How to Write (and Deliver) an Elevator Pitch
Not just for start-up founders, the elevator pitch is the skill you didn’t know you needed.
An elevator pitch is a short (30 seconds or less) explanation of your business, product, or service.
Typically, it’s used by start-ups seeking investors.
The premise is that when you happen to catch the elevator with some VC who could fund your entire start-up, you need to have a snappy, memorable way to introduce your amazing idea before the elevator stops. Quick! And, of course, without fumbling, spitting, sounding desperate, or being vague.
You can use the concept of an elevator pitch in lots of other situations, too.
- Freelancers can present their services to potential clients quickly and clearly.
- Business owners can explain what they offer to potential customers.
- Individuals can have a quick, predetermined way to answer the inevitable “What do you do?” question when it comes up.
- Creatives can use an elevator pitch to briefly explain their work without awkwardly fumbling for an easy “standard job” comparison.
- Job seekers can use an elevator pitch to present themselves (their skills, career goals) to people who might be able to connect them with a job.
- Students can use an elevator pitch to present their academic and other achievements and interests to college recruiters, interviewers, coaches, etc.
An elevator pitch can smooth conversations, open up connections, and help you look (and feel) more professional.
Writing your own elevator pitch also helps you gain clarity: about what you offer and what your work actually is. It can help you figure out what’s most important about your product or service, and the best way to measure the value of what you produce. It can also help you see how you’re different than the competition.
Whoa, all that in a speech that lasts for less than a minute? Yep. Let’s do it.
An elevator pitch example, deconstructed
Before we get started on how to write your own elevator pitch, let’s look at one example in detail.
“I am a healthcare mediator. This means that I work with all kinds of families in the midst of conflict or crisis. I’m like a lawyer and therapist combined: I help individuals talk calmly through disagreements and reach a compromise, and I represent the best interest of these families in complex and overwhelming situations. For example, I helped one family lower their healthcare costs by 25% after a devastating car wreck. I also arranged a shared care-taking schedule with a local nonprofit for half the cost of standard in-home hospice care. I negotiate with healthcare providers, find resources, talk to insurance companies, and help families handle the logistics of care-taking, recovery, and finances. Last year I saved my clients, collectively, over a million dollars.”
Ok, let’s break that down.
- Part 1 is a brief title or job description: “I am a healthcare mediator.” This is your job title, product or business name, or service description in the briefest phrase possible.
- Part 2 is a one-sentence explanation of the job: “This means that I work with all kinds of families in the midst of and illness or injury crisis.”
- Part 3 is an analogy with something familiar: “I’m like a lawyer and therapist combined: I help individuals talk calmly through disagreements and reach a compromise, and I represent the best interest of these families in complex and overwhelming situations.”
- Part 4 is a specific example: “For example, I helped one family lower their healthcare costs by 25% after a devastating car wreck. I also arranged a shared care-taking schedule with a local nonprofit for half the cost of standard in-home hospice care.”
- Part 5 is specific details about what the job involves: “I negotiate with healthcare providers, find resources, talk to insurance companies, and help families handle the logistics of care-taking, recovery, and finances.”
- Part 6 is a memorable ending: “Last year I saved my clients, collectively, over a million dollars.”
Write your own elevator pitch
To write your own elevator pitch, you’ll copy the elements we pulled from the example above.
- Write a short title or description. This is the easiest part! You can use one of these starters and complete the phrase:
- “I am a…”
- “My business is…”
- “My product is…”
- “My main service is…”
- “I provide…”
- “My work is….”
- “Product X is…”
2. Add a one-sentence explanation. Start with, “That means…” and explain your short title or description. You don’t have to include everything in your one-sentence explanation. In fact, you probably can’t. Focus on the most important and memorable aspect of the job, product, or service.
3. Come up with an analogy. Relating what you do to a more familiar job, or to something that’s funny, different, or interesting creates a vivid impression. It also helps people ‘get it’ right away. Here’s an example from a life coach:
“I’m like a personal chef, but instead of cooking meals, I help people develop and make customized recipes for a stress-free, fulfilling life.”
You can use this formula to create a short and snappy analogy:
- “We’re like the [well-known brand, product, or celebrity] of/for [your industry, product, or target market].”
So, for example, a bookstore owner might say,
“We’re like Netflix for readers.”
And a dog-walking service might say,
“It’s like Uber for your pet.”
4. Pick a specific example to use. An example is real; it’s a story of someone you’ve helped, something you’ve done, a real example that people can remember. Images and vivid details are memorable. Use your real example to provide some.
“I help people save money when they’re going through a divorce. For example, one client had estimated total divorce costs at over $50,000. I lowered her cost to under $12,000 and negotiated a better child support agreement for her and her children.”
5. Name specific parts of your job. Or explain how your product, service, or business is different than the competition. Or do both.
“I review content needs, develop a content strategy, hire and train freelancers, and build a streamlined content system that can be managed in less than 5 hours a week.”
This is a chance to list concrete things that you do in your work. If you’re describing a product, describe the features (frame them as benefits to make them more interesting).
You can also — or instead — explain how your work, product, service, or skills are different and better than the competition.
“Our water systems are so much easier to install and maintain than most — only three working parts. It takes less than an hour to set up completely.”
6. Come up with a memorable ending. If you can make it a one-liner, even better.
It could be a number:
“I helped my clients collectively save over a million dollars last year.”
“I’ve helped people get rid of over 3 tons of clutter in the last six months.”
Or an impressive feature or guarantee:
“Of course, that’s all done in less than a week.”
“I offer a money-back lifetime guarantee, too, but so far, no one’s claimed it.”
It could be what your clients love most:
“Our customers love how portable this product is — it fits in a quart-size baggie.”
Or what you love the most about your work or clients:
“I get a kick out of seeing new freelancers gain confidence and negotiate for better rates — from $10/hour to $80/hour.”
It could be a personal experience, meaning, or feeling:
“I needed help when my daughter had cancer — she’s now fully recovered — and I am so glad to provide that kind of help to families in the same situation.”
Or something funny:
“Sometimes I type so fast my keyboard lights on fire.”
7. Come up with a few alternate offers or calls to action. Develop a few options based on the people you might meet, or the situations you might be in when you use your elevator pitch.
For example, if it’s casual conversation with a friend or family member, answering the “What do you do?” question, you don’t really need a call-to-action.
You could pop a fire-back question on there: “So, what do you do?”
Or just go without a formal ending and let the conversation flow naturally where it will.
Think about other situations and come up with offers or calls-to-action you can use for each one:
- Prospective client or customer
- Prospective employer or investor
- Interesting connection
- Potential business partner.
The smartest move is to take the burden of following up yourself.
Instead of asking them to do the work, ask for permission:
“Can I email you with more info?”
“If you’d like, I can call you next week for a longer chat.”
“I’ve got a guide that I share with my customers, I’d be happy to send it over to you.”
“Let me get your email and I’ll send you my website info.”
Then, of course, get their contact info. And follow up as you said you would.
Make it better
Once you have the whole thing written, play around with the order, the phrasing, and the specific words.
You want it to flow easily, fit your style, and explain enough without explaining too much.
You may find that you don’t need an example and an analogy; fine, take out the least interesting one. Tighten it up as much as you can, which is generally more than you think. Remember that you can always explain more, later.
The goal of an elevator pitch is to give enough of an explanation so that
- people who aren’t a good fit will realize that and quit wasting your time, and
- people who are a good fit will be interested, and ask you questions or say yes when you offer to follow up.
Deliver your elevator pitch
Once you have the version you like, you need to do two things:
- Memorize it.
- Practice saying it.
Memorizing an elevator pitch isn’t that tough. Try any of these strategies until you have it down:
- Type it a few dozen times.
- Write it out by hand five or ten times.
- Hang up a clear, well-written copy where you’ll see it multiple times a day.
- Read it aloud over and over.
- Record yourself (or someone else) saying it and listen to that recording.
Practice saying it, because the more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll become with it. And the more comfortable you are, the smoother and more engaging your delivery will be.
Here are some ways to practice:
- Read it aloud over and over. (Didn’t we do this already?)
- Say it to the mirror.
- Practice on everyone in your family.
- Call up your friends and practice on them.
- Imagine scenarios with different clients, customers, connections, etc., and practice delivering it in each scenario.
- Make a video of yourself saying and watch that video a few times, noting improvements you can make. Record a better version. Repeat 3–4 times.
It’s delivery time!
Your moment has come.
You take a deep breath. You’re ready. You feel the Zen-like calmness descend upon your well-prepared mind. Your mouth opens, ready to pour forth your words of articulate perfection. Your smile is the perfect balance of friendship and professionalism.
Here you go.
- Make solid eye contact but don’t weird people out with an unending gaze. Hold eye contact for a few seconds, break away, come back. Too-long, too-intense eye gazing makes people uncomfortable.
- Don’t rush. Speak calmly and take your time. Pause. Take breaths. It’s a short speech. You don’t need to rush.
- If someone interrupts, let them. You don’t have to finish the elevator speech. If they break in with a question, answer it. Go with the flow. If things get off topic, you can always bring them back around with a segue: “I was going to share this interesting story of a client…” and then launch into your example.
- Don’t wimp out on the ending: use the call-to-action or follow-up request you developed. The worst that can happen? They’ll say no. That’s fine.
- Don’t cross your arms or slouch. Stand up straight, shoulders back, chest open, arms relaxed. Practice your posture and what to do with your hands when you practice delivering your elevator speech.
- Be okay with a few seconds of silence after. Let people digest what you’ve said.
- If the silence goes on too long, throw a reciprocal or follow-up question out there: “So, what’s your work like?” or “Do you ever deal with clients in (industry)?” or “Have you ever had issues with (product/service)?”
Use your elevator pitch consistently and you will get better and better at it. You can also notice when people are really intrigued, and when they start to doze. Over time, you can review and update it with better examples and details.
Got a great elevator pitch to share? Throw it in the comments!