Elevator Pitch Defined
An elevator pitch is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a product, service, or organization and its value proposition (the unique value you offer). The name “elevator pitch” reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately thirty seconds to two minutes. (According to Wikipedia)
Talking for up to 2 minutes is just way too long in some circumstances. We need to turn at least one version of the elevator pitch into the length of a supersonic elevator. Or we could call it the “there are 150 people at the dinner and everyone has to introduce themselves without interfering with the program which starts in 1/2 an hour pitch”. That would give you about 15 seconds – and really that’s all people will tolerate in probably any circumstance until you have caught their attention and they want to know more. I’m not saying skip the longer pitch- just be prepared to have different pitches depending on the time you have allotted and the interest level of the recipients.
In the Scheme of Things
An elevator speech is part of a whole branding arsenal used to clearly communicate a nonprofits’ identity and purpose. It starts with your name and tagline (usually less than 8 words that would showcase your nonprofits unique value and would accompany your name on all materials). Then we have your mission, vision and values which would be created more for internal usage but would be the starting point for the key messages and elevator speech – and probably your tagline. I know a lot of people use their mission statements on their website and other materials – but they are usually too long to be effective as a marketing tool and too hard to memorize. Which is where the elevator speech comes in. This needs to give everything in a nutshell and everyone in the organization or that works with the organization should have the basic concepts down.
Elevator Speech Tips
Try to sound natural when you give your elevator speech – if it’s perfectly rehearsed and everyone is saying the EXACT same thing you will sound like the Stepford Organization. Have several variations and make it flow into the conversation you are having – say “we” when it fits naturally instead of repeating your organization’s name (not that it wouldn’t be good for branding – but it just doesn’t always flow naturally). I would even add your own personal touch without going off the reservation entirely.
Make sure you and your staff are prepared to answer some basic questions once you give your elevator speech – and be prepared with an example or story. If you are at a loss for words or want to play it safe – just ask for the person’s card and say you can send them more info if they are interested. Don’t forget to give them your card as well!
Make your business card a cheat sheet. Add the shorter version of your elevator speech to the back of your business card – if you mess up or forget something, the person has it right there on the card. The elevator speech is likely to be much more succinct than your mission statement and more explanatory than just your tagline so it’s a perfect item for the back of the card. I NEVER leave the back of the business card blank.
Make it interesting so people WILL ask questions. Make sure you include what problem you solve and what makes you special or different. If you are in an industry / field where there are a lot of misconceptions or people just don’t know enough about it, include an interesting factoid. Leave out the jargon and industry-specific terms. No one else will get them. You may be so used to using these terms that you don’t realize outsiders won’t get it!
Don’t forget the short version – I think it’s far more productive to give yourself a specific word limit. There is nothing like a word or character limit to really force you to focus on the real meat of something – only the important parts. Some of my most inspired elevator pitches (on a variety of topics) have come when filling out a form for a directory listing that has space limitations or when determining best keyword phrases for the website (which also have character limitations to be seen properly in search results). I like to limit it to between 40 – 50 words.
The Worst Mistake
Don’t start our your pitch with “Hi, my name is ________, I’m executive director of _____________. We provide the following services….” This isn’t about what you DO – it’s about the problem you solve and what your unique value is. Check out this video of a longer elevator pitch. They aren’t the smoothest in terms of delivery, but there are some great examples to give you some ideas – after viewing this one you will see a whole series of “nonprofit fast pitches” from a conference in Texas.