Even if you’re not a salesperson, the day may come when you need to convince someone — anyone — that they should take a chance on you. This could be a job interview, when you’re jockeying for a promotion, decide to start your own business and are trying to make sales or secure clients, or if you need to lobby for funding

Whatever the goal, you need to give your target audience a persuasive reason why they should give you the job or promotion, shop with you over a competitor, or fund your business instead of another startup. To do this, you need to sell yourself. This can include creating a thorough presentation that outlines the benefits of someone aligning themselves with you. But you need a good elevator pitch to draw them in before you get to that step. 

What Is An Elevator Pitch?

Once upon a time, people literally did chase after executives, corner them in an elevator, and essentially pitch themselves as a viable option. Whether this was to get a job or secure a business deal, the concept was that the solicitor (the person doing the pitching) only had as long as the elevator ride to influence their target audience before the doors opened and the individual left. 

This is the classic definition of an elevator pitch. But generally speaking, it refers to a very brief presentation. In most cases, this should be delivered in under a minute — with 30 seconds considered the ideal length of time. It should highlight key selling points that help an individual or a business stand out from the competition. And most importantly, it needs to clearly define how a person or business venture can bring value to the intended target. 

Why Are Elevator Pitches Important?

In theory, a person could simply send a long-form presentation to a recruiter, business or investor and hope to hear back from them. But in reality, attention spans are short and multiple people are vying for the same attention and opportunity. This means that whether pitching to a recruiter, consumers, or even investors, finding a way to get in front of someone important is going to be critical. 

These short introductory pitches are ideal when an entrepreneur or a job applicant is at an event where monopolizing a target’s time is unrealistic. For example, an entrepreneur that’s attending a pitch event may only have five minutes to present a formal pitch on the stage. During the post-event networking session, they may interact with potential investors, members of the media, or other relevant stakeholders. 

Holding their attention for extended periods may not be realistic. Instead, being able to highlight key points from the original pitch can help to build rapport and reinforce essential information that might encourage the intended target to request more information or schedule a follow-up meeting or interview. 

How To Craft An Elevator Pitch For Your Startup

One thing to remember is that an elevator pitch should only contain essential information — but succinctly. If a startup is relying on an elevator pitch, within 30 seconds to one minute, the pitch should cover: 

  • What is the core business purpose?
  • What top talent or advisors are attached to the project
  • Who is the target audience? 
  • Why is the business advantageous or relevant over competitors and/or why is funding needed?
  • Where will the product or service be available, produced, or managed?
  • When will the product or service be available?
  • When would an investor expect to receive a return on investment?
  • How is the business profitable or sustainable enough to warrant outside investment or prove longevity?

Focus On Action Items And Breakout Achievements

The most essential takeaway entrepreneurs can remember when crafting an elevator pitch is that this is not the time to get bogged down with minutiae. Potential investors are interested in actionable items highlighting financial worthiness, experience, and understanding current market demand. While anecdotal stories about how great-grandmama Stevens taught the neighborhood kids to make handmade candies are nice, it’s only relevant if the elevator pitch is about a handmade candy business that leverages a family recipe. However, that story isn’t going to be enough to move the needle. 

By contrast, reinforcing the market demand for handmade candies by highlighting year-over-year growth or that a direct-to-consumer (D2C) candy business expanded to include wholesale accounts is a compelling argument when requesting funding to launch a candy factory to replace in-home production. 

How To Craft An Elevator Pitch As A Student

Students might think that elevator pitches are unnecessary, but that’s incorrect. Whether pitching for an internship, securing a mentor, or preparing to enter the workforce as a full-time employee, elevator pitches can help to differentiate a candidate from the other applicants. Similar to startups, the pitch needs to cover the essentials: 

  • What is the academic major or area of study? What relevant extracurricular activities or internships relate to the position?
  • When will the student graduate?
  • How do the skills learned through coursework or internships translate into relevance for the position?
  • Why is this position (or mentorship) important?

Focus On Academic Achievements And Areas Of Study

While highlighting previous experience is ideal, not all students will have that luxury. A freshman or sophomore may not have begun interning. In this scenario, highlighting previous relevant academic achievements as well as relevant areas of study that overlap with the target audience’s area of interest is going to be necessary. The point is to focus on showcasing synergies.

Elevator Pitches Should Be Organic

The likelihood that an entrepreneur or student can seamlessly corner a high-value target at an event or in a grocery store and drone on — even for 30 seconds to a minute — without interruption is unlikely. In the real world, time and attention are finite resources. 

It’s nice to have a preplanned 30-second pitch ready to go. But the reality is that when opportunities present themselves, the actual interaction will be more like a regular conversation versus a presentation. This means that elevator pitches need to be nuanced. There should be highlights that can be pulled and instantly interjected into conversations — yet still feel natural. 

In truth, entrepreneurs and students need to be able to work on the fly. This means taking the time to listen to conversations, instantly identifying opportunities to interject casually, and immediately presenting synergies that organically allow the pitching individual to turn the conversation to themselves and ultimately give a pitch without being obvious.