The subject of this article has its roots dating back to the Seventeenth Century. Back then, Blaise Pascal, a brilliant French mathematician, once said, “If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.” This notion applies to entrepreneurs attempting to raise money or meeting prospects for the first time and virtually all encounters in between. In fact, ideal elevator pitches should be short enough to be said and understood before the elevator doors even close! As Blaise Pascal implied, being brief is not easy. Expect to spend lots of time developing yours. Typically, entrepreneurs believe that they have so much to say about their business that they feel it is simply not possible to convey their message in less than a full page or two or three. Unfortunately, others rarely take the time to listen to their long-winded explanations. To quote another saying taken from the movie “Jerry Maguire”, your goal should be “You had me with hello.”
Making a lasting impression on investors, prospects, and other potential business colleagues that you meet is only part of the challenge. You also want them to remember specifically what you said and, equally important, be able to repeat it to others. There is a sequence that, ideally, the listener will follow if your elevator pitch is successful. You want them to:
Hear à Remember à Understand à Internalize à Repeat to Others à Take Action
The defining characteristic of your elevator pitch should be concise clarity. The “concise” characteristic can be achieved by limiting your message to twelve words or so. Clarity is achieved by the selection of those words expressing the essence of what you offer that is important to the audience, not how you do what you do. Additionally, it must be concise. None of us, usually preoccupied with other thoughts, can easily remember lengthy statements. Twelve words are about the right length. It may seem impossible to distill your message to only twelve words, but it can be done. The major roadblock in shortening the message is the point of view of the speaker. It is natural for us to focus on what we want to say. Instead, focus on what the listener wants to hear. Make it about them, not you.
I have found that the most effective elevator pitches start with some variation of “We can help you…”. Focus on the value that you provide to them, not on how you do it. The “you” in the statement makes it personal. Do not say: “We help your company...” People, not organizations make decisions. You have to convince individuals first and then let them persuade others in their company. Help them become your internal champion. You only have opportunities for a few short bursts delivered to a few individuals. Your internal champion sees those who “need to be seen” much more often.
If your message is both clear and concise, the listener is inclined to feel that it is compelling enough to move through the multistep path shown above. It may be as simple as feeling compelled to learn more or to bring others on board. Elevator pitches are not intended to be “closing” statements. Instead, they are “opening” statements that entice (compel) the listener to some appropriate take action.
Moving through the multistep process shown above requires work on the part of the listener. That work involves their effort to process and digest what you are saying. We have all been there: Listening to someone go on and on without a pause. We quickly get bored, sidetracked, or confused. The result is that we often hear but do not listen or understand. The key to avoiding this situation is the “bite-sized,” twelve-word approach.
Once you have your audience hooked on your elevator pitch and they are still interested, you can expand upon it with more simple, easy-to-express and easy-to-understand supporting statements. These statements must not be presented as continuous flow. Pauses between each statement will give the listener time to digest your messages. Be pleased if they interrupt you with relevant questions. It indicates that they are truly listening to what you are saying and want to learn more. Share the stage with them; give them the opportunity to learn. Interact instead of broadcast.
Another factor to consider is that you will need multiple elevator pitches, each of which applies to a different target audience. For example, the message that you want to instill on a prospect is probably quite different than the message for a potential investor, and the message is different for a business partner. As another example, a customer may be either a buyer or a user. The message that appeals to one probably will not appeal to the other.
The critical difference is that you want your elevator pitch to resonate with the audience. Essentially you need to make sure you are both on the same elevator!
Giving the wrong elevator pitch can be fatal. If your message does not appeal to them, they may decide not to listen in the future or to others. It is the trap that they feel “I have already heard about that – no sense in wasting my time.”
Below are two examples of elevator pitches. The first example is for a high-tech company whose elevator pitch focuses on individuals familiar with the need, application, and other approaches. It is not intended for general audiences or even potential investors. Each bulleted statement would be delivered after a pause to allow the recipient time to digest what was just said and perhaps ask any questions. The higher-level bullets can be used alone or can be supplemented by the sub-bullets. The second example is targeted at entrepreneurs or CEOs of small private companies (the primary audience of this entire collection of articles). Although the examples are far from perfect, they illustrate the point of a short, parsed message, aimed at a specific audience. Also, note that the first line (eight words for the first example and twelve words for the second) explains what the company does for the recipient. All of the subsequent statements amplify that line.
Example 1: Aimed at prospects who are familiar with the need and application.
- We help you to track your movable assets
- As they move from place to place
- Whether they are people or objects
- With no action required by the person or object being tracked.
- We do this with ad hoc movable wireless sensor networks
- That automatically monitor their presence at specific locations
- With internal motion sensors, we can determine if the asset is moving or stationary.
- [These points are optional and only used for those interested in multiple markets.] Our core technology is applicable to seemingly unrelated markets such as:
- First Responders
- Heavy Construction Equipment
- Shipping Containers.
- The network can be used anywhere in the world
- It uses worldwide allocated, unlicensed radio spectrum.
- We do this with patented technology
- That provides extremely long battery life
- That is measured in years, not days.
- Our network automatically forms and reforms
- As assets move, appear, or leave a particular area
- Unlike any other network today, our network performance actually improves as more devices are present.
- Multiple customers can use our system at the same time and in the same place without interfering with one another.
Example 2 is targeted at an entrepreneur or CEO of a privately held company.
- We provide operational guidance to startups and private companies such as yours
- Based on our experience of over 45 years working in large public companies, and running several small, privately held, venture capital backed startups.
- We can help in operational areas ranging from raising money to customer service and virtually all areas in between
- We have firsthand knowledge in each of these areas and have learned many lessons from our failures as well as our successes.
- We have found that the basic principles we use apply equally to companies in all sectors.
- We provide this guidance through short descriptions, antidotes, articles, and quotations that are simple to understand, remember, and share.
- That can be called upon when the need arises to bring people together to solve business problems as they occur.
- We also can provide a series of analytic tools to help companies evaluate themselves, their offerings, and their competition to make better decisions.
Here is a short test you can take to test your elevator pitch. It is an excerpt from an article in the series, Article 3.030301, “Getting to NO Before Getting to KNOW”. Imagine it is Thanksgiving Day. You have just arrived at your mother-in-law’s house. As you walk into the kitchen, the smells of the turkey, dressing, freshly baked bread, and all of the other fixings fill the air. Your mother-in-law and four other people are all moving around in seemingly chaotic patterns. Your mother-in-law has just taken a pumpkin pie out of the oven, her four-year-old grandson is pulling on her apron as she navigates across the kitchen. She turns and says, “So, Jim, I understand you are starting a new company. What does it do?” How will you answer her in one short sentence that she will find interesting and memorable and be able to repeat to others?
As another example, imagine that you have had a successful meeting with a prospect. You leave their office, and they are walking down the hall, and they run into their boss. The boss says: “How was the meeting with Ajax Inc. -- What do they do?” What is your contact going to say to his boss to make a positive impression?
The task of creating a concise and clear elevator pitch may sound easy, but it is not simple. Do not be surprised if you spend many hours and sleepless nights pondering it. Once complete, you will feel relief and a sense of accomplishment. This activity could be the most important thing you do in starting your company. Once complete, try it out on several people who are willing to give you candid feedback. Be ready to start over. Getting it right will be well worth the effort.
Next, share your message with all others that may be in the position to deliver it. Everyone in your organization should be able to deliver the same concise message. By doing so, you will add a “fourth C” to the goal of being Clear, Concise, and Compelling. The message will now be Consistent.