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Elevator pitch: what is it and why does a professional need one?

Many a time – especially in wider team gatherings or in corporate training sessions or when required to introduce ourselves to a senior leader in the organisation – we have been asked this question, ‘What is your elevator pitch?’

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What is an elevator pitch? Why do we need one?

Imagine you are on a lift on your to your desk at work and then enters a CXO level executive who, out of courtesy, asks what you do. How would you respond? Such a senior executive doesn’t – they don’t have to – necessarily know every low level detail of what you do in your role, but what if they are looking for someone with your skillset? How would you impress them?

Or, imagine you have launched your new software start up and by chance you have met a potential investor or a client on a lift. They want to know what makes your product unique. How would you impress them especially when there are many in the market like yours?

The answer for the above chance encounters is an elevator speech.

An elevator pitch, also referred to as an elevator speech, can be defined as a brief, persuasive speech that one can use to spark interest in what they do or, in some cases, what their organization does. The intention behind this is creating interest in a project, idea or product, or in the person making the pitch. The pitch should explain a concept or capability in a way that any listener can understand it in a short period of time.

If explaining an individual person, the description should explain one's skills and goals, and why they would be a productive and beneficial person to have on a team or within a company or project. It is not necessary that an elevator pitch includes all of these components, but it should be convincing enough to at least explain what the idea, product, company, or person is and their value.

So why do we call it an elevator pitch? The reason behind is to convey the message that a good elevator pitch should last no longer than a short elevator ride, i.e. 20 to 30 seconds. name.

Examples of an effective elevator speech

An elevator pitch should be interesting, memorable and succinct, explaining what makes you – or your organization, product or idea – unique.

While preparing an elevator speech, it is important:

  • Keep it concise

  • Focus on the single point you want your audience to remember

In her article, The Art of the Elevator Pitch (published in Harvard Business review October 2018 issue), Carmine Gallo has given some examples of these two points.

Two young Stanford graduates, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, met venture capital investor, Michael Moritz for investments. Their pitch was: 'Google organizes the world’s information and makes it universally accessible.' These 10 words resulted in Google’s first major round of funding. Moritz later said the pitch was clear and had a sense of purpose. This is an example of keep it concise.

Another example used by Gallo is Steve Jobs, who was a genius at identifying the one thing he wanted consumers to remember about a new product. In 2001, while launching the original iPod, he referred to it as something that allowed you to carry '1,000 songs in your pocket.' In 2008, about MacBook Air, his line was 'the world’s thinnest notebook.'

How to have your own elevator pitch

From experience, I have found that, depending on the situation, e.g. whether you are talking about yourself or a product, an effective elevator pitch contains one or all of the following:

  • Who are you (What is your background), e.g. ‘I am a …’

  • What is the problem that you or your product help(s) to solve, e.g. ‘help(s) improve …’

  • How you do that, e.g., ‘by making … easier / faster’

  • What is the outcome?, e.g. ‘improved customer satisfaction’

What content you use might depend on the industry you work in. It is a good idea to write an elevator speech first, then read it aloud, and decide how it sounds. Then ask for feedback from a mentor / colleague or friend. If necessary, amend the content and read it aloud. Having a good elevator speech is not enough, you need to deliver it in a nice way. So practice it a few times in front of the mirror and then, if possible, with a peer. Having patience is important.

Below I have given two more examples.

Project Manager

I am a motivated and analytical project manager with more than 12 years’ experience, specialising in financial technology. I am proud of my sound track record of delivering projects rolling out new technologies that have made organisations become more agile and profitable, resulting in greater customer satisfaction.

Sales representative

I am a dedicated sales professional for XYZ Builders and in my 10 years of career so far, I have always ensured the best housing solution suited to the needs of my customers.

Last but not the least, even if you believe you have a good elevator pitch, it is a good idea to review it every now and then. As you move from job to job, or from one industry to another, such a review will keep your elevator pitch relevant to your career aspirations.

You can also watch my video in the same title here.


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