Imagine you are in San Francisco (Woohoo, Silicon Valley!) for a presentation with potential investors – ones that could get your startup the seed funding it needs. You’ve shared your business proposal with clients, rehearsed your pitch a 1000 times, and it’s the day before the D-day – so you ward off the stress by exploring the city.
In the morning, you crest a hill and are awarded a splendid view of the bay- a gorgeous blue sky framing Alcatraz island. After that, you stroll in parks, small and large, and lay on the grass, breathing calmness in your body.
In the afternoon, you arrive at the Pagan in outer Richmond to try some Burmese food. The place is full of people with laptops and trays placed by side-by-side. You can hear the words ‘SaaS’, ‘code’, and ‘invest’ quite a lot. Your nerves are still tight, but you are ready to forget about them with some new cuisine. You are just about to place an order when you look to your left and you find (gasp, there he is!) Paul Graham from YCombinator. Your first run-in with a biggie of the Silicon Valley.
Paul looks at you and smiles as you reach out to shake his hand – while trying to remember your name and tripping over saying ‘hello’.
He extends the curtsy, introduces himself, and then asks “So, what do you do?”
The world freezes on the axis of that simple yet excruciatingly difficult question.
What do you do?
You have about 20 seconds to impress Paul and maybe completely change the course of your life.
20 seconds to impress, and possibly involve, one of the most respectable figures in Silicon Valley. What do you deliver?
Answer: Your well-polished elevator pitch.
The Elevator Pitch
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you already know how essential an elevator pitch is. It’s the one short conversation that decides whether the other party, be it an investor, partner, collaborator, will be interested in your startup or not.
The anecdote behind the name is that – If you run into an investor in an elevator, you’ll have until the ride gets over (ending preferably at his penthouse on top) to convince them that your idea is worth a second glance.
The World Is Your Elevator
Situations where an elevator pitch might have saved you (maybe?)
Elevator pitches are essential not only from a locational point of view but also for your everyday interactions. The pitch can be used in any of the following scenarios (plus many more):
- To introduce your organization, before sharing your business proposal with clients
- To sell a new idea to your CEO
- During networking events
- During interviews when asked ‘tell us about yourself’ (Kelli Smith has an exhaustive blog post for crafting an elevator pitch that gets you the job)
- To explain to people what you do for a living
- To catch Paul Graham’s attention
Of course, if you also have a pitch deck ready, you might want to slightly change your elevator pitch strategy.
Why Do Elevator Pitches Work?
Elevator pitches work because they position what you are selling using the most potent components of speech and sound in the shortest amount of time.
You won’t always have your trusted pitch deck every time you’re asked to introduce your company, your idea, or yourself. Whether you are at a cocktail party, startup meet or have just run into Paul Graham, the best possible way to make an impression is through your pitch.
Let’s face it, people don’t have time. Unless you can convince your audience within the first dozen seconds, you’ll be hard pressed to get a second meet. This is why your elevator pitch needs to make the best first impression possible.
How To Craft The Perfect Elevator Pitch?
You have to say something. Why not make it perfect?
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. The idea here is to explain the crux of your idea in the shortest, most interesting way possible; You know you’ve won when the person says “That sounds interesting, give me the details”.
If brevity is not your strong suit, here are some steps that’ll help you nail that perfect pitch:
Begin with the end in mind
What is the aim of this pitch? Is it to snag you a deal with a new client? Is it to get your latest idea approved by your boss? Or is it to introduce yourself in a professional setting?
Be clear about what the elevator pitch is meant to accomplish – that will help you choose the right words.
Fill up a blank paper
As an enterprising individual, we’re sure you have a stream of thoughts floating around in your head – shut them out and clear your mind! Start with writing the essential facts that you want to tell your audience while leaving them asking for more. As a good practice, limit the number to 10.
What do you do? What does your organization do? What is the product about? How will it benefit users? Answer these questions when you’re drafting your pitch’s blueprint.
Now that you have 10 key facts, cut them further down! Go through your list and ask ‘is this relevant/essential for my audience to understand?’. Anything unnecessary, unclear, and jargon-like has to go. Be ruthless – You only have 20-30 seconds to make an impact.
Organize the remaining points so that the following questions are answered: who am I, what do I do, who do I do it for, what is my USP, how does it provide value.
Now reframe all points into full-fledged, coherent sentences.
For this, remember to be as definite as possible.
‘Hi, I am Andy. I am a sales professional working at XYZ’
This is an example of what not to do! Instead, go with something that captures your previous experience, while also augmenting your current role. Here’s a better example:
‘Hi, I’m Anand. I am a sales professional working at Amex, where, for the past 5 years, I’ve provided consultations to public and private financial institutions’
Be specific and clear, so that once you’ve introduced yourself, the person facing you has a very clear idea of how your project is structured.
Get them hooked from the first line
The acclaimed horror-writer Stephen King agonized for days over the opening statement for each of his books. Since you probably have a singular goal here – that’s the least you can do!
First impressions have a huge impact. Try a phrase like “Did you know that almost one in fifteen adults are victims of identity fraud? How secure is your personal data?” – despite being the verbal equivalent of a click bait, it catches attention and impacts your audience to stay focused on your words.
End with engagement
Let’s be clear – the purpose of your pitch is not to get applause, pat on the back, or an enthused “damn good pitch” – so don’t just tell about your project or startup and wait for them to say something! Go back to the first point where you decided the purpose of the pitch, and end it with a point that engages the user.
“…So that’s how we’re helping working individuals gain financial literacy. I know that you’re also investing in a few other financial startups – is this a pain point that you’ve seen in the industry?”
A point like this pulls the audience in and changes your pitch into a conversation (or if things go well, negotiation). Give them the lead where they can take action, ideally one that helps your goals!
Practice, practice, practice
After creating an elevator pitch that you can feel proud about – practice it thoroughly. Use a timer and ensure that it does not exceed 30 seconds. Then practice using a recorder and listen to how you sound. The goal is to be across as a confident conversationalist and not an aggressive salesperson. Be cool, natural, friendly and do not rush through the pitch. Practice in front of a mirror and ace the pitch – hopefully, the next one will be in the elevator itself!
Example of an elevator pitch
Did you know that 85% of Indians do not have basic financial literacy? Our company, MoneyMojo, works to decrease this number by organizing workshops for millennials who’ve just entered the workforce. Instead of holding a one-time workshop which most people will forget, we hold 8 workshops over 2 months in a single region to ensure all financial basics are covered. Would you like to organize one in your organization? I can share a business proposal with you.
You can tweak the format of delivery depending on the setting and situation you are in. In fact, Alejandro Cremades suggests that you craft various versions of your pitch so that you are ready to build an ecosystem of influencers, investors, and clients, any chance you get.
Whenever you feel stumped about the pitch crafting process, remember these words: short, sharp, snappy, and compelling. This is how your elevator pitch should feel. Work on perfecting it as much as you can. The result could arrest an investor’s attention – and change your entire professional journey.
Let this be a sweet, sweet beginning!