We’ve all heard the term ‘elevator pitch’. Just 17 years ago, Tom Peters described the ‘elevator spiel’ as your 2-minute opportunity to pitch your company’s CEO on why your project matters as you rode to the top floor. By 2015, according to Business News Daily that window had shrunk to 30 seconds, and I am going to go out on a limb and suggest 10. Ten seconds or less to tell the world what you do.
Is that fair? No.
Is it enough time to adequately summarize a lifetime of experiences, education, knowledge and wisdom? No.
Does it still surprise you, in 2016, that life isn’t fair sometimes? I doubt it.
Then it would seem we all have 2 choices – lament and wish the world was more fair, where people took the time to read the book cover to cover before judging it…
…or we adapt and we sharpen our axes and go to work being as concise and as precise as we can be about how we offer unique value to the world.
It takes (a lot of) practice, and it takes (at least some) creativity, but ANYONE can come up with a positioning statement; a clever elevator pitch; that informs and intrigues those we encounter in a way that helps them remember us, if not want to learn more.
The first tip I usually recommend is to get real up close and personal with your purpose. Why do you think you’re here? Why were you born where and when you were born, to the parents you were born to? Our life’s story has a tremendous impact on how we think, how we see the world, and what we value. Parents who grew up poor tend to either spoil their kids or place enormous emphasis on teaching them the value of a dollar. Leaders who had authoritative, even abusive bosses often end up creating company cultures that place employees as high on the priority ladder as profits. Our parents or grandparents who survived a world war and the Great Depression valued security more than the ability to pursue their passion in the workplace, and for very understandable reasons.
Once you know your purpose, the next step is to take an inventory of your most valuable skills. Be specific – are you skilled with numbers, or is your true skill budgeting, or being able to uncover the trends that are going on in your business and relate them to strategic direction? Are you good at selling, or are you actually best at reading people and creative problem solving (in a way that manifests as a natural at sales)?
Once you know what you’re great at, and why it matters (how it relates to your purpose), the next piece is to uncover your target market. Who, specifically, do you most enjoy helping, or are best suited to help based on your purpose and skills? This is important because the right skill driven by a deep purpose can still be the wrong fit. Imagine Warren Buffet, with all of his financial wisdom, trying to give advice to a group of 14 year olds who’ve just earned their first paycheck. Could he give them great advice? No doubt. Would they listen, or understand his valuable wisdom? Maybe, maybe not. Would he enjoy working with this particular demographic? Only Mr. Buffett would know, but I think you can see the potential disconnect.
So it is for the rest of us…
Why are we are? What are we (or what could we be) great at?
Who do we most want to help?
After you answer these 3 questions, it’s time to put your marketing/ creative hat on. Instead of “I’m a real estate professional with 30 years of experience specializing in suburban starter homes right up to estate homes”, one might consider, “I’ve been helping families find the next home they’ll cherish at every stage of life for 3 decades”.
You might also opt for an even simpler version. Taken right from the elevator pitch exercise I give my clients, “I’m in the paper business” is a lot less intriguing than “I help people’s ideas come to life”.
It’s also important to remember that your pitch might not be “one size fits all”. Networking expert and headhunting guru Catherine Brownlee recommends customizing your elevator pitch for a few common scenarios, whether it be searching for a job, meeting a potential client, or possibly even while selecting key vendors or suppliers for your business who you need to really ‘get’ you. Catherine adds that the best way to position your pitch – is to ask more than you talk and find out as much as you can about the person you are talking to (and if you have advanced notice – do your homework!). The better you know the person you are talking to – the better you’ll know how to position yourself.
The last 2 points I urge clients to remember are that A) it has to be authentic. I can give you a pitch piece that would look great on a billboard, but if it doesn’t feel like you when you’re delivering it, you can’t truly own it and it won’t be genuine. Your pitch must be in your own words and feel like something you can own and be proud of and excited by.
Lastly, if it’s too polished, you may risk coming across as inauthentic, and as the prototypical cheesy used car salesman. Authentic, genuine, polished, but not so rehearsed your pitch stands out as a verbal business card in the middle of an otherwise normal conversation. It’s an art, after all, not a precise science.
What’s my elevator pitch, you ask?
I help values-based leaders sleep better at night and wake up in the morning more excited to make their dreams a reality. “What’s a values-based leader you ask?” “How do I do this, you wonder?” Glad you asked… that’s the point of the elevator pitch in today’s business world – 10 seconds that earns you the 2 minutes Tom Peters described.
Good luck in your pitches everybody!