TLDR: One size does not fit all, regarding elevator pitches, so stop treating it like it is.


There are plenty of articles out there that give awesome guidelines of how to craft an elevator pitch for startups but I find most of them to be too static for my taste. I feel they mostly regard an elevator pitch as a product to be drafted, finished and polished, whereas I feel it should be an instrument that should be wielded dynamically. Just as a top chef would use different kitchen knives to chop, slice, carve, julienne, shave, pare, etc., why should your elevator pitch be the same instrument for different audiences, contexts, and dynamics?

I’m not suggesting that you materially change your pitch from person-to-person and from situation-to-situation but to keep the same core message and dress it differently based on the circumstances. Just like how different kitchen knives are still knives at their core, they still get applied differently, and so, too, should your message be – same core but dressed differently, leaving a more targeted impression on your audience. And that’s the trick, right? Knowing who your audience is.

There are varying degrees to which one can know their audience: some may be close to you; others may have been a brief interaction; and others may be a general body of people with a particular interest. Regardless of the degree of intimacy, having some knowledge of who they are will help set the tone of how one can deliver a more catered impression, share more of who s/he is, and start a more meaningful conversation.

Once you figured out your core message (what your startup, product, or service is and why it even exists in the first place) and who your audience is, it’ll give you an idea of how to contextualize your pitch (dressing the core) but the dynamics of interaction will influence how you deliver it.

In the intersections of context and delivery, I usually pay attention to whether I’ve been prompted to give my spiel and whether I have enough conversational “runway” to lead up to the pitch.

Prompted: when someone asks what you do or what the company’s about.
Unprompted: you artfully choose when/how to deliver the pitch.
Runway: a preceding conversation that can lead up to the pitch.
No runway: no preceding conversation, jumping right into the pitch.

  1. At a dinner, with friendly and lively conversation, someone asks what you do or what your company does.
  2. At that same dinner, someone mentions a subject that’s tangentially related to the pitch and you integrate the pitch as a value-added commentary into the conversation, so to keep the talk flowing and gain interest from the audience.
  3. At a networking event, there’s a mad dash to meet as many people as possible, so the pitch has to be dressed in a manner of how most people traditionally perceive an elevator pitch should be crafted. This is the mindset/mental mode I see a lot of people delivering their elevator pitch – not suitable for the other three contexts.
  4. This is equivalent to a cold call and should be used very judiciously, strategically, and highly catered to the target audience. If you don’t know what Carl Icahn’s schedule is, to corner him into an elevator, but you know that he’ll be a keynote speaker at an event, you’ll have to fight your way to the front of the crowd and deliver the pitch (or if you plan to “bump into” him at a different place/event). In instances like this, you’ll have to do deep research into what he might respond to in a really short period of time.

 

The reason why I’m even writing about this is because I’ve been hearing a lot of elevator pitches lately and wanted to give some guidance because I’ve been getting turned off by a lot of them, for various reasons:

  • I don’t like the business idea or don’t agree with its basic premise;
  • The pitch comes off practiced (which means they haven’t practiced enough for it to appear second nature or they don’t believe in their own idea and had to rely on a crafted pitch as opposed to telling me what they really think/believe); and/or
  • The pitch comes from left field (many times their pitching doesn’t fit in the conversation we were just having or I can tell they’re treating it like a cold call, not knowing how I might respond to their message).

 

Just like any other guidance that’s given about elevator pitches, the requirements are still the same. They need to be:

  • Short;
  • Informative;
  • Compelling; and
  • Memorable.

 

Getting you in the right frame of mind: For prospective users, customers, vendors, employees, investors, etc. there are specific value propositions that you’re selling, along with your core message. Particularly for prospective investors, you’re not raising funds (although you are), you’re selling a company as a product for a certain price/portion, and they want to know what comes included in the box that can affect their appetite/tolerance for: 1) industry risk; 2) market risk; and 3) people risk – they want to be educated customers.

Testing your elevator pitch: Can your friends, family, or associates remember the bulk/essence/important stuff of what you pitched, the morning after a night of cocktails? If you really want to test their memories, don’t tell them that you plan on asking what they remember or what they perceived the takeaway was the day after (or even a couple days after).