First, let’s clarify what an 'Elevator Pitch' actually is. I’m sure there are any number of origin stories, but the one I tend to go with is the Hollywood one.
Imagine you have an idea for a film. You get in an elevator and your favourite director is in there. You have until he or she reaches their floor to pitch your idea. There’s no time for “um-ing” and “ah-ing”. No time for long, complicated, confusing explanations. You’ve got just enough time to give your best, most concise and compelling pitch. A minute or two tops. (It depends on how big the building is, right?)
In an interview you have the perfect invitation to pitch yourself. You may also run into someone, somewhere, and have a very limited opportunity to put your hand up.
So go ahead, work on a great pitch and make it easy for other people to help YOU by being quick and clear.
Here are my best 13 elevator pitch tips to get you on your way:
1. Not everything is equally important
There’ll probably be lots of things you want to say. That’s normal. But not all of them can be equally important. The best Elevator Pitches prioritise with brutal efficiency. Just like good marketing, the best ones have a single idea. A focus. Work out what yours is and go with it. If I could only say one thing about Elevator Pitches, this would be it.
As Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, once said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Genius. So yeah, do that.
2. Everything changes
So can your Elevator Pitch. Remember, once you have an Elevator Pitch, you’re not stuck with it forever. You can change it any time you like. And you absolutely should. Every time you give it, use the feedback you get to make it better. Refine it. Improve it. Tweak it. There is no such thing as the perfect Elevator Pitch that does not need to change over time.
3. There are different elevators for different destinations
The Empire State Building has 73 elevators. There’s one to get to the 80th floor. Another up to the 86th floor observatory. And one up to the 102nd floor. What I’m trying to say here is you can have different Elevator Pitches for different ‘destinations’.
An Elevator Pitch isn’t your whole story, it’s a part of it. Hopefully the best part to achieve a particular outcome with a particular person or organisation. Have different pitches for different occasions. Design job? Have your Design Elevator Pitch. Web Design Job? Yep, Web Design Elevator Pitch. Something else? Have your Something Else Elevator Pitch ready to go.
4. Ask for feedback
This may or may not always be appropriate, but if it is, go for it. Ask what the best bit was or really hang it out there and ask what the worst bit was. Ask if there was anything you should have hit that you didn’t. Or if they think you should ditch anything. By the way, this won’t just help you get potentially useful feedback, it will score you points because it’s a smart thing to do.
5. Don’t let feedback knock you off course
You know how I said you should ask for feedback? Yeah, well, you should absolutely listen to all of it. That doesn’t mean you have to take everything to heart or act on all of it. Just listen to everything everyone says. And I mean really listen. Then keep what’s of use and ditch the rest. But do be sure to always stay true to yourself.
6. There are only so many stories you can tell
Again referencing Hollywood and storytelling, they say there are only ever seven basic stories you can tell. So start by deciding what your main ‘story’ is, then don’t be afraid to put your own spin on it to create your Elevator Pitch in your own unique way.
Just keep in mind that if there are really only seven stories, you can be sure there are also only a limited number of Elevator Pitches. Which means all those other job hunters you are pitching against, are very likely to be telling similar stories. Make sure yours stands out.
7. Go back to the future
Don’t confuse your CV with your Elevator Pitch. Your CV is about where you’ve been and what you’ve done. Your Elevator Pitch should probably be more about where you’re going and what you can do. Big difference. Your pitch should mostly be a big, sexy story about what’s next. And by ‘big’ I don’t mean ‘long’, just epic. And it goes without saying that there’s no point making wild claims you are clearly not capable of delivering on.
8. Decide who your pitch is about
Even though it’s your elevator pitch, it shouldn’t necessarily be about you. If you were in Hollywood pitching a film, would you spend your elevator time talking about the short film you made in primary school? Nope, you’d pitch the big, sexy idea. Your Elevator Pitch should probably be less about you and more about what you can do for them. In marketing, they say “Don’t tell me what’s in it, tell me what’s in it for me”.
9. Unlike this article, Elevator Pitches are short
When I was much, much younger I worked in a record store with a guy called Sean*. He wanted to be a big deal author and I wanted to be a big deal in advertising. I was always super impressed that he could write 100 billion words and fill up a book. Funnily enough, he used to be super impressed that I could tell a story in 90. Every. Single. Word. Counts. Choose them wisely.
10. Editing isn’t about getting rid of the bad bits
If editing was only about getting rid of the bad bits, it would be easy. People would write books and make films, then just get rid of the bad bits and whammo: instant hit. Sometimes you’ll have to leave good stuff out of your Elevator Pitch. Not because it’s not good. But because it’s not the quickest, most compelling way to tell your story. Lead with the absolute most important stuff. Be brutal with your editing. If you’re good enough and you get it right, you’ll have a chance to fill in any gaps later.
11. Be ready. Always
You never know who you might meet or when or where you might meet them. It might even be in an actual elevator! The process of developing an Elevator Pitch is actually incredibly useful, because it forces you to have clarity about who you are, and where you’re going. Practise your Elevator Pitch so it’s second nature and comes across as a natural part of your story and who you are.
12. Mix it up
Include facts and emotions. Your pitch can be a combination of logical and emotional. Of soft and hard skills. The editing process is always brutal because you have to make a value judgement about what stays and goes, knowing that you may well chuck out something important. It’s been known to happen. All the best Elevator Pitches manage to communicate multiple messages on multiple levels. No, it’s not always easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is.
13. Be authentic. Be humble. And be you
Three things that I could easily write into every article I ever write about anything ever. Your Elevator Pitch will present the best version of you. It’s important that it’s definitely still you though. So be authentic.
And while it may sound almost contradictory, go as far as you can without going overboard. Your challenge is to find the happy middle ground between shrinking violet and showpony. Either way, let your personality shine through. (If you’re not a good person, maybe work on that instead of your Elevator Pitch.) Whether you have a film to pitch, a song to sing, or a job you want, Elevator Pitches come in handy. So get working on yours! And if all else fails, follow my go-to advice for just about everything: Don’t be ordinary. And don’t give up.
*Sean went on to write Star Wars books for Lucasfilms and is a big deal author. So at least one of us is a big deal!
Sputnik is an internationally awarded creative and brand consultant at Out of this World where he has worked on projects for some of the world’s biggest brands including Disney, Coca Cola, Unilever and The Simpsons. He is the author of 'The Swashbucklers Guide to Becoming an Astronaut' and the creator of the Job Hunter's Boot Camp.