The elevator pitch: ten top tips

Your fascinating, graceful and – above all – short answer to ‘and what do you do?’

Confident Public Speaking and Presentation Skills training and coaching in person and online

With Philippa Hammond

Brighton, Sussex, UK and beyond

The elevator pitch: Your fascinating, graceful and – above all – short answer to ‘and what do you do?’

In today’s climate it’s wise to consider yourself and your skills as a marketable product to be advertised.

When you’re asked … “So – what do you do?” “ Tell me about yourself” or “ What are you going to be speaking about today?” can you instantly give a graceful and fluent answer so the interested stay interested, the not so interested get interested – and the really not interested are not bored and annoyed?

You need an Elevator Pitch, prepared, polished, and ready to use whenever you have a minute or two of their undivided attention. It’s the ability to ‘sell’ what you have to offer in 30 seconds. It can give you a confidence boost to know you sound interesting, and can help your networking. The Elevator Pitch should be prepared well in advance and honed to perfection before you need it.

Opportunities to use yours might come at networking events, speaking with potential clients, when working a stall at or visiting a conference or trade show, when speaking to seniors in your organisation, at promotion boards and interviews, in response to “tell us about yourself”, in the coffee break at a conference or training event – or if the Prince of Wales asks “and what do you do?”

My top ten tips for creating and using an effective elevator pitch for business and social introductions:

1 What are your core values? What do you stand for and believe in?

Do the groundwork first – if you haven’t nailed this you may not yet feel entirely confident and comfortable presenting yourself and your business, and so will find it harder to inspire their confidence. You have to convince yourself first.

2 Your job title will mean little to them – what do you actually do?

Just like the top of your LinkedIn profile, your elevator pitch is a little advertisement for you and what you do. A grandiose job title may not capture the attention you want, while a clear and straightforward description of what you do will get the message across. Try brainstorming words and phrases and see what resonates most.

Focus on your strengths, and USP [unique selling point] – it should answer questions like “Why should I come and listen to your presentation instead of the other two?” and “Why should I buy your services, not theirs?”

3 Spark interest with a simple, powerful hook – ‘I help people find the courage to speak’

Can you tweet what you do? Honing a loose ramble into a crisp 280 characters is a great exercise for bringing your message into focus.

And your Twitter name and description is just the place to get your statement out there before you even start saying it.

4 They’re thinking ‘what’s in it for me?’ – so how could you benefit them?

Most of us like to know if something could be useful, so think ‘what does this group of people need to hear from me right now?’ Research your audience – whether you’re going to a high stakes conference or a little local business breakfast, think ‘what would they most like to hear?’ Considering what keeps them up at night and being the solution could be the key to your next client.

5 KISS (keep it short and simple). This isn’t the place for your entire CV!

No-one has time to sit and listen patiently to a one-sided rundown of your entire career. The absolute highlights of what you do and what you’ve done, and only those that will be of interest to them.

6 Practice it in the shower, in the park, to people you trust, record yourself – how does it sound?

Writing it out is all very well, but we don’t speak as we write and these things need to be heard. You’ll feel a bit silly to start with, but anything new feels weird at first and the more you practice the smoother it will sound and the easier it will get. You’ll then appear relaxed and confident about the way you talk about yourself, which is half the battle.

7 Seek out opportunities to try it out – networking events, business and social groups.

Here’s a secret – many apparently confident people are shy and dislike networking. So chances are anyone else you get into conversation with will be feeling a bit awkward too. The great thing about these events is that it’s fine to drop into a group, or go up to a person on their own and introduce yourself and ask about them. The more you do this the more normal it will feel and any awkwardness will start to fade out

8 Observe listeners’ responses – are they bored, glazed, intrigued, inspired?

The skill is to capture and keep interest, not to bulldozer them into submission. I’ve seen people backing away hotly pursued by a new contact desperately trying to get through the whole thing. It’s about personal and professional impact, and you want it to be positive. Probably the best thing to do if they really aren’t engaged is to ask ‘and what about you?’

9 Listen to theirs, too – it’s a two-way thing and listening will help you network

They have just as much right to be heard as you do, and what they have to say may well be able to benefit you, too. Cultivate the art of asking questions – what they say and how they say it can give you clues to what they want.

10 Have a variety for different occasions and people, refresh and evolve for today

A brief chat at the coffee stand, a personal intro at a meeting, a formal pitch to all at a networking gathering, a personal brand ident as a panellist or guest speaker … all these and more are opportunities to use versions of your pitch. Have a selection ready to air for every occasion, tailoring it to the moment, the people and their needs.

But the most important thing is to use it. The more you practise and use your selection of elevator pitches, the more agile, flexible and relevant it will become. And the more relaxed and confident you’ll be.

Philippa Hammond