The Problem With Your Elevator Pitch—And How To Fix It

Five tips to dropping the phony facade and elevating your pitch so that you sound like a real person instead of a marketing automaton.

At a recent networking event, I walked up to woman who, like me, was trying to balance a plastic tumbler of wine, a plate of cheese, and a handful of business cards. We laughed at our shared predicament, put down our plates and introduced ourselves. “I’m Robin,” she said. “I’m Deborah,” I replied. “So, Robin…what do you do?”

Suddenly, she broke eye contact and stared up at the wall, as if something were written there. Without expression, Robin recited, “I help busy professionals live pain-free lives so that they can get back to work.”

My first thought was, “What does that mean?” Was she a chiropractor? A career coach? A drug dealer?

My second thought was, “Who talks like that?”

The answer to the first question turned out to be “physical therapist.” The answer to the second question was: Entrepreneurs who have been taught that they need an elevator pitch, but haven’t practiced how to actually deliver it and sound human.

Your elevator pitch is a short summary of your service, product, or company and how it adds value to customers. It’s a useful tool for communicating core information quickly that will hopefully yield you an invitation to have a longer conversation with potential clients down the road.

The problem with most elevator pitches is that they get crafted on paper but not adjusted to sound like how a real person speaks. The majority come across as synthetic as an infomercial (“We help startups maximize their social media strategies to grow their customer base…But wait! There’s more!”). It’s one-way delivery system, designed to make a powerful, positive first impression, but listeners tend to feel “pitched at” rather than engaged with. As much as I am a hearty consumer of goods and services for my personal and professional life, I don’t like to be sold.

When you are so focused on making sure you sell the benefits because anyone could be a customer, you neglect a primary reason why people want to do business—because they connect with you. Not with your pitch, but with you.

Here are five tips to drop the phony facade and elevate the delivery of your pitch so that you sound like a real person:

Don’t speak the way you write. “I help individuals, couples, and families make sound financial plans so that they don’t outlive their money” may read well on a website, but doesn’t sound the way people really talk. When speaking, you might start with, “I’m a financial planner, and I make sure my clients don’t outlive their money.” Much more compelling, genuine and even fun.

Utilize common vernacular (aka, use the simplest language possible). Your organization’s mission statement may talk about serving “the growing population of at-risk adolescents” but most people would say “kids who are at risk” in regular conversation. So say that.

Turn your pitch into a question. If you’re a professional organizer, ask “You know that pile of papers you’ve got somewhere in your house that you’ve been meaning to get through? As a professional organizer, I help people finally get through it.”

Practice saying your pitch out loud, with feedback. Rehearse it until it sounds completely unrehearsed (ironic, but important), and then get feedback on how “real” you sound rather than how “polished” you come across.

Be willing to forgo your pitch entirely. If you’re already making a warm connection with someone and they ask you what you do, don’t risk bringing a cold pitch into the conversation. Just say what you do—and more importantly, find out what the other person does and show genuine curiosity about them.

Deborah Grayson Riegel is a communication and behavior expert, and is the president of Elevated Training Inc. and MyJewishCoach.com. She is the author of "Oy Vey! Isn't a Strategy: 25 Solutions for Personal and Professional Success."

[Image: Flickr user Pietro Bellini]

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42 Comments

  • Jac

    Wow, thank you for these  excellent tips. I've recently retired and the term "elevator speech" was completely new to me.   

  • Shelley

    I have been procasting on my elevator speech and you have simplified it for me.   Thank you!

  • Beth Haddox

    Thank you! I have memorized my speech and I'm sure I come across like the woman in your article. I need to rethink it...

  • Claire Park

    Thank you, this is exactly why I have steered clear of traditional networking for so long. I no longer feel like the odd one out who doesn't have a polished elevator pitch. 

  • Rhonda Moss

    This is extremely helpful information and it reminds you to slow down when you are speaking to people and speak clearly and distinctly.

  • Randy Milanovic

    Cut to the chase: "Kayak helps organizations generate quality leads online."

  • Robin

    Tried to delete my comment below for improper spelling of article - didn't work - apologize.

  • Robin

    Great artice - great advice & now I can stop thinking of my elevator pitch & just be me telling you what my company does!

  • Mitch Duncan

    Well done Deborah!  As the great man said "If you want to get at the honey, don't kick over the honey pot" 

  • Suesiep Love

    I agree with one of the comments that about not being a fan of elevator pitches, but it is the sentiment behind the pitch that is essential.  I spent a lifetime at one company talking passionately about many different subjects.  Now that I am looking for work, talking about myself is surprisingly difficult.  The preparation and practice is great advice, as long as I can remember to ditch the pitch when required!

  • Beth Ann Holz

    Excellent advice. Just the idea of an elevator speech revs up anxiety in most everyone I know. This is simple and easy to implement because it's asking only that we be ourselves and more importantly that we see others as the 'real' people that they are too. 

  • Leanne Hoagland-Smith

    Good advice and I would also consider the emotional impact of the final words one chooses for his or her elevator pitch.
     

  • Info

    I so agree with this. So many times I have had to ask, "What does that mean" or, "So, what exactly do you do?" after hearing someone's elevator pitch.

  • Margo Whyte

    This is the first time I am hearing the term "elevator pitch."  I think it is also a great way to clarify misconceptions or stereotypes of a particular job or career.