How to write a winning elevator pitch

Posted by: on Mar 31, 2009 | 4 Comments

Writing a good and punchy “elevator pitch” is way harder than most people think. Plus I find that I really need to teach this skill a lot with my Stanford and UC Berkeley MBA’s to help them both with distilling their ideas, perfecting their business plans and finally pitching VCs – so this skill turns out to be very important and useful!

The reason is that most people don’t produce winning elevator pitches is that they don’t have the combination of good copywriting skills, the ability to be brief and finally the focus to just choose the most important “USP’s” (Unique selling points).

Frankly I find it very hard myself as I generally have a very complex software product to “sell”, I even find it hard to summarize myself in a few words that are compelling as I also get involved in many things! So if you are like me and want to try and distill the essence of you, your product or company read on.

First, what is an elevator pitch?

Well depending on the personal asking it could be a few things i.e. if it’s an investor then its a punchy summary of why your company is an interesting investment, whereas if it’s a casual inquiry like “What kind of work do you do?” you need to give them a brief answer – and each reply in roughly the time span of an elevator (lift) ride.

Elevator Pitch Essentials Author, Chris O’Leary, says:

“An elevator pitch is an overview of an idea, product, service, project, person, or other Solution and is designed to just get a conversation started.”

So this is a 60 second or less summary about the topic at hand, usually you or your company.

While the term “Elevator Pitch” is generally used in the context of entrepreneurship, and in particular in selling ideas for new businesses to Venture Capitalists, the truth is that the idea can be used to help sell a wide variety of things.

As you can see then, having a “canned” but punchy response can help you in many ways from networking events, to chance meetings with people to stand up pitches about your company – in each case you have a very short time to impress and then get some form of positive action – like “tell me more…”

“Summarize the company’s business on the back of a business card.” — Sequoia Capital

My favorite elevator opportunity I have seen was in a movie called “in pursuit of happiness” where Will Smith has a potential employer in a taxi and he has to try and convince him to give him a chance…in this case a Rubik’s cube came to his rescue but he really could have done with an elevator pitch! On the other hand Meg Ryan in working Girl did a great elevator pitch (literally) and got the job.

What is a compelling elevator pitch?

Most people totally screw up their elevator pitch, this is generally because they haven’t taken the time to craft one right for the circumstances and the one they have lacks power and focus on the desired outcome.

So we need a tightly focused mini sales and marketing message, right for the person or people you are delivering too and on the right topic. It also needs to lead to some form of action or outcome you desire.

The ideal length is in the order of 10-12 words or in that range for a personal intro and about 150-225 words for a business pitch.

Like any sales message it needs to offer some form of interesting “benefit” to the recipient – 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.)

Depending on your outcome, the message wants to be strong and unique enough to get people to actually “care” about who you are or what you do. Plus you want them to want to go on to learn more so it’s important not to be boring, trite or offer up the same old message.

Ideally the message will also be memorable either in it’s content or with the passion (Investors expect energy and dedication from entrepreneurs) with which you deliver the message, preferably both. A memorable pitch also enables others to spread the word about you effectively.

Finally, as i said you want some “action” to follow so don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, is it more time to tell the investor more – or maybe a quiet corner at a networking event for a longer chat, a business card or a referral – whatever it is, close the pitch by asking for something.

How to create a compelling elevator pitch?

One of my favorite people on this topic is Mike Southon and he is a world famous entrepreneur and author of the The Beermat Entrepreneur series. He says of an elevator pitch:

In sales, there is the concept of "golden nuggets", where as many as 50 amazing features of your product are crammed into literature by your marketing team. The problem is that most customers have very short attention spans and can only remember three things about your product. As soon as you mention the fourth golden nugget, the first, and probably most important one, drops out of their memory.

By the time you get to nugget number 50, all the most compelling ones have long since gone, and the prospective customer has also lost the will to live.

Rather than being to close the deal, the goal of an elevator pitch is to just get the ball rolling; to start a conversation, or dialogue, with the audience.

The five P’s:

So the methodology for a good elevator pitch is simple, and centers around five ‘P’s:

  1. pain
  2. premise
  3. people
  4. proof
  5. purpose

1. So this process is like creating your value proposition, you need to start off by looking at the nasty horrible immediate problem – or ADVIL – that people wish to solve when considering you or your business. So we start by looking for the pain? You should also ask: What is the pain or problem that you plan to solve?

The larger the pain, the more likely people are to give you money to take it away. Pain can come in many forms, but if your product or service saves time and money, that is a good start. In reality you also need to need a pain that needs in instant solution (like a headache that needs an Advil to stop it right now) as opposed to a pain that needs a vitamin to slowly get rid of it. Immediacy is very important.

2. You have to explain in simple terms the premise of your business. Exactly what is it you do? For this, you need to be literal and to the point. It’s amazing how many people can’t articulate what they do in a single sentence. Keep it punchy, pithy and potent (yes more Ps).

3. You need to talk about your people because entrepreneurship is a team game. Every investor says they look for a credible team rather than a good idea, and every customer says they buy from people not companies.

4. Proof is the hardest element to provide. Why should anyone buy from you and not your competitors? The best proof is examples of your happy customers, in the form of relevant case studies.

5. Finally, you must provide your purpose, and the most important purpose of any business is to make money.

Potential investors will be looking for a return on their investment, and prospective customers will only want to know that you run a sensible and profitable business, to ensure reliable and consistent delivery of your products and services.

Or may its the 9 C’s:

The book “Elevator Pitch Essentials” uses a longer version of the above to craft the elevator pitch?

  1. Concise
  2. Clear
  3. Compelling
  4. Credible
  5. Conceptual
  6. Concrete
  7. Consistent
  8. Customized
  9. Conversational
1. Concise

An effective elevator pitch contains as few words as possible, but no fewer.

2. Clear

Rather than being filled with acronyms, MBA-speak, and ten-dollar words, an effective elevator pitch can be understood by your grandparents, your spouse, and your children.

3. Compelling

An effective elevator pitch explains the problem your Solution solves.

4. Credible

An effective elevator pitch explains why you are qualified to see the problem and to build your Solution.

5. Conceptual

An effective elevator pitch stays at a fairly high level and does not go into too much unnecessary detail.

6. Concrete

As much as is possible, an effective elevator pitch is also specific and tangible.

7. Consistent

Every version of an effective elevator pitch conveys the same basic message.

8. Customized

An effective elevator pitch addresses the specific interests and concerns of the audience.

9. Conversational

Rather than being to close the deal, the goal of an elevator pitch is to just get the ball rolling; to start a conversation, or dialogue, with the audience.

Finally, Avoid mistakes:

  • Stick to hard facts and numbers! Avoid assumption or BS’ing; you’ve got to instill integrity in your message.
  • Make the pitch easy to understand; avoid acronyms or any jargon that your intended audience won’t comprehend.

Examples of pitches:

TechCrunch Elevator Pitches is a community video project that allows entrepreneurs to pitch their business idea to the general public and have it voted and commented on by viewers. Please note that this particular project allows one minute pitches, yet there are lots of submissions and examples so be sure to check it out.

Vator.tv is a video site featuring a rather non-traditional spin on the elevator pitch. There are plenty of video pitches by numerous companies and entrepreneurs.

This should provide the basics for delivering a good elevator pitch.



Last 3 posts by Jon Gillespie-Brown

4 Comments

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    [...] Mike only works a few deals per year and has a team of two, plus he will only work 2 at a time so you need good timing with him as well as being in his sweet spot. Ron does a lot more investing but you really need to be on his radar and also have some network effect to get to him (but a tip is he does a fair few seminars and events where you can get to him by simply walking up and exchanging a card and elevator pitch). [...]

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