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How to Create a Great Elevator Pitch

An “elevator pitch” is so called because you’re supposed to be able to summarize your pitch so quickly that you can effectively get it across in an elevator ride. The idea here is if you’re ever lucky enough to trap Richard Branson in an elevator for three minutes, you can pitch him on your killer idea and get him to lavish you with riches to make it a reality.

This concept works whether you’ve actually got Branson cornered, you’re a guest on Shark Tank or you just want to explain to someone what you’re dedicating your life to. The crux of it this: people are busy, so for you it’s best to present ideas in the most succinct manner possible. What’s more, if your idea is as good as you think it is, you ought to be able to present it in a minute or so. Simple ideas that connect sell. So here’s how to boil your pitch down to its barest essentials.

What Your Elevator Pitch Needs

There are three things your pitch needs to communicate:

  • Your Qualifications: One question you need to ask yourself is why you are the person to make this dream a reality. What makes you qualified — uniquely qualified — to be in charge of your project.
  • The Up Front Value: Your project has to have a tangible value you can express in a single sentence. This is the value you’ll be delivering to your potential investor or partner. Take it as a given they know you’re passionate about your own project. What’s in it for them?
  • What You Want: Frankly, a partner or investor who doesn’t want to know what’s in it for them isn’t a very good partner. Similarly, you’re not going to make a good partner or investment if you’re not clear about what you want out of the project.

There are as many answers to these questions as there are people running around with dream projects. The problem most people have is that they can’t even begin to answer these questions. When you start honing your elevator pitch, these are the three questions you need to answer at a bare minimum. This is what you need to communicate.

Start Working On Your Presentation

All that covered, answering these questions isn’t your presentation. This is simply the research you have to do before you can even begin working on your presentation. A presentation is far more than the words that come out of your mouth. It’s everything you have to say, but also the way that you say it. This includes your tone of voice and your mannerisms.

If you’ve ever given a presentation, you know that they can be a little nerve-racking. This is 1,000 times more true when you’re talking about trying to sell someone on your dream. You’re going to feel pressure like you’ve never felt before. That’s not going to make your project any more attractive. On the other hand, if you’re able to get your presentation down pat, you’ll be able to go into your elevator pitch with confidence. And confidence is probably the biggest asset you can have on your side.

Three things you should be doing while you work on your presentation include:

  • Memorize Your Pitch: Memorizing a pitch is a bit like learning how to tell a joke. You don’t want to memorize a script. You want to memorize the bullet points, the broad strokes, and fill in the rest on the fly. That’s going to make your pitch sound a lot more natural, organic and fluid when the time comes to actually deliver.
  • Say Your Pitch Out Loud: Even when you have your talking points memorized, you still might be nervous. Saying your pitch out loud, a number of ways and preferably to an audience is the best way you can start making that nervousness go away. Record yourself and listen to your pitch. Take notes, then act on them. Toastmasters is a great way to get objective feedback on your presentation itself, but not necessarily on your pitch. Friends can give feedback that keeps your personality in mind.
  • Practice Makes Perfect: Eventually you’re going to have to deliver your pitch to someone. Otherwise, it’s just a good idea, not a pitch. In Social Capital, Jordan talks about how networking events are often seen as a sort of business equivalent of “singles events” filled with desperate, low-hanging fruit. In a sense, this makes them the perfect dress rehearsal for your elevator pitch. Even if no one bites, so what? You’re just practicing for the moment when someone with a higher value does.

Don’t Worry About Making Mistakes

Here’s a little secret we’ve been teaching guys on our field nights for the better part of a decade: For the most part, people only remember crushing victories and incredible disasters. Your elevator pitch will either fall somewhere in between, in which case no one is going to remember the line that you flubbed in the middle, or else it’s going to be a rousing success and you’ve closed the deal.

Even though it’s easier said than done, you shouldn’t be nervous when you’re giving your elevator pitch. You might make a mistake here and there, but so what? If that’s what people remember, your pitch wasn’t honed enough anyway. Everyone is out there doing the best they can. When you pitch to networkers in your scene, you might not be closing the deal, but you are networking and meeting new people. At the very least you’re practicing your pitch. This time is only wasted if you allow it to be. If you can learn from the experience, it’s valuable.

Try and have fun. It’s all practice until the day you actually strike gold.

Be Honest With Yourself About What Changes to Make

Honest, truly reflective self-analysis is what separates the men from the boys. If you can’t give yourself honest feedback, your pitch is never going to improve. Beating yourself up isn’t going to make things any better than pretending that everything you just did was perfect. You need to shoot for the middle ground where you’re able to see what you did right while at the same time recognizing where there’s room for improvement.

A simple method for constructive self-criticism is:

  • The Positive: Start by finding at least one thing you did you did well. That can be difficult for a lot of guys, because we’re not used to tooting our own horn. That’s okay. Finding one, two or even three things is the best way to start self-criticism. Remember that self-criticism isn’t about beating yourself up. It’s as much about looking at what you did exceptionally well and capitalizing on that as it is about improving areas that need it.
  • The Negative: There’s always room for improvement. So when you’re done seeing what you did correctly, you’ll want to look around to see where you could improve. The point here isn’t to beat yourself up anymore than the part where you look around for the positives is about empty self-congratulations. Instead, you’re looking for areas where you can improve what you’ve already done.
  • Focus: One of the reasons that we concentrate on one or two or at most three areas is because you want to work on specific aspects of your pitch. Don’t try and tackle everything at once. Look for your greatest strengths and the biggest opportunities for improvement. That’s the best way to ensure your pitch is always getting better and better.

Try and view this as an experiment. You want to plan, test and then report to yourself on the results. It can be hard to have this kind of emotional detachment from a project that you’re passionate about. However, the more that you can view things objectively, the more you’ll be able to improve your pitch. The more you improve your pitch, the closer you’re going to be to the day when your elevator pitch finally connects. That’s the point of all of this.

An elevator pitch can be scary. But once you start investing your time and effort, you’ll get more and more confident. That process of building confidence starts by squaring away what you want to say, getting used to saying it, and speaking it to people outside of your current circle.

Lead image by Philippe Moreau Chevrolet