3 Ways to Perfect Your Elevator Pitch

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Image: Grove City College

Yesterday, I met three strangers for lunch. It was part of my local Chamber of Commerce’s “Connect 4 Lunch” program, which sets up four small business owners in non-competing industries for networking lunches. The idea is to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t run across, share tips, and send referrals.

I ended up with a lawyer, a costume maker, and an insurance agent. We went around the table and introduced our businesses. It was a classic elevator pitch scenario.

I thought my pitch would be easy: I’m a blogger, web content specialist, copywriter, and magazine article writer. Easy enough, right?

Unfortunately, when my turn came, I froze. To my own dismay, I blurted out: “I’m kind of a generalist, and it’s hard to explain my niche, so let me start at the very beginning…” I proceeded to ramble off half my life story, slowly losing my audience as I went.

So much for succinct. A good elevator pitch requires practice. And I hadn’t prepared at all.

The costume designer drove this point home when she asked: “What’s a blog?”

I reviewed the situation to see what I could have done better. I came up with three questions to ask before my next networking event. I hope they help you, too:

Who’s Your Audience?

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Before I went to lunch, I knew that my audience weren’t fellow media industry folk. That meant that terms like blogging, content production, and even copywriting might not trigger instant recognition. So I would want to explain my business in a little more detail.

Before: “Now I blog, and also write content for people, with a broad range of topics.”

After: “I mainly work on the Internet. There, I write a blog. Are you familiar with blogs?” (Pause. If not, explain.) “I also write the content in websites for large and small businesses. That would include a description of services or products, staff biographies, press releases, event calendars, special emails, and anything else a person would want on their particular website.”

That second sentence would need rehearsing, because I tend not to speak in specific terms like that off the cuff. That’s why preparation is so important–because it takes time for certain descriptions to feel natural.

What’s the Purpose of Your Elevator Pitch?

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Image: Watchmojo

The best-case scenario for my Connect 4 lunch would be a referral or two. Targeting my pitch to my audience would help me gain those referrals.

In order to do that, I have to think about what my peers—a lawyer, a costume designer, and an insurance agent—had in common.

The answer: Not much, but they were all small business owners. Why would small business owners be interested in my writing? Because they have a website they want written or updated. Perhaps they’re starting a marketing campaign involving email, letters, or flyers. Maybe they want to start a blog of their own–I could consult them on that.

I had at least three opportunities sitting in front of me. If I had listed those opportunities and prepped my pitch around them, I could have of clarified how I could help each business owner out.

For example, I could have added that “I have helped many small business owners write websites, emails for their clients, press releases, and marketing materials like flyers and brochures. I take a careful look at what they need, then I customize my writing to represent their businesses so that people want to know more.”

What’s the Most Fulfilling Part of Your Job?

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Everyone at the table (yours truly excempted) expressed an emotional underpinning that made their work special or fulfilling. For example, the insurance agent said that the most fulfilling part of her work was helping young people buy life insurance.

“That’s unusual,” I remarked. “Don’t young people keep stuff like that off their radars until they have kids?”

She nodded. “That’s what a lot of young people think. But the truth is that buying life insurance when you’re young costs less. If you get sick later, life insurance can get really expensive, or you can’t get it at all.” She explained the other benefits of buying life insurance young. She said she felt fulfilled when she helped young people secure their futures.

By explaining where her passion lay, the agent also educated me. Every time I think of insurance, I visualize warrens of bespectacled actuaries calculating life expectancies in dank basements. Listening to the agent, I started to see insurance as a protector, a financial guardian, a sorely-needed check during hard times. Insurance could actually lead to fulfillment.

I didn’t run out and buy life insurance. But the agent, by sharing her passion, had planted a seed. She made life insurance more friendly. When I do buy it, I might just turn to her.

Next time, I’m going to review what I find most fulfilling about my own line of work. After verbalizing it a few times in private, I’ll be prepared to share my passion with other people, planting my own seeds.

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I have another Connect 4 Lunch meeting next Tuesday. The next set of strangers will hear my business pitch, not my life story. I’m committed, no matter how much practice it takes. Onward, elevator pitch!

Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.