The art of the elevator pitch

Can you communicate important messages with clarity and grace - and in 60 seconds or less?! Suzanne Wheatley explores the art of elevator pitching.

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A captive audience

Have you ever found yourself in a lift with someone influential? Struggled to find the right words to impress them? Perfecting the ultimate Elevator Pitch is a fine art but one that we can all learn and use to our advantage so that we don't miss that golden opportunity. The concept of the elevator pitch is that you find yourself in a little metal cage with someone important or influential and you have at most sixty seconds to make an impression and pitch your case before they hop out at their floor. In reality it's likely to be closer to thirty seconds. How do you achieve this with clarity and grace?

Be concise, be relevant, know what you're selling

How do we do that?   Let's start with the words. What you're aiming for is a carefully constructed message that grabs the attention of the pitchee (my new word) so that you can begin to build a relationship with them in real time, outside the confines of the elevator. You can break the pitch down in to sections, address each one in turn then piece them back together to create a sparkling message.

Before you start writing it, you first need to identify your goal. What are you pitching and what are you trying to achieve? This comes back to the point about building a relationship. The CEO is probably not going to give you the money to implement a new system in the time it takes you to go from reception to floor 14, but she may well be persuaded to book you into her diary for a meeting. That is your objective. Once you've figured out what you want, you can set about crafting your pitch. You need to explain what you do, communicate what makes you unique, ask an insightful question and conclude. I think the phrase "quality not quantity" should be your mantra when thinking about words. Also allow for some response time in your pitch. As a starting point, check out the Harvard Business School's pitch builder tool.

Speak clearly and don't slouch!

Not only have you got to get the words right but you also have to get the non-verbal stuff right. Lift etiquette is a peculiar thing. There's an interesting article on the BBC website about general lift behaviour that's worth reading.  Body language is the key to successful delivery. If, like me, you spent your formative years at ballet classes, you'll remember that imagining a piece of string running through the body and up out of your head keeps you upright and ensures correct posture. If you didn't, may I recommend the equally well-known technique of standing up straight with your shoulders back. In essence, no slouching. If you're stooped over with your hands in your pockets, looking at your feet, you're not going to appear interested or interesting. Stand tall, make good eye contact and smile.

The lift pitch works on the premise that it's a chance encounter so you are unlikely to have your prepared documentation with you and you certainly won't have PowerPoint set up in the lift. You may have access to information on your smart phone or tablet but time will tick away very quickly so you have to rely on your voice to project the ideas. I find that often when we have something important to say we have a tendency to speak too quickly and trip over our words. Yes, time is limited, so perhaps it is better to say half as many words but say them clearly and slowly so that your intended audience can properly listen.

Love in a lift

Of course, the lift pitch isn't only useful in a professional context, neither is it always vital to get your words right or even stand up straight. A friend told me this lovely story:

"My Grandma went into a lift in the days when they had little bench shelves to perch on. The lift jolted to a start, she fell onto a stranger's lap - very embarrassing for her, especially in those days. He offered to walk her home. That's my Grandpa."

So, whether you are looking for career progression or love, being able to pitch yourself with confidence and clarity in thirty seconds is a handy skill. Or maybe it's just being in the lift at the right time.


Suzanne Wheatley recently presented a session on elevator pitches for the London Information and Knowledge Exchange (LIKE). She is a Recruitment Manager at Sue Hill Recruitment.  She has worked in information management recruitment for ten years.  You can follow her on Twitter @suzyredrec. Throughout 2012 she has written about her personal and professional objectives for the year and shared her progress - and lessons learned.

Image courtesy of tillwe via Flickr.