To sell ourselves and our big ideas, we need elevator pitches that stand out, are unique and stimulate a response. Clearly, some creativity is what is needed to design such a pitch. Jeffrey Baumgartner explains how to develop one.

An “elevator pitch” is a short, self promotional statement which you can deliver when time is limited. The term came to prominence during the dot-com boom when every other person seemed to be starting up an Internet company and looking for venture capital funding. It comes from the scenario of finding yourself in a lift – or elevator, as Americans call it – with someone who can help you out professionally, such as an investor, business partner or potential employer. In a minute, the lift will reach its destination and the other person will leave, so you only have a few seconds to say something to capture that person’s interest.

The aim of an elevator pitch should not be to make a sale, get a job or nab a sack full of money from a venture capitalist. Rather, it is to start a conversation. The ideal outcome of an elevator pitch is for the other person to look at her watch and say, “I’ve got a free hour. Let’s go have a coffee and talk about this.”

About a decade ago when I was hired by the European Commission’s Information Society Directorate General as an expert (which is Commission-Speak for a consultant with expert knowledge), I had the memorable contract title of “expert on the dissemination of information about electronic commerce to small- and medium-sized enterprises in the European Community.” It was such a delightfully convoluted title, that it functioned as a great elevator pitch. People simply wanted to know what the heck it meant!

Most often, however, we are not so lucky and must craft our own lift pitches. Moreover, with the exception of people with very specific expert knowledge (my life partner, for instance, specializes in a very specific area of scientific research. Either people understand what she does or they do not. If they do not, she probably doesn’t need to connect to them professionally), most of us are competing with others for the attention of clients, business partners, investors or employers. So we need elevator pitches that stand out, are unique and stimulate a response. Clearly, some creativity is what is needed to design such a pitch.

What do you wish to achieve?

As I have already stated, the aim of an elevator pitch is to start a conversation. Nevertheless, you will want the conversation to be a significant step towards achieving an aim, such as getting investment in your company, closing a sale or winning a project contract. This means your pitch should stimulate the right conversation. Think about what you wish to achieve.

Of course you might have multiple needs. For instance, an entrepreneur might be looking to build a business relationship with a mobile marketing specialist, negotiate a deal with the purchasing manager of a chain of clothing shops and get some investment from a venture capitalist. If this is the case, you will need either to come up with a single multifunctional pitch, which would be ideal, or several pitches which you can select from depending on circumstances.

Once you are clear in your mind about your elevator pitch goal, write it down.

What is so special about you?

Now it is time to do some idea generation. Think about you, or your company if it will be the focus of your pitch. Think about what is special about you. In particular think about values or services you can provide to your customers or employer or employer’s customers  as the case may be.

Spend some time on this and draw up a list of at least 50 ideas. Don’t worry about accuracy or whether a particular skill really is special. That comes later. For the time being, just write down every thought that comes to mind. Indeed, follow usual idea generation protocol: no squelching, no criticism and write down everything. In particular, do not be afraid to note attributes which you are striving to achieve even if you have not actually achieved them yet.

If possible, ask friends, family, colleagues and associates for their suggestions and add them to the list.

Rate the ideas

Now you should have at least 50 ideas and possibly many more. Feel free to go through the list now and cross out any ideas that are unsuitable. But don’t cross out ridiculous ideas. Sometimes the ridiculous notions prove to be the most creative and hence most effective!

Once you have cleaned up your list, call on a couple of friends or family members to help you with the next step. Ask them to go through the list once to ensure they understand everything. If any ideas are not clear, they should ask you for clarification. After this is done, ask your friends to rate each idea on a scale of 0-5 points for each of these three criteria:

  • Impact
  • Memorability
  • Uniqueness

You should also do the same. Once you are all finished, select the one, two or three top ideas based on the number of points received. These are your strongest attributes.

Putting it all together

Using these top attributes, try and craft them into a short, sweet and intriguing elevator pitch. If you can convince your friends to collaborate with you on the process, all the better.

You may need to write down several variations until you get it right. If you have chosen more than one attribute, but cannot fit all of them into a pitch, don’t worry. Remember, you don’t need to provide a comprehensive self-promotional speech. You just want to start a conversation! Also, bear in mind that your pitch should indicate that you (or your firm) offers value to the listener and does not merely glorify yourself.

Once you’ve got something, try it out first in front of a mirror and then with friends. Then look for an opportunity to try it out in real life. Perhaps there is a networking activity or similar event coming up in your area. If so, sign up for it, attend and practice with your pitch. If you’ve never used an elevator pitch before, you will be amazed at how it makes you more confident about presenting yourself in a public environment like this.

Be flexible with your elevator pitch

Finally, bear in mind that an elevator pitch is not set in stone. You can change it any time you want. You may find, after your first networking event, that it didn’t get the response you expected. If so, it may simply need a little tweaking. Or it may need reformulating.

Moreover, you can and should repeat this exercise from time to time in order to ensure your elevator pitch is fresh and reflects changes in your activities and your market.

Good luck!

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

About the author

Jeffrey Baumgartner is the author of the book, The Way of the Innovation Master; the author/editor of Report 103, a popular newsletter on creativity and innovation in business. He is currently developing and running workshops around the world on Anticonventional Thinking, a new approach to achieving goals through creativity.