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30 Seconds to “Sell” Your Skills: The Elevator Pitch

The Elevator Pitch is the effective and compact answer to the common question “so, what do you do?.” Indeed, is a short, persuasive speech you use to introduce yourself, your product, or your company.

Beatrice Barbazzeni
Beatrice Barbazzeni

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." (Albert Einstein).”

At least once in life, we had the feeling of losing an incredible opportunity just because we were not prepared enough to get it. We introduced ourselves and presented our “innovative” idea in a way that did not catch the attention and curiosity of our counterparts (e.g., business partners, stakeholders, employers, and venture capitalists).

It’s just the time for a handshake, a short stay in the “elevator,” or simply crossing each other at a career fair. Although these moments may last a few minutes, these minutes can make the difference in your life by leveraging your business and career.

Thus, if you felt related to this situation, you are in the right place to learn how to make a strong impression, get hired, or even get funds to be invested in your ground-breaking idea. Who knows, maybe one day you will have the chance to meet Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, and your life will turn into an unexpected victory.

In this article, I explain the well-known “Elevator Pitch” and describe how to make it step-by-step, accounting for different scenarios. All the references and examples I will describe can be found in the article by Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW, Career Expert.

“So… what do you do in life?”

The Elevator Pitch is the effective and compact answer to the common question “so, what do you do?.” Indeed, is a short, persuasive speech you use to introduce yourself, your product, or your company. The goal of this short speech is to deliver a message in a clear and quick way to catch the curiosity concerning who you are and what you do in life.  30 seconds is usually the time that this pitch would take and around which you should be capable of making the right impression. Therefore, the elevator pitch can also be seen as a “short-and-sweet sales message” with the goal of getting hired or attracting the curiosity of investors.

Does it sound very effective, doesn’t it? And I am going to tell you even more. It can be adapted and applied in different scenarios such as:

  1. In the context of job fairs where your goal is to introduce yourself and expand your network;
  2. In a job interview where your goal is to get hired;
  3. In a professional exchange with business partners, stakeholders, and venture capitalists where your goal is to get investments into your company/product.

Elevator pitch for career fairs

Job fairs, networking events, and career exposure are very crowded and overwhelming places where most of the time you end up without hitting your goal. Why? Too many interesting people around, and less focus on your persona.

Therefore, preparing your pitch beforehand comes in handy in these situations to catch the attention of your speaker. Four simple steps were proposed to make your elevator pitch outstanding:

  1. Catch the attention: the best way to open your speech and connect with your speaker is to identify common “pain points” which are familiar in the industry context under discussion;
  2. Stimulate curiosity: continue the conversation by explaining that you found a solution to that problem while stimulating the attention of your speaker;
  3. Explain what you do: keep the engagement up by explaining how you solve that problem and which results in you are getting;
  4. Be prepared for further questions: if you did a good job so far, you are about to receive more questions regarding you and your job;
  5. Share your business card: therefore, it is always a good idea to present and share your business card while extending your network.

Until here, it looks simple and straightforward. However, it is not how it may sound. Thus,  I will make an example.

Imagine you are attending job fairs and you have the chance to talk with the CEO of interest. How would you introduce yourself (e.g., for a job opportunity or collaboration)? Let’s see a concrete example described by Michael Tomaszewski.

This is a WRONG approach:

A: “Hello, my name is Jerry Brown.”

B: “Nice to meet you, Jerry. So tell me… What do you do?”

A: “I’m a sales executive with over 10 years of experience leading automotive sales teams to victory and delivering extraordinary sales results”. → [WRONG]

B: “That sounds amazing, Jerry, congratulations!” (Euphemism for saying: “I hear this thousand times. I am so bored of it!”)

Wait. Why is it wrong? Most of us would approach it in this way, right? Well, it is wrong because Jerry is approaching the speaker by saying he is person X with Y years of experience in sector Z. This sounds repetitive, boring, and nothing different from the usual.

So, what should be done instead?

This is a CORRECT approach:

A: “I’m sure you’ve heard that famous sales statistic: 80% of sales are made by the top 20% of salespeople.” [Catching attention by identifying that industry “pain points”]

B: “Yeah, that’s correct.”

A: “I’ve decided to take advantage of it to skyrocket the sales my team generates.” [Stimulating curiosity]

B: “Oh, how’s that?”

A: “I introduced a peer-to-peer learning program where top performers share their expertise with others [Say what you do] through curated content and “learning weeks.” [Say how you do it] In 6 months, my team started generating sales 120% above the company average.” [Show results/outcome]

B: “Ben, I’m sure we could use such a learning scheme at our organization! But tell me—what’s in it for those top-performing salespeople?”

[Well done, now the conversation will definitely continue!]

Why is this a proper approach? Because Jerry, in this example, was capable of engaging the speaker in the conversation by stimulating curiosity and attention toward his activity. Therefore, there was an exchange of thoughts between the two which made the conversation go.

Moving forward, I think it is helpful to also give a personal example concerning my professional career and experience in using the elevator pitch structure.

WRONG approach:

A: "I am doing my Ph.D. in neuroscience. My project regards EEG-Neurofeedback to improve working memory in healthy individuals with an outlook on preclinical Alzheimer's disease."

B: "Interesting. It sounds like a really ambitious and complicated project." (Euphemism for, "I didn't understand anything about what you do...")

So why is my introduction wrong? It is wrong because I say I am person X, working in sector Y for Z. In addition, I am using very technical jargon. So, what should I say instead to engage my speaker?

CORRECT approach:

A: "Have you ever forgotten a piece of information as soon as it was told to you?" [Catching attention by identifying that industry “pain points”]

B: "Yes, it happens to me sometimes!"

A: "Well it's all the fault of “working memory”! I have developed a method that allows you to train your memory by real-time monitoring of your neural activity. [Stimulating curiosity]

B: "Really? And how does it work?"

A: "You can imagine the brain as a power generator made of many electrical wires called "oscillations," and these move with different frequencies and intensities. Each one allows us to perform different functions (sleep, focus for an exam, relax, etc.). [Say what you do] So my method allows us to train those oscillations related to memory to improve it. [Say how you do it] Neurofeedback is this technique, a gym of the brain, that in real-time allows you to visualize, control, and improve your neural activity." [Show results/outcome]

B: "Interesting! Tell me more... Can you treat diseases as well? Example Alzheimer's?"

A: "Yes! I have extended this method to... " [Well done, now the conversation will definitely continue!]

This is a simple example of how to correctly structure an elevator pitch because I developed my elevator pitch considering the steps proposed by Michael Tomaszewski:


Elevator pitch for job interviews

This type of pitch can be used in response to the common question “tell me about yourself, educational background, and job experiences…” while conducting a job interview. Although a job interview sounds quite stressful, in this context, it looks easier to catch your speakers' attention because their attention is already directed toward you. So, be mindful and get the most out of it!

Therefore,  three key points were suggested to make your elevator pitch outstanding:

  1. Open the conversation by giving a short professional introduction of yourself;
  2. Continue telling what you do, but mostly how well you do it. In this case, the method Problem-Action-Result (PAR) is the key to highlighting your skills;
  3. Always good to talk about your capabilities and what you are struggling with. Hence, by using the elevator pitch you can make an offer to solve and overcome these challenges.

So, what does it mean? First, let’s see an example presented by Michael Tomaszewski.

This is a WRONG approach:

“I’m a Project Manager with 10+ years of experience in major state hospitals. I’m skilled in kanban, Scrum, and Agile methodologies. And I have a proven record of delivering projects on time and within budgets.”

This is a CORRECT approach:

“I’m a Senior Project Manager with a creative attitude to problem-solving [Professional Persona]. In my current position as Chief of Project Management at Seton Hospital, my recent challenge has been the reduction of stockroom waste [Problem]. I introduced a new kanban system and designed Lean training programs [Action] to be carried out across all departments. We managed to cut stockroom waste by 65%, which, ultimately slashed monthly costs by a quarter [Result]. I know cost-saving solutions for the infant ward are among your key priorities. I’m sure I can use my expertise to achieve great results with this initiative [Your offer].”

Why this would be the right approach during a job interview?

The focus is from describing your profession toward the action you take to solve a problem, demonstrated by the results achieved, to conclude with the offer you would bring. Indeed, in a job interview (and successful elevator pitch) what matter is to show “I am the candidate you’ve been looking for, and I am here to level up your business” instead of showing your title and profession which is already described in your CV…

Elevator Pitch for entrepreneurs/sales

Another interesting case regards the usage of the elevator pitch while describing your product, business activity, and idea/project to a client/stakeholder/partner/venture capitalist.

In this case, the elevator pitch can be developed by following six steps:

  1. Explain what your company/organization does by using simple jargon;
  2. Highlight what makes your (business) value proposition unique (take the chance to talk about your MTP!);
  3. Strengthen your value by showing numbers, results, statistics, and achievements;
  4. Engage your speaker by making questions;
  5. Exchange business cards to expand your network and stay in touch;
  6. Failure is possible. Don’t get discouraged. Try until you succeed!

So, what does it mean? For better clarity, let’s see an example by Michael Tomaszewski.

This is a WRONG approach:

“My company’s core competency is the development of highly effective, personalized sales funnels based on machine learning for e-commerce startups. Our algorithms work in synergy with every customer’s behavioral characteristics so that we manage to upsell our clients’ products while delighting their customers.”

This is a CORRECT approach:

“My company develops and designs personalized online sales funnels [what your company does]. That means two things: one, online customers enjoy a flawless user experience tailored to their needs and interests, and two: our clients get automated solutions that dramatically boost sales [unique business proposition]. We helped our last client increase online revenue by 120% month-on-month [hard numbers behind your results]. Does your company have any experience with e-commerce automation? [engaging question].

Although the first example can be acceptable, it shouldn’t be used because it is self-centered, complicated, and full of technic/business jargon, resulting in very boring listening. Differently, the second approach looks correct because it opens the conversation by saying what the company does, which is the value proposition it brings, and the results it made while closing up by engaging the speaker with a question (sparkling interests and curiosity also in their business).

Nevertheless, implementing an elevator pitch doesn’t necessarily imply that the business will succeed. Indeed, most of the time, also elevator pitches suffer a failure rate of 96%. But don’t get discouraged. The elevator pitch would always have the advantage to leave “your signature” meaning that the good impression you have made will last and this might be useful in the future for many other upcoming opportunities.

Most frequently you are going to implement your pitch in the context of a conversation. Therefore, it would be useful to prepare a template adaptable to different situations/speakers/goals. Concerning this aspect, I will share the “5 powerful business madlibs” which I discovered by attending the “HeathTec Innovation Design” lectures held by Prof. Dr. Michael Friebe.

Below you can see that these are five simple and powerful business templates built around a strategy, customer-focused problem, concept/solution, critical assumptions, and strategy/methodology reframe.

Photo by Beatrice Barbazzeni (by HeathTec Innovation Design” lectures) on Canva

To better understand how to use these sentences, I would give a couple of examples. Indeed, this fits my upcoming new job perfectly as a junior product manager in Neurofeedback by ANT Neuro.

#Concept/Solution Pitch:

“Neurofeedback is a non-invasive method for patients/healthy individuals that enhance and regulate brain activities enabling cognitive functions to work properly, unlike other treatments/procedures which are invasive.”

#Customer-Focused Problem Statment:

When it comes to neurodegenerative diseases, patients with Alzheimer’s disease need a way to cope with memory concerns so that they can have a better quality of life”.

Final thoughts

In this article, I presented the elevator pitch and how to use it in different scenarios. I presented a few examples proposed by Michael Tomaszewski and clarified the difference between a wrong and right statement to develop this speech. Although the elevator pitch should last 30 seconds, its length can vary up to 2 minutes. Nevertheless, it is designed to be short and direct. Indeed, the first two sentences of this pitch are essential because they should hook the listener's attention and curiosity, as Idaho Business Review reported. In addition, technical and difficult jargon or too many statistics should be avoided which may affect the potential of this powerful speech by annoying the listener. Accordingly, the pitch should be regulated and adjusted based on the audience and situation.

The elevator pitch brings advantages because it is convenient and simple, applicable in different situations. Particularly, suppose the pitch follows pre-planned templates for any situation. In that case, nevertheless, it is important to highlight that the pitch should make the listener comfortable with our speech and, most important engaged and curious to know more about a particular project/what we are talking about.

The elevator pitch can be that additional ingredient to be added to your additional “business” pitch to level up your persona and company. Therefore, take advantage of sharing this article with your company, organization, or community as I did when I delivered a workshop for ExO Italia concerning the elevator pitch.

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Beatrice Barbazzeni

Beatrice is a Ph.D. student in Neuroscience aimed to achieve her MTP with discipline, perseverance and grit:“empower inner potential leading to the growth of exponential winners".