What’s an Elevator Pitch and Why Do You Need One?

Do you have an elevator pitch? Should you?  

Yes, you should. At least that’s the going advice from successful entrepreneurs, business coaches and experienced marketing professionals.

Having that very brief summary prepared about your business, yourself or a new product can prove a valuable marketing tool – to gain new customers or boost your brand.

An elevator pitch gives you something you can pull out on the fly – you never know when you’ll run into someone, a potential customer or a valuable contact, whether in line at the coffee shop or a networking event. Not only are you caught off guard but time is of the essence. 

“It’s all too easy to go into panic mode. But when you prepare ahead of time, you can turn that chance encounter into a meaningful connection,” writes Anett Grant, founder and president of Minneapolis-based Executive Speaking Inc., in a Fast Company article online.

What It Means

So basically an elevator pitch is a prepared presentation of the key aspects of your business – or the service or product you’re pitching – something short enough to be delivered in the time of an elevator ride.

The online BusinessDictionary calls it a “very concise presentation of an idea covering all of its critical aspects, and delivered within a few seconds.” 

For entrepreneurs, the elevator pitch can be their one-minute chance to explain their business model and interest potential investors in providing funds for their startup.

Alejandro Cremades, a serial entrepreneur and author of The Art of Startup Fundraising, describes the impact of a well prepared elevator pitch.

“An elevator pitch can be instrumental in earning the opportunity to pitch in the best places, start relationships with key co-founders, vendors and team members, says  “It can keep you invisible, or win the help of powerful influencers.”

What You’ll Need

You’ll want more than one elevator pitch – maybe three or four versions, differing slightly in length and focus, and “rehearsed” so you’ll be prepared if caught off guard.

“Before you get frustrated trying to condense everything you want to say about your business into just a few words, know that you’ll be best off with several versions of your elevator pitch,” Cremades says.

“Having several lengths of pitches can ensure you are always successful in getting your message across, without any embarrassing silences, or mumbling to race the words off of your tongue.”

Carmine Gallo, author of Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great, likens the importance of a good elevator speech to what’s needed in a sale-worthy movie pitch – a clear, concise and engaging summary. It comes down to those first two sentences, he says.

“It takes only around 45 seconds for producers to know if they want to invest,” Gallo writes in ‘The Art of the Elevator Pitch’ on the Harvard Business Review website.

Creating Your Elevator Pitch

You can think of your elevator pitch as a mini speech. And like any speech, you’ll want your listener interested from the start. That won’t be as difficult as it is in a 10-minute speech, but an elevator pitch should still be interesting enough to engage your listener.

“An elevator pitch is designed to quickly catch the attention of the audience, persuade them to pay attention to what you have to say, and convince them they want to hear more,” says business coach Chris Westfall in his book, The Elevator Pitch, How To Create An Effective Elevator Speech.  

If you can create at least one compelling sentence to explain the “big picture” of what you want to say about your business or yourself, there’s a better chance your audience will be listening as you go into a couple details.

That’s because, says developmental molecular biologist John Medina of the University of Washington School of Medicine, the human brain needs to understand the overarching idea first. 

“If we don’t know the gist—the meaning—of information, we are unlikely to pay attention to its details,” he writes in his book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. 

“If you want people to be able to pay attention, don’t start with details,” he says. “Start with the key ideas and, in a hierarchical fashion, form the details around these larger notions. Meaning before details.”

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