Pitching Elevators -Blog Post image-01-01

Pitching Elevators

We’ve all heard of the elevator pitch. It’s probably the most important conversation you’ll ever have.* Whether you’re pitching your idea, product or company, you have to get it through to whomever you’re speaking to. And you’ve got no more than 5 minutes riding up in the proverbial elevator to do it. Of course, your conversation may not be in the form of an elevator ride, it may take the form of an infographic, an explainer video, a presentation or a conversation with the passenger in seat 8C.

Some people do it well but most do it poorly. It ends up as a “me-centered” conversation or a review of feeds and speeds for your product. This won’t work. People aren’t interested in the sausage making machine, they’re interested in the sausage. You have to flip your thinking. In other words, don’t think ‘elevator pitch’ — think ‘pitching elevators’. This will move the pitch from all about you, to what you or your product can do for them. That makes it all about the benefit, and the connection, with the human in front of you.

There are simple structural recipes for putting together an elevator pitch. However, the ingredients may differ depending who and what you are pitching. For example,

We solve [problem] by providing [advantage], to help [target] accomplish [target’s goal].

from Eliot Loh is a succinct starting point, ideal in pitching to an investor.  Simple comparisons can work well, but be warned they can get tired quickly — “we’re the Uber of whatever“.


Elevator Pitch Animated Gif


While you may use different ingredients to get to your pitch, you can make it work. Here’s a checklist to sharpen your elevator pitch. Does your pitch…

1. Explain everything you do?

No? Good. It shouldn’t. A good elevator pitch can’t explain everything. Done well, it will do two things — frame what you’re talking about, and move (the person you are speaking to) to action. The framing is crucial. How do you connect what you do to something they care about? Without that, you won’t get the action you want. That action may be a simple tell me more, or an invitation to a second meeting.

2. Trigger a limbic response?

Reason leads to judgement. Emotion leads to action. Your argument or pitch shouldn’t just be well-reasoned. That’s a recipe for a judge and jury. It should trigger an emotional response. Hope, fear, love. Remember, no emotion is an elevator ride to nowhere. Research** posits that emotions guide (or bias) our behavior and decision-making. This is part of the thesis behind Lehrer’s book, “How We Decide” and Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink.”

Your goal should be to create curiosity. You want your elevator pitch to extend the conversation — or at least make it memorable. Curiosity contains a blend of emotions that inspire the listener to — well — listen.

3. Be all about them?

Your elevator pitch will morph, depending who you’re talking to. In chatting to the CEO of an enterprise software business, I framed what we (fassforward) did, by putting it in his terms.

Me: “You know when you sell software into a large corporate environment?”

CEO: “Yes.”

Me: “There are always the nay-sayers and white blood cells that come out and stall the roll-out.”

CEO: “Oh, yeah.” (Nodding vigorously.)

Me: “We help your sales people change the conversation they are having, so the nay-sayers say yes, and the white blood cells go away.”

CEO: [Intrigued]


4. Use a good comparison?

If your idea is new, or not easily recognized, you probably want to use a good comparison to make it concrete. For example, the Indian space program was put on the map by a simple comparison. They sent a mission to Mars for $74 million. That’s cheaper than making the movie Gravity. That comparison made the Mangalyaan mission blow up in the news media. When you consider there are hundreds of space missions every year, and you probably don’t recall one, that’s impressive. It’s the power of a good comparison.

5. Practice Belief Ju-Jitsu?

It’s extremely difficult to change minds. Especially if you are challenging people’s beliefs. New research shows that it may be better to pivot off of existing beliefs to get your point across. Connect to their worldview. Connect what you see to what they see. That allows you to align around what they value.

Case in point; say you are pitching financial services to a prospective professional athlete who was a star in college. Professional athletes have a strong sense of self belief. They know they’re going to be a star on the court, track or field. Start with what they believe, and connect your pitch to that. In this case, you might open with the question, “Will your off-court legacy be as great as your on-court one?”

6. Hint at the how?

You won’t have time to fully explain how you do what you do. But you want to at least point to it. Go beyond the cliched route of ‘now with more magical ingredients’ or ‘this is our secret sauce’. We’re not recommending using either expression. But do ask yourself, “what is my secret sauce?”. Why is what I (we) do so different? So superior? The answer to that is your hint at the how. Now remove as much over-explanation as you can.

For example, for years, golfers have spent hundreds of dollars on new drivers with a high C.O.R. What is a high C.O.R. you might ask? I’ll bet most purchasers of those fine implements don’t know either. C.O.R is understandable to a very small market segment — physicists or engineers who play golf. But the hint at the how is an important ingredient to moving the product. Probably more so than the placebo effect of high Coefficient of Restitution.

7. Show Evidence?

Showing evidence isn’t strictly part of the elevator pitch — it’s more the floor you want to get off on. It’s the action you want them to take. You want people to use your product, then they’ll fall in love with it. The step before that is to have them imagine themselves using it.

In science speak, this is tangible actualization. It’s painting a picture of them using your solution, or getting people to imagine what it’s like behind the wheel. This is where the end user or buyer sees themselves using it. This technique has been used in advertising for years, in many forms. Before and after shots of diet pills, happy people who booked with booking.com, relieved customers of insurance companies.


Whatever the form, get away from that long, me-centered monologue of jargon. Flip it. Don’t think Elevator Pitch, think Pitching Elevators, and test your pitch with this checklist.

*At least in business. Marriage proposals, the birds and the bees, and explaining the meaning of life to your first-born will rank higher.

**Bechara, Antoine, and Antonio R. Damasio. “The somatic marker hypothesis: A neural theory of economic decision.” Games and economic behavior 52.2 (2005): 336-372.


Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.

More at Google+Facebook and Pinterest. Comments are welcome, links are appreciated. If you’re interested in writing guest posts for this blog, please contact me.

JUSTIN_headshotJustin Foster is a Senior Strategist and Social Business Expert at fassforward consulting group. He is the author of “Oatmeal v Bacon: How to Differentiate in a Generic World” and “Human Bacon: How to Create an Awesome Personal Brand”. He blogs and speaks about social business, culture, and innovation.  You can follow Justin on Twitter @fosterthinking and LinkedIn.


  1. Rob Biesenbach (@RobBiesenbach) | March 6, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    Great post, Gavin. When I ask audiences how many have worked on their elevator pitch, nearly every hand goes up. When I ask how many are happy with their pitch, nearly every hand goes down. I think a big part of that is the whole me-centric approach, which makes most pitches awkward to deliver.

    • Gavin | March 6, 2015 at 3:42 pm

      Thanks Rob. It’s very hard to get away from me-centered language. A real process to get there.