with customer service or the training you offer clients. Include specific details to establish your credibility.
Explain the Benefits
The first two parts of the elevator pitch cited above may indicate to your listeners why they should care about what you’re saying. But just to be on the safe side, spell it out. If you have multiple benefits to choose from, stick with the one that you believe will be most important to your targeted listener.
Here are my two examples diverge once more:
1. … so that our clients spend less time and money when presenting key documents at all stages of litigation and also reducing their reliance on bulky paper files.
2. … resulting in much higher productivity and less defects during software production.
Finish with an ‘Ask’
Your elevator pitch should close with either a call to action or an open-ended question (that is, questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no). If you opt for a call to action, tell your listener to do something like check out your website, set a meeting time, etc.
Perhaps I could send you a link to our website?
Alternatively, you can prepare open-ended questions that draw your listener into conversation.
So, how does your company handle software quality assurance?
Practice Makes Perfect
Read your pitch aloud and time it so that you know that it takes no longer than 20-30 seconds. You use the elevator pitch when you’ve just met someone or when you expect the encounter to be relatively brief. So, you don’t want to use up so much time that they need (or want) to leave immediately after, or worse during, your pitch.
Keep in mind that it can take some time to get your pitch right. You’ll likely go through several versions before finding one that is really gripping but sounds natural in conversation.
In addition to practicing your elevator pitches, bear in mind that they have to be updated. Your business is going to grow and change, so your pitch needs to keep up with what’s happening.
Not all pitches are elevator pitches. Once you have listeners’ attention and interest, you may find that you can take more time to fill in the details. Take a look at this Entrepreneur article on the range of pitches one should consider.