Perfecting your elevator pitch

Mark Twain once explained to a friend that he did not have time to write a short letter, so he wrote a long one instead. On the surface, this may sound amusing, but there is a deeper truth — it takes time to be brief.

Or more precisely, it takes preparation. In the “busyness of business”, it is easy for our message to be lost on potential customers or investors. Sometimes, all you have is just a few minutes to make an impression. The concept of the elevator pitch is that you should be able to convey your core message in the time it takes for an elevator to go from the ground floor to the top floor of a building.

So, how do you summarise your business? Here are five steps to fine-tuning your elevator pitch.

1. Get your message across in 12 words — or fewer

Your key message can only be 12 words or fewer. That’s right — 12 words. You may have written business cases and pitch decks, but if you can’t explain what you do in those 12 words then you will have lost your audience before you get to the details.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of best-selling business book, Blink suggests that first impressions not only count, they are vital. What happens in those first two seconds is the difference between success and failure to grab their attention. Craft your key message so that your first 12 seconds — and those first 12 words — pave the way for the next 10 minutes.

2. Practise beyond perfect

When I worked in community theatre, we used to discuss the difference between amateurs and professionals. Amateurs would rehearse until they got it right, while professionals would rehearse until they could NOT get it wrong.

This has to be the same for you. Take your story — your key themes and messages, and polish it. Memorise it. Learn it word by word. And then when you know it and you feel it, practice telling that story as much as you can. Practice until you cannot stand the sound of your own voice. Remember, this is the story of your business — practise it beyond perfection.

3. Record and review your performance

Record your pitch on your phone, and play it back into your headphones. Listen to the way you sound, where you breathe and what you say. Are there words that you can’t get your mouth around? If so, ditch them. Listening back to yourself will help you improve.

4. Get your passion on

Simon Sinek says that “people don’t get WHAT you do, they get WHY you do it.” So from the very first moment that you open your mouth, you need to be sharing your passion. Let people hear your commitment and energy to your business in your voice. Tap into your sense of purpose and tell that story that you have rehearsed for so long. You’ll find that those 10 minutes fly by in the blink of an eye.

5. Why YOU?

Many of us make the mistake of ONLY talking about ourselves. When we are summarizing our company — sharing our story and our passion — we can easily tell just one side of the story. But equally important is the “Why YOU” story — what difference have you made to the lives of others? How have you made your customers successful, happy or even delighted? What is the reason that people choose you over your competitors? Make sure that you tell this story in the words of your customers.

Summing up your company in 10 minutes requires a great deal of preparation. Even simply getting past those first two seconds can be challenging. Take the time and put in the effort to refine and revisit your story and the way that you tell it, and you WILL see results.