The Elevator Pitch: You’ve Got 30 Seconds … or Less!

Kyle C. Murphy, MBA
Kyle C. Murphy, MBA

From its origins as a device to pitch script ideas to its now customary place in business and networking introductions, the elevator pitch is used to sell something—your company, a product, script, business plan, or yourself. With business moving faster than ever and with the never-ending distraction from smartphones, the elevator pitch has never been more important to business and career development.

Unfortunately, the elevator pitch for many has become a wordsmithing exercise, akin to many vision/mission statements that are not focused, coherent, or memorable. Even worse, most elevator pitches lack the sizzle of a sell. A good elevator pitch identifies one key problem, one key solution, whom it helps, and why you or your company is best at it.

First and foremost, a good elevator pitch should pique the listener’s interest and encourage them to want more info and/or remember one key message from the pitch. The biggest sin in an elevator pitch is trying to say everything about yourself or your company—the elevator pitch is not an executive summary.

Length and flow can also make a big difference between a successful and forgettable elevator pitch. A general rule of thumb is that 75 words fit in a 30-second pitch (the average time it takes to ride an elevator from penthouse to ground floor). But that is approximately 54 too many words to fit in a Twitter tweet if you consider the average English word is 4.5 letters. Therefore, a better guideline is now 20 to 25 words. But those 20 to 25 words only become an effective sales tool if stated in conversational English. That is, they must flow easily out of one’s mouth without having to speak too fast, putting words together that don’t flow, or using slang and abbreviations.

Also avoid technical and industry jargon and acronyms. People outside your field will lose interest immediately when confronted with unknown nomenclature and those in your industry will already know to ask about certain items if they’re interested in your pitch.

Finally, test and refine your elevator pitch regularly. Test it on your best customer and test it on your mom. If either party doesn’t understand it or feels it doesn’t have enough sizzle to warrant asking more about what you’re selling, then go back to the drawing board. Also, go back the next day and ask them what they remember about your pitch—one message should be uniformly memorable by both parties.

Two rules more than any other can make the difference between a successful elevator pitch and a lost opportunity: 1.) The KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle is golden, and 2.) Ensure your message is selling one unique aspect of you or your company.

Kyle C. Murphy, MBA, is an adjunct professor of strategy at the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University and is working on his doctoral dissertation at the Manchester Business School at the University of Manchester in England. His research focuses on branding and behavioral economics influence on business strategy. He is also an experienced C-level contract executive working full-time on several companies.
Author of the article
Kyle C. Murphy, DBA, MBA
Kyle C. Murphy, DBA, MBA
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