3 Essential Ingredients in a Convincing Elevator Pitch

Brevity alone won't win you the deal; when you get the chance to make your spiel, be sure your proposal hits on these three key notes.
October 04, 2012

We all know the secret to successfully pitching any idea is getting someone to "lean in" to a proposal you can recite in the time it takes to complete a short elevator ride.

We live in the age of excess information and jam-packed schedules, and if you want someone's attention, you need to think in terms of sound bites and tweets. You've got to cut through the noise, quickly, when the opportunity hits, or you may never get another chance.

An Expert View 

According to communication expert Terri Sjodin, author of Small Message, Big Impact: The Elevator Speech Effect, if you’re looking to land a big breakthrough opportunity, the best way to get there is with a small but well-crafted message that will open doors and get the snowball rolling. Whether you are faced with a chance encounter or a presentation in front of thousands, only a well-crafted elevator speech can take your message and bridge the gap between the goals you set and the results you want.

Sjodin defines an elevator speech this way:

"An elevator speech is a brief presentation that introduces a product, service, philosophy, or an idea. The name suggests the notion that the message should be delivered in the time span of an elevator ride, up to about three minutes. Its general purpose is to intrigue and inspire the listener to want to hear more of the presenter's complete proposition in the near future."

The power of an effective elevator speech, Sjodin says, is the ability to communicate your message in a persuasive way to help maximize opportunities, grow your personal brand, raise your platform and take everything to the next level. A great elevator speech, in other words, can become the tipping point to your new future. Sjodin calls this the "elevator speech effect."

"The elevator ride is a metaphor for the unexpected access to someone you want to sell on some idea, project, or initiative," says Sjodin. "It is not the actual length of time it takes to ride in an elevator, but rather the spirit of the clear, brief and persuasive message delivered in a short period of time."

Ride to the Next Level


A good elevator speech has several fundamental characteristics, according to Sjodin: it can be either formal or informal, but last no more than three minutes, and delivered in a message that has a structure and close intended only to intrigue the listener enough to win a chance for a longer pitch at a later time.

But there's an art to crafting a great elevator pitch. “The elevator speech is such a seemingly simple concept and yet so many people get it wrong," says Sjodin. "It’s hard to say what you want to say in fewer words…you have to self-edit.”

How do you build a convincing case in just a few sentences? How can you separate yourself from the crowd by speaking in an authentic way in a brief pitch? 

There are as many different ways to achieve those goals as there are ideas, but the most successful elevator speeches are those that quickly present compelling value for someone  on three keys:

1. Time. Your prospects don’t care if you’re the oldest company in your field. They want to know how your methods and processes are going to save their organizations and their people time on a daily basis. 

2. Peace of mind. Your prospects don’t care if you’re the best in your field unless you can show them specifically how you can provide specific solutions to existing problems and eliminate a certain amount of stress. 

3. Fun. People don’t care about your company's experience if your team has the personality of drones. They want to know that doing business with you will be a pleasant, fun and enjoyable experience. So, how are you going to help them have fun?

According to Patricia Greene, director of Goldman Sachs's 10,000 Small Businesses initiative, the techniques Sjodin teaches and writes about in Small Message, Big Impact are a key resource used in the curriculum Goldman Sachs designed for growth-oriented business owners, which among other things coaches small business owners on how to deliver a three-minute "rocket pitch."

Elevator speeches are no longer just for screenwriters, TV producers and IPO-hungry entrepreneurs. Whether you’re trying to pitch an idea to a new client, make the case for why you’re the right person for the job, get donations for a charity, or even craft your own online dating profile, you need a small message with a big impact.

Photo: Thinkstock