An elevator pitch is essentially a short speech intended to generate interest in an idea or proposition within a very limited timeframe. How long does it take to go a couple of floors in an elevator? A few seconds, once the doors close? Or if you’re going to the higher floors in modern buildings, it can take as much as 30 seconds.
There may be times when you have to pitch your startup in that brief amount of time. And when you want to do this, you can’t improvise; you have to plan ahead so you can explain your idea quickly.
You’ll use your elevator pitch outside of an elevator, of course, but the metaphor — of time ticking away as the floors go by — is useful. You may use it at conferences when you meet new people and are networking between panels. You can use it when you run into someone in a coffee shop or grocery store. And you may even use it in an elevator, when you’ve met someone who might invest in your company.
How long should an elevator pitch be?
Some people suggest that you keep an elevator pitch to less than 10 seconds, but that’s too limited. An elevator pitch is not like a tagline for a movie, which is intended to be a very short description of the film’s plot. Here are a few movie taglines I found on Amazon Prime Video; none of these tell you much about the movies, and give merely a hint of their plots:
Hector is an eccentric yet irresistible London psychiatrist in crisis: his patients are just not getting any happier. He’s going nowhere.
When a group of hard-working guys find out they’ve fallen victim to a wealthy businessman’s Ponzi scheme, they conspire to rob his high-rise residence.
Two female scam artists compete to swindle a naive tech prodigy out of his fortune.
You’ll have more time than that to deliver your pitch, but you need to ensure that you don’t take too long. In busy environments, when people are milling around, they can’t take in too much, so you should keep your elevator pitch to less than 30 seconds.
It is a great idea to have several versions of the pitch: a quick tagline, a more extensive 30-second version, and a longer one where you go into more detail when you have the time.
What to include in an elevator pitch
One great way to start an elevator pitch is to use a question. Rather than sounding like you’re lecturing, you open yourself to the person you’re speaking with. Asking a question means that your listener can invest themselves in your story and feel more a part of it. Because, above all, an elevator pitch is a story. And like all good stories, it should have three essential constituent parts:
(Sometimes) the result
All new products and services offer a different way of doing things. They could be entirely new, or improvements on existing products, or your revolutionary idea could be an enhancement or simplification of a service that is already available. Even me-too products must have something to make them stand out in order to get funding from investors.
But all new products also respond to a situation and a problem: the lack of an efficient way to perform a task, the need for smaller devices or faster services, or an imbalance that can be righted with your new service.
The situation could be very simple. For example, “people like to drink coffee” (Starbucks). Or “employees need to communicate efficiently” (Slack). Every product has to meet a need, and, in some cases, can meet multiple needs.
How to write an elevator pitch that sticks
Great elevator pitches are easy to understand and are memorable. Take for instance the below elevator pitch example on the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. Steve Jobs said:
Well, today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device. So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone. Today, today Apple is going to reinvent the phone, and here it is.
That section of Steve Jobs’ presentation is probably the best elevator pitch of recent times. It grabs the listener, getting them interested, it speaks to the need for progress in technology, and it also has a group of “three” ideas. (See what I did there?)
People absorb information well when it’s presented in threes, so think about how you can use the “rule of three” in your pitch.
Examples and tips
Here’s another example elevator pitch: you’ll see the situation, the problem, and the solution (that’s three), but it also begins with a question. When giving this pitch, you should pause after the question to allow the listener to think about answering, but unless they really want to answer, don’t make them uncomfortable by expecting them to do so.
You know how when you go to buy milk you have to go to the back of the store, navigate through lots of aisles to get what you want, then you get distracted by everything in the store? There’s too much friction to buying milk. Moo Inc. is going to revolutionize that by delivering fresh milk to people’s homes every morning. This will help people save time, and allow them to drink fresh, chilled, tasty whole milk every day.
The situation – which contains three parts – is about the difficulty of buying milk. The problem is that there’s too much friction. (Sometimes the situation and the problem are closely related.) The solution is delivering milk to people’s homes every morning. And the result is that people will “save time,” and they will be able to “drink fresh, chilled, tasty whole milk.” And the whole pitch above clocks in at 23 seconds, and that’s speaking at a leisurely pace.
A shorter, tagline version of this pitch, that comes in under seven seconds, could be:
Moo Inc. is going to deliver fresh, chilled, tasty whole milk to people’s homes every morning.
Learn your elevator pitches by heart. Write them down, study them, so at any time — in a party, on a plane, or even in an elevator — you can deploy the appropriate one for the context. And be ready to go further when you’ve hooked someone. Because that’s your foot in the door to new opportunities.