Storytelling Tips + Tricks: Elevator Pitch 101


It’s an overused term – and one that gets used improperly at times – but the elevator pitch is still an important tool for anyone passionate about their work. Having a short, descriptive pitch at-the-ready can mean the difference between a forgettable networking event and one that leads to making connections that further your mission.

I say it’s used improperly because the phrase “elevator pitch” has come to refer to statements of all kinds. Have a mission statement? Drop that into your elevator pitch. Have a compelling user story you want to share? Shorten it, and it goes directly into the elevator pitch. If your “pitch” includes any of these things, it’s probably more like a brand statement. That’s okay; you need a brand statement too. But it isn’t what you want to use when you have 30-60 seconds to “pitch” someone on your work. 

I drilled down the elevator pitch into three basic elements; all great pitches have every one of these. 

To get us all on the same page, an elevator pitch is:

1)   No more than a minute long.

Yes, an elevator ride is often shorter than that, but this is tool should no longer be taken so literally. You’ll use your elevator pitch when you’re introducing yourself to your neighbors at a luncheon; you’ll also use it when you have 30 minutes with a funder and need to spend most of that time learning about their priorities but still want to share the very essence of your work in a quick and succinct way. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a chance to use it in an elevator.

2)   Cuts to the core of your purpose.

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but too many people spend their 60 seconds talking about what they do rather than why they do it. Your elevator pitch needs to further pique someone’s interest, and that will happen when you appeal to their heart rather than their head. You want to come out of that 30 minute funder meeting feeling confident that, though most of the time may have been spent talking about other things, they also understand why your work matters and deserves a full proposal.

3)   Shows rather than tells.

Simon Sinek’s TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” has nearly 38 million views, so you may have seen it. I recently learned it has yet to reach some of my closest friends and family, so I want to share it here. This is a must-watch; Sinek uses one simple diagram to show how great brands develop messages. As he shares, the best stories show us what happens rather than telling us. For example, instead of saying “I work to ensure that all kids graduate college and career ready,” describe how “I envision a future where all kids have a high school degree and the ability to make choices about which career is right for them.” The two statements essentially mean the same thing, but one of them paints a picture instead of dictating a talking point.

In short, the elevator pitch can be powerful. You don’t want to lose that opportunity to capture someone’s interest in the moment. If you stick to these three basic tenets, your pitch can pack a lot in in a short period of time.