An elevator pitch is a short, succinct introduction of you and your business to a new connection — whether it’s a potential investor, partner, employee or colleague. The term itself doesn’t describe what’s part of the pitch, but rather, the length: 30 seconds to 1 minute. This powerful tool can boost your company, take your career to the next level and lead to better, stronger sales.
In a competitive economy, being able to sell your personal brand, your company, your services and your creative pursuits is a widely beneficial skill. Known as an ‘elevator pitch,’ you may have heard this term before but never taken the time to write your own. Sometimes considered outdated, they are actually an essential part of any business, leading to new deals, clients and partnerships.
If you’ve yet to explore this function of growing your company or turning your bright idea into a real, tangible event, production or brand, it’s time to get started. Here, the 101 guide on elevator pitches, why they matter, how to write them — and examples, too.
What is an elevator pitch?
As defined by career expert Gemma Toner, the founder and CEO of Tone Networks, an elevator pitch is a short, succinct introduction of you and your business to a new connection — whether it’s a potential investor, partner, employee or colleague. The term itself doesn’t describe what’s part of the pitch, but rather, the length.
“If you were in an elevator with someone who could move your career forward, what would you say to them in the 30- to 60-second ride to your destination? What’s the most important and powerful information that you can provide about yourself in that period of time, that could get you to the next level?” she asks.
Because elevator pitches are most often utilized in the business context, career expert and CEO of Invisible Culture, Katherine King, says they need to satisfy the preference for direct and concise information.
Generally speaking, this is an American tradition, where elevator pitches are often considered an acceptable communication tool, while some other cultures would find the short speech inappropriate. “Ideally it’s compelling enough it can immediately capture the attention of your listener. Elevator pitches satisfy the American business place value that time is money,” she adds.
Why are elevator pitches useful?
An elevator pitch is like any other pitch: a form of words used when trying to persuade someone to buy or accept something, according to Steve Grant, the vice president of operations for Energy Solutions Direct. However, he says what’s unique about an elevator pitch is that it challenges professionals to sell themselves in a very short amount of time. “You have to convey why the person(s) you are pitching can’t live without your idea, company, assistance — and do it quickly,” he continues.
This can be especially beneficial if you’re trying to reach key decision-makers since Grant says their time is often limited. Being able to hook their attention at lightning-speed makes it that much more likely you will receive a callback or a follow-up meeting. “While elevator pitches have always been useful, as the years go on and the use of technology speeds up or lives, it seems like every pitch should be short,” he shares.
Even if, say, you aren’t looking for a new gig right now or bringing on new business, Toner says having a go-to mini-speech in your back pocket can come in handy. “You never know when you’ll encounter someone who could be a great connection for you to have in your career,” she continues. “You can encounter unlikely partners, supporters, mentors, and benefactors anywhere, and it’s always best to be prepared for when you do.”
How to write an elevator pitch
As with any type of writing, being prepped will speed along the creative juices. From what materials to include to checking out the competition, here’s the three-step process to creating a compelling, captivating elevator pitch:
- Gather your materials
- Analyze the competition and industry
- Identify what makes you or your company a game-changer
Step 1: Gather your materials
As you sit down to string together sentences, Toner says to gather all qualitative and quantitative information about your company, your career history and any other need-to-know details and documents. When figuring out what’s necessary and what can be omitted, she suggests considering your target audience: what would they want to know to move forward with your proposal? And what questions do you anticipate they may ask?
Toner suggests not only collecting your boilerplate, tagline, and descriptions from decks, press releases, and your website — but also short testimonials from customers and clients that could be useful.
“Have you earned a spot on any ‘best of’ lists? Have you been nominated for any awards for industry excellence? Have any prestigious publications raved about your products? Has your company reported faster speeds, higher customer satisfaction, or other improvements on industry standards and your competitors’ numbers?” she asks.
Any data that can ‘prove’ your value is worthwhile to include in your elevator pitch, and should be nearby for you to reference as you write.
Step 2: Look at your industry and competitors
Various markets present different levels of entry. Some have higher stakes, while others are easier to break into, and yet, don’t offer as much cash incentives. Before you write an elevator pitch, Toner says studying your industry — and thus, your competitors — can give you insight on what’s working and making the sale.
She suggests analyzing the state of the sector — is it healthy? Thriving? Or struggling? — and pinpoint the need or problem. Is there currently someone filling that void — or is there an opportunity for you to be the solution?
“Have there been changes in the industry recently that other companies have failed to adapt to, or find innovative solutions for?” she continues. “Identifying the gap leads into the third step, in which you can point out what you’re doing differently that makes you stand out from the pack.”
Once you know your unique value add and proposition, you can start to explain it as the biggest chunk of your elevator pitch. With the data you secured in step one, you can also add supporting numbers behind your gold stars, too.
Step 3: Identify what makes you or your company unique
You know what numbers back you up and you know where you could be a beneficial addition or visionary in your industry — now you have to put it all together. How so? By explaining how your company (or your professional skill set or your TV show or movie idea) is a game-changer. At the heart of every elevator pitch is the sentence (or two) that will illustrate your impact. A big part of this, according to Toner, is presenting yourself as an expert on the topic at hand and being, well, a human. People want to connect with other people, and the more you can articulate why you will make waves and you will be enjoyable to partner with, the better your elevator pitch becomes.
“If your industry is saturated, acknowledge that, and counter it with a reason why your company stands out from the pack — or better yet, leads the pack,” Toner continues. “If they could question your size or bandwidth against larger competitors, build in a sentence describing data that demonstrates your agility and flexibility.”
How long should an elevator pitch be?
Remember the analogy of riding in an elevator and you happen to be next to one of your mentors? Or the executive at a company you’re dying to work for? Perhaps a client who hasn’t responded to your email — but now they’re right in front of you. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in this situation. Or, better yet: consider if you were on the receiving end of a pitch. How long would you want it to be? Not a 5-minute monologue, right?
Though the length of elevator pitches varies greatly dependent on the medium — a TV show bible is a super-long document that’s emailed, for instance — most of the time, King says you should keep it to thirty seconds to a minute. In fact, a good rule of thumb is the shorter, the better — as long you are still including all of the important information.
“This serves to save time for both parties: for the listener to know if this is something that may be of interest to them, and for the person giving it so they don’t have to provide a full explanation only to realize they are wasting time,” King explains.
What is the best elevator pitch template or format?
Whether you’re searching for an exciting job opportunity, hoping to build up your pipeline with new clients, bringing on investors or starting a business from the ground-up your elevator pitch should follow a basic format.
Though this can change if you’re speaking to someone face-to-face, on the phone or via email, having a blueprint of the elevator pitch’s contents can guide your writing and formatting.
Here, a recommended approach:
- What you do
- Your goal
- The problem you’re solving
Section 1: What do you do?
Toner says this is the most simple and brief part of your elevator pitch. You can think of it as the shaking-hands equivalent if you were at a networking function. Remember to keep it relevant: sure, you might be a leadership chair on four boards but if you’re pitching yourself as a consultant for an unrelated project, you don’t need to include that info. Toner recommends only including the ‘buttoned-up’ biography info: “They don’t need to know your whole backstory or what got you here, they only need to know what you’re doing right now,” she adds.
“Hello, my name is [NAME], I’m [TITLE] of/at [COMPANY], a [1 sentence description of company].
Section 2: What’s the goal of your elevator pitch?
Do you want to sign this person as a client? Do you want to introduce them to your company so they can be an investor? Hire them as an employee?
Also bite-sized in length, Toner says this a little longer than your opening line and expands on the description of your business or background. At most, this section should be two sentences max. Here is where using compelling adverbs and interjecting data can be helpful. Do you want to grow a certain sector of the industry by 20 percent? Do you see a pool of potential valued at $1 million? Don’t leave that out!
“We aim to [MISSION] and we have these goals [LIST WITH DATA] in the [TYPE] industry.”
Section 3: What problem are you solving; what makes you unique?
And the longest part of your pitch, unsurprisingly, is how you explain your game-changing opportunity.
Toner says this three- to four-sentence paragraph should explain what makes you or your company a trailblazer, by incorporating even more data and other qualifiers to your main goals and objectives. While you should still aim to be under the recommended time frame of a minute, this is your opportunity to shine — and bring it home with a call-to-action.
“The [INDUSTRY] is facing/seeing [TREND, PROBLEM, ISSUE], and our work provides [UNIQUE PROPOSITION AND OFFERING] amongst other companies that [SHORTCOMING OF COMPETITORS]. We’ve seen [DATA] and have [FEATURED IN PUBLICATIONS, VOTED ON LISTS, etc.] for our solutions. I’d love to discuss more sometime about how [GOAL: WORK TOGETHER, PARTNER, etc].
6 Elevator pitch tips
Now that the format is clear, as well as your objective, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Follow the format but also consider these expert-driven tips on formulating creative and effective elevator pitches:
- Teach, don’t preach
- Look at your resume
- Write multiple versions
- If you’re confused, start over
- Include a call-to-action
- Don’t memorize
1. Teach, don’t preach
Before you pitch someone else — pitch yourself, Toner recommends. As some of the most universal advice for any situation — professionally or personally — consider what you would want to know from an elevator pitch. And, what information would be enough to keep you listening — and what would lose your attention? It’s important to consider your listener as someone who is a complete stranger to you (because they are) and also to your company (for the same reason!). You need to teach them — not preach at them.
“Not everyone you meet will be as finely tuned to the intricacies of the space you operate in, nor have quite the encyclopedic-expert knowledge that you do about the problems that need to be solved,” Toner continues. “Give them a quick download on the industry and how you’re filling the gaps — even though you may be filling five or even 10 gaps, try to only pick the top two for your elevator pitch.”
As she says, this tactic will entice your new connection to continue the conversation, where you can tell them more about the other solutions you have to offer.
2. Look at your resume
Along with all of the documents you rounded up, make sure you’re not forgetting an essential one: your resume! Especially if you’re on the hunt for a new job, your elevator pitch needs to summarize the key contents of your professional one-pager.
Career expert and the senior vice president of People Strategy at Vettery, Samantha Friedman suggests reading your resume line by line to refresh your memory on what you’ve done — and what you should highlight. This will help you write a clear statement about who you are and where you’re hoping to land next.
3. Write multiple versions
Unfortunately, elevator pitches are one-size-fits-all models, since they depend heavily on the context and medium. As Toner explains, chances are high you’ll need to deliver it throughout multiple social, professional and digital situations. You don’t need to go crazy but having a handful of versions will save you time in the future.
She suggests having these:
- Elevator pitch for networking in your own industry
- Elevator pitch for events in other industries
- Elevator pitch for social interactions that could lead to business
- Elevator pitch for a new opportunity via email or social media channels
4. If you’re confused, start over
This seems like obvious advice but perhaps something that’s easy to forget when you’re in the trenches of writing an elevator pitch. That’s why business coach Ivy Slater says if your paragraph starts to feel funky to you and doesn’t make much sense when you read it, it’s time to start over.
And if you need a gut check, don’t hesitate to seek a second opinion. “Ask a friend, colleague, mentor or coach to listen to it and make sure it is clear. Ask them if they feel they understand what you do and for whom you do it,” she suggests.
5. Include a call-to-action
The point of an elevator pitch, of course, is to meet with the listener again. So if you leave out the call-to-action (“Let’s schedule a meeting.” or “Do you have time to chat on Tuesday at noon?”), you haven’t completed the speech.
“Successful elevator pitches are followed up with an exchange of contact information for next steps; remember that elevator pitches aren’t the whole conversation, but an opener to more conversations down the line,” Toner explains. “Write in — and practice — a line at the end of your pitch to segue into offering a business card or email address.”
6. Don’t memorize
While you should practice your elevator pitch out loud a few times before trying it out on a lead, King says it’s important to still be human. If you sound completely scripted and robotic, it’s human instinct to tune the monotonous sound out, since it feels more like background noise. She suggests creating a bulleted list that outlines the sections of the elevator pitch with key data points but giving yourself permission to improvise.
What can help the most is saying it out loud, according to career coach Carla Isabel Carstens. You can even go a step further and record yourself, so you can listen to it and see how it sounds.
“So many people are guilty of practicing their pitch, but in their head. You need to be comfortable with speaking the words out loud. That way, when it’s go time, you are more than ready to say your spiel with confidence,” she adds.
3 Elevator pitch examples
With all the tools you need to craft your own winning elevator pitches, it can be helpful to seek inspiration from examples. Here, we highlight various situations.
Whether you copy/paste these or riff off them for fodder, use them as a helpful outline:
1. For pitching a new client as a freelancer
The goal: You have goals to meet this quarter and you have a potential lead in mind who could turn into a solid contract. You need to set yourself apart from other cold emails in their inbox.
The elevator pitch:
“Nice to meet you, I’m Jane Smith. I’m a freelance content strategist who owns an agency that works specifically with global healthcare leaders. We have worked with four major brands [list them here], resulting in a 200 percent increase in traffic and a 20 percent increase in converting new suppliers. We see the opportunity to create an SEO-driven blog for your company and would love to set up a call to explore next steps. Does tomorrow at 12 p.m. EST work for you? Let me know!”
2. For introducing yourself to a recruiter at a networking event
The goal: You are looking to switch industries and you are ready to make the leap. You’ve decided to attend a networking event, and you know you’ll have the chance to talk to effective recruiters in the space. You want to ‘wow’ them!
The elevator pitch:
“Nice to meet you, I’m John Doe. After spending eight years working in the banking industry, I’ve recently made the switch to marketing and communications. I’m most interested in exploring opportunities that allow me to use my analytical and data skills to provide effective and creative solutions to drive leads. I’m willing and excited to explore a variety of companies, including those in healthcare, travel and consumerism. Can I send you my resume after this event?”
3. For pitching your company to an investor
The goal: You went out on a limb and ‘gave birth’ to your baby. Now that it’s growing, you need extra funding to move it to the next level. An investor you admire is willing to meet with you for coffee. How can you keep them listening?
The elevator pitch:
“Thanks for meeting today. I’m Dr. Jane Smith, the founder and executive chairman for Good Snacks. After working as a medical professional at the Good Hope Hospital for a decade, I kept seeing a dramatic rise in obesity. Of the 20 patients I saw in a day, at least 60 percent of them were overweight and helpless to make a lifestyle change. This is where I saw an opportunity: affordable, healthy snacks that are accessible and delicious. Our brand has experienced a 200 percent increase year-over-year in sales and our community has collectively lost a staggering 2,000 pounds. I would like to explore how we can partner to make these numbers even more impressive.”
Elevate your elevator pitch
Pitching can feel like a challenge to master. But with practice and the right tips, you can master it in no time. You can also join our talent network if you want access to top brands that will boost your freelancing career.