How Much Do You Hate the Idea of an Elevator Pitch?

A client reached out to me this morning and asked if I had some suggestions for positive reactions or resources to the whole concept of elevator pitches. We are regularly told that we need to have a good elevator pitch or as some call it now a personal brand statement, yet many of us still stumble when it comes to telling people what we do in a succinct manner.

Wikipedia lists a potential origin of the elevator pitch idea to Philip Crosby, author of “The Art of Getting Your Own Sweet Way” (1972) and “Quality Is Still Free,” (1996) who suggested individuals should have a pre-prepared speech that can deliver information regarding themselves or a quality that they can provide within a short period of time, namely the amount of time of an elevator ride for if an individual finds themselves on an elevator with a prominent figure. Essentially, an elevator pitch, or elevator speech, is meant to allow an individual to pitch themselves or an idea to a person who is high up in a company, with very limited time.

Crosby, who worked as a quality test technician, and then later as the Director of Quality at International Telephone and Telegraph, recounted how an elevator pitch could be used to push for change within the company.[3] He planned a speech regarding the change he wanted to see and waited at the ITT headquarters elevator. Crosby stepped onto an elevator with the CEO of the company in order to deliver his speech. Once they reached the floor in which the CEO was getting off, Crosby was asked to deliver a full presentation on the topic at a meeting for all of the general managers.

The concept of an elevator pitch, as created by Crosby, did not receive much popularity until two statisticians, Gerry Hahn from General Electric and Tom Boardman, a professor at the University or Colorado, started to push the concept onto other statisticians. The two pushed this concept in order to help other statisticians in promoting what they have to offer. Boardman pushed the concept much further than Hahn, resulting in the elevator pitch, or elevator speech, ultimately being linked to Boardman and his professional life.

Technology advancements have created additional challenges as now the journey from the ground floor to the top is getting faster and faster, meaning your ‘pitch’ has to be clearer and shorter. 

According to the Guinness Book of Records the fastest lift (elevator) travels at 73.8 km per hour (45.8 mph), achieved by high-speed elevator NexWay, designed by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (Japan) and installed at Shanghai Tower Unit OB-3 (China), on 7 July 2016. It is installed in the 632 m (2,073 ft 5 in) tall Shanghai Tower, and travels 121 stories. Math was never my strong point but I make that 121 floors in about half a minute.

So the question comes up, should we even be delivering an elevator pitch in such a short time frame?

In her TEDx talk Michelle Golden argues that perhaps we need to approach this differently, watch below;

And on the StoryBrand podcast Vanessa Van Edwards, author of Captivate, talks about the need to make the conversations in these types of situations much more engaging.

“Everybody, everybody everywhere, has his own movie going, his own scenario, and everybody is acting his movie out like mad, only most people don’t know that is what they’re trapped by, their little script.”

Tom Wolfe

Whilse we may not want to use a script, having a format or template to start helps. The ket is moving that quicly from sounding scripted to something that feels right to you and conveys a story to the listener making it interesting enough that they want to know more. The challenge is where to start?

Alternate ways of pitching or delivering.

I enjoy the works of Dan Pink. He has written several books that really connect with the whole personal branding movement and has produced numerous articles and videos that relate too.One such book is “To Sell is Human”.

One chapter in the book covers the alternative ways to ‘pitch’ someone, more modern ways of addressing the elevator pitch. Here is Dan explaining each one and then below is the copy taken from the book.

1.       The One Word Pitch

Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. It used to be okay to post videos of over 5 minutes, now the recommended is less than 90 seconds.

The argument with a one word pitch is that people are traveling at higher speeds and a one word pitch really demands discipline and forces clarity. Think internet search and you immediately recall Google, or if we said priceless and credit cards you would immediately think of Mastercard or even both of Obama;s election campaigns were one word, in 2008 Hope in 2012 Forward.

What is the one word that captures who you are or your organization is?

Write a 50 word pitch. Reduce it to twenty five words. Then to six words. One of those remaining words is likely your one word.

2.       The Question Pitch

Instead of making a statement consider instead asking a question. In studies it has even been found  that questions can outperform statements in persuading others. Think about the time someone asks you a question, you feel compelled to respond.

In the 1980’s Ronald Reagan used this to great effect asking voters if they were better off than 4 years ago. The answer was a resounding no.  The question however needs to have a strong likelihood of being answered positively in your favour, Mitt Romney tried that same tactic in 2012 and it did not work because many people actually thought yes they were.

If you were to ask a question of your target audience, what would it be?

Your argument needs to be strong to use a question. If it is weak, make a statement, or you need a new argument.

3.       The Rhyming Pitch

One of the most famous pitches using rhyming was the lawyer Johnny Cochrane representing OJ Simpson, talking about the gloves “If it doesn’t fit…you must acquit”

Researchers have found that given similar statements participants favoured the rhyming ones, even though each pair says the same. Our minds equate easy flow with accuracy.

If you think you have time, can you pitch in a rhyme?

Don’t rack your brain for rhymes. Use an online rhyming dictionary like

4.       The Subject-Line Pitch

Think how many e-mails you receive in a day or week. Many. If you are scanning that list of e-mails you are making decisions about which ones to open first many times by the subject line. In research if the e-mail is useful to you then you are motivated to open it because you have something to gain or lose.  For other e-mails of low priority the subject lines that offered curiosity were more likely to be opened sooner.

One strong recommendation is to be very specific in a subject line pitch. E.g “Improve your golf swing” is not as specific as “4 tips to improve your golf swing this afternoon”

Can you pitch what you have to offer that satisfies utility, specificity and curiosity?

Review the subject lines of the last 20 emails you have sent. Note how many appeal to utility or curiosity. If the total is less than 10 rewrite each one that fails the test.

5.       The Twitter Pitch

With just 140 characters Twitter forces you to be to the point and succinct with any message. Some organizations have used this format to receive pitches for business, job search even placement applications for college.  The key with a good ‘tweet’ is that it also encourages a continued conversation or at least a response.

With just 140 characters you have little space to get your message across. How easy is it for you to do that and continue the conversation.

Try to limit your twitter pitches to 120 characters so that others can re-tweet and pass it on. Best pitches are short, sweet and easy to retweet.

6.       The  Pixar Pitch

Story telling is quite possibly the oldest form of pitching and as humans we love to hear and connect with an engaging story. Pixar, the cartoon feature film maker, has perfected the art of the story with successive blockbusters and their success has in part been put down to following a story formula.

Read all 22 of former Pixar story artist Emma Cost’s story rules 

Once upon a time………………………….Every day…………………….One day……………………….Because of that…………………………….Because of that…………………………………Until finally.

Whichever pitch you work on make sure that after someone hears it you ahve answered What you want them to know, feel and do.

How do you approach the elevator pitch ‘dilema’?

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