Sep 222014

Elevator pitch

A magazine recently quoted me saying, “I hate the term ‘elevator pitch.’”

That’s not entirely true. I actually hate elevator pitches themselves.

Here’s why.

One size fits all

Elevator pitches are based on the principle that, if you’ve worked out one 1-3 minute speech, you can tell it to everyone.

That’s just wrong.

I certainly hope that, when you talk to the person sitting next to you at a conference or when you talk to a fellow parent on the playground, (let alone a potential investor,) you describe yourself and your business differently. We should all be able to tell our friends, our family, and our business contacts about what we do in language that is appropriate to the situation and to the listener.

(And if we can’t tell our friends, family, and casual acquaintances about our business, what a missed opportunity! There’s nobody who wants to brag about you more than your mother. Make sure she brags about you the right way.)

Further, we should all be able to talk clearly about ourselves in shorter and longer blocks of time, according to whether the party with whom you are speaking is still interested. Perhaps we need to focus on what makes that party interested in talking to us in the first place?

All about me

I hear about 2573 pitches a year.

Most of them are all about the speaker.

They start out with “I make this” or “I do that” and “I used to do this, but I found it really boring, so now I like doing something else more.”

Pretty soon, and it doesn’t matter how hard I try, I start getting the feeling that I really need to check the email on my iPhone.

Elevator pitches, by their pre-made nature, tend not to take the receiving party into consideration. They tend not to answer the question “Why should they care?”

According to brain researchers, when humans are confronted with something new, (like, for example, meeting someone for the first time,) the first thing we do is check out if it is a threat, edible or useful. If it is none of those, we have a strong tendency to ignore it.

If an elevator pitch is not useful to the receiver, then, what’s the point?

And if it’s all about the speaker, then it’s not that useful, is it?

What would happen if the whole reason to give a pitch were to create useful conversation, instead of using 3 minutes of someone’s time for a one-sided advertisement about yourself and your company?

What’s it for?

Another problem with the pre-fabricated, one-size-fits-all, memorized and spewed out elevator pitch is that most people think they need one, but they don’t know why.

I’m the first person who will tell you that you should have clear and prepared answers to the question, “What do you do?”

It’s my job to help people figure out what they are really selling and then to help them tell the world about it.

I spend a lot of time helping my clients with content, form and delivery of pitches.

But why do people need an elevator pitch? I still don’t know.

Most entrepreneurs do business with people they know or are referred by people they know.

So, wouldn’t it be a better idea to get to know the other party and for them to get to know you, instead of hitting them with a generic spritz of elevator pitch?

Wouldn’t it be better to ask questions and create a dialogue?

Wouldn’t it be better to lay the foundation of a relationship out of which business and referrals can grow?

The anywhere pitch

The elevator pitch is one of the most absurd concepts in business communication. We will always have to tailor make our pitches according to who is in the room and how long we have.

A tailor is actually a reasonable metaphor. A good tailor can use the same cloth and the same thread to make many different kinds of clothing. It’s all in how he does it.

All we need to create pitches that work anywhere, rather than just on the elevator, is some good cloth and thread.

Here’s where to look:

  1. Let’s start focusing on what our customers get, rather than what we do.
  2. Let’s start figuring out what is useful for the people who are listening to us.
  3. Let’s start asking questions and listening to the answers.

If you think about these things before you go into any situation requiring pitching, and if you plan ahead, you might even reach some of your goals. After all, your pitch is often the first time someone meets you and your company. Let’s do everything possible to ensure that it’s not the last time.

The best and most successful pitch isn’t even a pitch, it’s a chat that grows into a conversation that grows into a relationship that grows into business that grows into referrals and more business.

If we start making those kinds of pitches, we can start taking the stairs instead of the elevator. I’m sure we could all use the exercise.


Jonathan Talbott founded TIP (Talbott International Presentations) in 2012 with the ambition to make the world more interesting, one presentation at a time. He is internationally recognized for helping his clients create and deliver presentations that go straight to the point and achieve results. He has helped thousands of people and companies improve their pitches (small presentations), which has led to a direct increase in their bottom line. For longer presentations, his clients have included both small and multinational companies, non-profits, start-ups and political parties. TIP is based in The Hague in the Netherlands.

Copyright © 2014, Jonathan Talbott

  2 Responses to “Why I hate the elevator pitch… and why you should too.”

  1. Dank je Jonathan. Ik hou ook niet van de ‘elevator pitch’, maar raakte in verwarring doordat verschillende loopbaanbegeleiders hierop hamerden. Fijn om dat jij zo helder verwoordt en beargumenteert waarom.

  2. Another strong piece J, always good to read up on these clear pointers.

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