Elevator pitches. What a bore, right? I thought so too until a minor networking blunder opened my eyes to the importance of being pitch ready at the drop of a hat. So bear with me.
It was a Wednesday evening just like any other. I’d just hit “send” on the last email of the day and was preparing to relinquish my claim over the most sought-after coffee shop table when something peculiar happened.
I looked behind me. Who was there?
Grabbed my phone. Who’s texting me?
Squinted my eyes and slowly opened my laptop again.
There it was. Dead in front of me.
“Reminder: You’ve got 1 event coming up today.”
It wasn’t just any Wednesday after all. It was the Wednesday I’d RSVP for my first small business networking event.
Crap, I thought, slamming my laptop shut and high-tailing it out of there.
Last to arrive at the event, I wiggled my way into a circle of chairs arranged around a communal table.
“Great! Looks like we’re all here. Let’s get started,” the woman to my left announced. “My name’s Adrienne and I’m a photographer. After graduating with my degree in business and working in advertising for three years, I saw a need for professional photography at non-agency prices. So I bought a used camera for $50, took a community class, and have been shooting for local startups and entrepreneurs ever since. Combining my background in business with creativity, I help my clients find their ideal balance of professionalism and personality.”
Then she looked at me. “Your turn,” she smiled.
“Oh, um, hey. I’m Erika,” I stuttered, studying the water rings on the table. “I’m a writer. I write a little bit of everything…short stories, websites, blogs. And, um, yeah.”
I looked up. Everyone was staring at me so I coughed up a “that’s all” to conclude my spiel.
Unbeknown to me at the time, this was my elevator pitch. And it was truly awful. Today, I’m sharing what I’ve learned since that pitch fail so you can learn from mistakes.
What is an elevator pitch, exactly?
As a creative entrepreneur, think of your elevator pitch as your personal commercial. It answers four key questions:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Who do you do it for?
- How are you qualified to do it?
…all in about 30 seconds. Basically, the time it takes to ride an elevator (*ahem*). Or, in my case, the time it takes to embarrass yourself in front of 20 strangers.
Similarly, your elevator pitch can be tailored to sell a product by answering questions like:
- What product are you selling?
- Who are you selling it to?
- How will it benefit those people?
- What sets it apart from similar products?
In either case, use your elevator pitch as a conversation starter. As so, keep it conversational—like catching up with an old friend over a hot cup ‘o joe.
(Side note: you won’t impress anyone with big words, technical speak, or corporate jargon so leave the acronyms and thesaurus at home for this coffee date.)
The ultimate multi-tasker
Why care about your elevator pitch? Let me count the ways. But, really:
- Get instant street cred. You have a matter of seconds to make a first impression. A succinct, engaging, and personable pitch makes the most of that precious time.
- Nab the dream gigs. Big breaks and dream clients can show up unexpectedly. Avoid missed opportunities by always keeping your pitch in your back pocket.
- Establish clear expectations. Your elevator pitch is your guarantee. It lets people know what to expect when they work with you. Presentation matters, too.
- Create authentic connections. An emotionally-charged pitch tugs on heartstrings. It draws your audience in and fosters connection. Think campfire stories over Powerpoint presentations.
Whoever you are, whatever you’re selling: your purpose is to solve a problem for your customers. Whether you’re selling ideas, services, digital products, and tangible ones—a well-rehearsed elevator pitch will help seal the deal.
Make your pitch memorable
When I say “pitch,” what do you picture? Suited businessmen in corporate conference rooms? Powerpoint decks plastered with lame memes from 2010?
Hopefully not. But if you spent any time in corporate, these images might haunt your memory.
The truth is, every entrepreneur has a pitch whether they know it or not. It’s what you tell people when they ask what you do. Make yours stand out with these tactics.
Tell a micro story
Remember that story about how I embarrassed myself in front of 20 strangers at a business networking event?
Aside from me reminding you now, it likely lingered.
Stories stick. Why? Because our brains are wired for story. All those little neurotransmitters darting around see a good plot line and drop everything to listen.
Give ‘em something to remember by weaving micro story elements into your elevator pitch. Like how Adrienne mentioned buying her first camera for $50, alluding to a story of thrifty creative entrepreneurship.
Stories sell because they’re relatable, memorable, and entertaining.
Speak to your target audience
Growing up, I had the worst stage fright. My mom always said: “just picture the audience in their underwear, honey.”
So, I did. And I played the best Villager #2 Baymonte Elementary had ever seen.
When you whip out your elevator pitch, don’t picture your audience in their knickers (or do, whatever works for you). But do imagine speaking to just one person: your ideal client or customer. Let them know you get it. Focus on them alone.
Combine visual language with concrete facts
Visual language has a similar effect to storytelling. It tickles memory sensors and creates magnetic connections.
Facts, on the other hand, establish authority. They queue your listeners into your qualifications and support your claims.
Visual language gets attention. It’s tangible and approachable, like a porch swing on a breezy summer afternoon (see what I did there?). Facts are the beams that support the swing: when installed properly, they build trust and confidence.
Position your talent as the solution to their problem
This goes back to your target audience. Before you pitch them on anything, know who they are and what struggles they face. Then, show them the solution they’ve been looking for.
Imagine you’re selling No. 2 pencils and have a meeting with the school supply committee. They need an alternative to pens, an unfortunate result of several vandalism incidents. Lucky for you, your soft-lead pencils leave no trace.
Discover your solution and focus on it.
Bring it all together
Now, you may not drive a Tesla or own a suit (good choice) but Elon Musk’s pitch for Tesla stands as a great example employing all of these tactics.
Why does Tesla exist? We have record high C02 levels in the atmosphere resulting in a steadily increasing temperature. And, it’s still climbing. Combustion cars emit toxic gases too, killing 53,000 people per year. What can we do to change this? How can we make a difference? What we’re trying to do with Tesla is accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport. At Tesla, we make great electric cars. This is really important for the future of the world.
What makes Elon’s pitch so effective? It tells the story of a world in danger and presents Tesla as a solution, using visual language to set the scene and backing it up with facts. He stages the problem and solution by asking questions and proceeds to answer them concisely and persuasively.
Before you go and try to compete with Elon Musk, know that your elevator pitch doesn’t have to save the world. It just has to resonate with your corner of the world.