The Perfect Elevator Pitch – 4 Easy Steps

Helen Keller once said, “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Actually, I think we all do quite a bit on our own. A lot of what makes us who we are is the grit and brilliance that mainly springs from within us. But maybe what Keller meant was that it is the bringing of our gifts together that produces the highest value.

And that applies perfectly to what I want to share with you today as we discuss what makes for a great elevator pitch for your business and how to know if your perfect elevator pitch is great or lousy. Because it turns out that a very specific form of collaboration is the best way to test and improve your elevator pitch and it won’t work if you try to do it alone.

Remember the scene from Wall Street, where the young stockbroker Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen finally gets a meeting with the big-time investor Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas? At the climax of that scene, Gekko says, “I see a hundred deals every day. I pick one.” Bud has one chance to pitch something interesting, simple, memorable. Do you remember the it?  It really is the perfect elevator pitch!

I’ll paraphrase it here:

“There’s an airline for sale.

Its value is down because of a crash.

The FAA will rule tomorrow it wasn’t their fault.”

That got Gekko’s attention. That was the one deal that day out of 100 that piqued his curiosity and got him to ask for more information. It had four important components:

  1. It was exciting; it connected to the emotions of Gekko — basically, greed — secret information that nobody else had that could cause the stock to rise in value.
  2. It was simple, not confusing.
  3. It was intriguingly incomplete; Gekko wanted to learn more.
  4. It was easy to remember later.

That’s precisely what you want your elevator pitch to accomplish:  exciting, simple, intriguing and easy enough to remember and repeat.

So, how do you create a great elevator pitch and what makes the difference between a great one and everything else? Is that best done alone, in front of the mirror, an exercise in memorizing? Or is it best done in a collaborative environment and, if so, what type of collaboration provides the most value?

Before delving into that, let’s be clear about the medium. An ideal elevator pitch is three lines, twelve keywords, expressing no more than three important ideas.  Sometimes, it is a problem-solution set, with an unexpected twist.  Sometimes it is mission, strategy, and tactic in form.  In either case, it must connect to the listener emotionally. Finally, it needs to be a message the listener can remember and repeat.

Here are a couple of perfect elevator pitches from companies we’ve worked with:

“Botox in a cream, no needles.”  That one was worth nine figures.

“We save new restaurants.  We turn Tuesday night into Saturday night.  How?  We hold BIG weeknight network events.”   (Newly seeking investment).

Recall that in a recent post I used the story of FDR’s plan for the invasion of Europe during World War II: “The Russians are coming. We need a second front in the West. Use Patton as a diversion.” Important and relevant — the Russians are coming with an emotional component — fear.  Simple, not confusing.  Intriguing twist — use Patton as a diversion — that invites further questions.  Easy to remember and share with others — viral.

So if you’re trying to perfect an elevator pitch like that, what kind of collaboration will be helpful?

The type of collaborative effort that adds the most value is to test ON OTHERS whether, or not, the message is easy to remember and repeat – i.e. viral.

What do I mean by viral?

In this case viral means that it has to be 100% remembered by a listener so that it can be reliably repeated, AND it still has to be interesting — worth repeating!

So how do you collaborate with others to create a viral elevator pitch?

As a CEO friend of mine likes to say, “how do you get to Music City Radio Hall? Practice, practice practice!”

That’s the key: practicing and refining, practicing and refining, based on the feedback provided by as many different listeners as you can. It’s feedback from objective listeners, committed but objective listeners. If you undertake this kind of practice, you’ll learn three valuable things:

You’ll learn how far you have to go (or how close to viral you are)

This is something you just can’t gauge yourself because you’re too close to the subject matter to avoid bias. There is no substitution for objective ears and especially from people who really don’t know much about your business, at least not the details. If a number of people can remember your elevator pitch 100% after hearing it one time then it’s likely to be viral. If they can’t, it’s not.

You’ll learn whether your pitch connects to people emotionally (or that it just doesn’t)

If your listeners can’t repeat the pitch back to you with a high level of accuracy it may mean that it simply didn’t connect to them emotionally. They didn’t care enough to remember it. It didn’t ‘hit them’ with something they want to know more about, or cause a reaction in them at some emotional level. There are hundreds of shades of human emotion. Your pitch just needs to connect to one of them.

You’ll learn what others hear when you pitch

This is critical because when you pitch for real, have something at stake, that’s not the time to wonder if you’re communicating well. You have to be ready.  If you think you’re making a critically important point, but it isn’t repeatable by listeners, then you’ve got to work on that point until it is very memorable.

Now the point of all this is to test and refine, test and refine, test and refine. Doing the exercise with one or two others will be of limited value. Do it again and again. It doesn’t take long. Practice until it is perfect and you know it perfectly. Think of a concert pianist that has played a concerto a hundred times before going live on stage. He or she knows it so well they don’t even need the music.

Here is what to do:

First, ask someone to be a committed listener for just 30 seconds, but let them know you really want their attention for that short time;

Second, let them know exactly what the game is. You pitch, they relate it back to you as close as they can from memory — no note taking allowed!

Third, write down notes on which points they remembered and how accurately they remembered those points.

Fourth, review with them any points they missed and see what kind of feedback they can give you. This is a really important juncture because you want to gather data from lot’s of listeners to see if they are all missing the same point or two and why. That’s how you use feedback to refine the pitch.

Proven Pitch Tip #2

In order to make your elevator pitch viral, you MUST experiment scientifically by speaking it to different people.  Include your company name each time.  After each time, after you deliver it, ask the other person what points he can recall.  Then write down the percentage of the message he/she recalls, including your company name.  You’re shooting for 100%.   Keep revising until you get 100% most of the time.