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Elevator Pitches

An elevator pitch is a quick, succinct, persuasive ‘speech’. It’s called an elevator pitch because it should be short enough to be presented during an elevator ride. The idea is that you find yourself on an elevator with someone who could help you in your endeavor and you have until they get off the elevator to convince them. Simple concept, but not so simple in practice, I’ve put this page together to help. The advice on this page is specifically for presenting a business idea at one of the competitions I created or manage but the materials are relevant beyond just that setting. I also want to make clear at the outset that I collected these materials. I may have edited some of them to suit my preferences and the preferences of my judges, but I did not create them from scratch. These are guidelines only, unless you’re entering one of my contests, in which case they should be followed pretty closely. One final thought before we get started. It is often going to be very difficult or impossible to get a ‘yes’ response to your idea in the time it takes to go from the lobby to the C Suite. The ‘ask’ that you should be asking for in many cases is another meeting to talk further. OK, let’s go.

The 5 P’s: The five P’s are the foundation on which you build your elevator pitch. They are not to be confused with the four P’s of marketing (product, price, place, and promotion) or the five pillars of Islam. These five pillars persuasively make a case for your idea, and for your necessity in enacting it. They are pain, premise, people, proof, and purpose. For a contest, begin writing your elevator pitch by addressing these points in order. For non-contest use, you can be a bit more free with the order and what you include but all of these points are important and it will likely increase your chances of success if you include them all.

  1. PAIN
    1. What is the problem that you’re trying to solve?
    2. How big is the problem?
    1. How are you going to make the pain go away?
    2. KISS: Keep it simple, students.
    3. If you read just the premise out loud with no other information, someone hearing it should understand what it is you do.
    1. The people are the most important part of your business. Every venture capitalist and angel investor says this, so it must be true.
    2. In this section you should answer the question why you? Why not someone else?
    3. If you have partners that are critical to the idea they should be mentioned here as well.
  4. PROOF
    1. The best proof is sales. But if you’re at a pitch competition you probably haven’t made sales yet.
    2. So the next best proof is people that say they’ll buy. This is typically market research.
    3. Other great forms of proof are prototypes and intellectual property.
    1. The purpose of a business is to make money. What is your profit potential?
    2. If you have a social endeavor you will need to provide an alternative metric. For example, if you are doing something to feed the homeless, your metric is number of homeless fed. It also makes sense to explain why the metric you chose is important.

Once you’ve created your elevator pitch to address the 5 P’s you can practice it for time and clarity. For my contests, an elevator pitch is always 1-2 minutes. Personal elevator pitches (such as one you might write to introduce yourself and what you do to potential employers) may be shorter. Regardless of length you should be able to finish your pitch in the allotted time without sounding hurried. You should strive to sound natural and conversational. You should practice your pitch in front of people who have no idea what you’re talking about to see what questions they have. Adjusting to those types of questions will make your pitch more clear. Another tool you can use is the nine C’s tool below. Try, to the best of your ability to make your elevator pitch conform to these nine C’s. Some of the items appear contradictory, so just do the best you can.

  1. CLEAR — Use plain English as much as possible. Avoid acronyms and jargon. Never use a large word when a diminutive one will do.
  2. CONCISE — You don’t have a lot of time, so it’s important to be as brief as possible so that you can get it all in.
  3. CREDIBLE — People should believe you when you deliver your pitch. There are two complementary ways to accomplish this. First, you can explain why you’re qualified. Second, you can sound like you know what you’re talking about. This should be because you have practiced what you’re going to say a lot and because you really do know what you’re talking about.
  4. CONSISTENT — Have a message and stay on it. If you have numbers for something, use the same numbers throughout. Don’t contradict yourself within your pitch. It’s easier to do than you might think.
  5. CONVERSATIONAL — You shouldn’t sound like you’re reciting the pitch, even though you probably are. Keep in mind that the elevator pitch is the beginning of a real conversation, one in which you hope to convince the listener that your idea is amazing and they want in on it.
  6. CONCEPTUAL — Do not go into details in the elevator pitch. You don’t have time. For instance, when discussing proof, if you’ve done market research you may know that 15% of college students will buy your product. You may also know a breakdown of that number based on other demographic information. The 15% is enough in most cases.
  7. CONCRETE — Be as specific as you can. This sounds like the opposite of #6 above, but it’s not really.
  8. COMPELLING — You typically address this most in the pain section. You explain the pain, and part of that is convincing us that it’s important to ‘fix’ the pain.
  9. CUSTOMIZED — Insomuch as possible, tailor your elevator pitch to your audience. In a contest setting this will not be easy. It might not even be possible. But remember, the skill of pitching will prove useful elsewhere. You might actually get on an elevator with Bill Gates, and wouldn’t it be awesome if you had a fantastic opportunity for him?

Well, that wraps it up. The only other advice I can offer you is to practice, practice, practice, practice, practice. Those may be the ultimate 5 P’s of elevator pitches.