3 key ingredients to ace your elevator pitch

Female African American banker dressed in elegant black suit folding hands and looking on side standing against office building, dress code

Have you ever met someone you really wanted to impress and then blustered your way through an answer when they wanted to know what you do?

It’s hard to be impulsive on the spot, which is why perfecting your elevator pitch before you need it is so important. An elevator pitch is defining who you are and what you do in a few brief sentences and in a way that is both engaging and memorable.

You might ask why you need an elevator pitch especially if you are not even looking for a new role.  I would encourage you to think of your elevator pitch as an extension of your personal brand. It’s a way of leaving a lasting impression in a few short well thought out sentences. It is much harder to do on the fly, especially if you are meeting an influencer and feel flustered.  Far better to practice in advance what you would want to say if you met the group CEO, or an industry leade, than mumble incoherently and rush away embarrassed.

An ideal elevator pitch will concisely convey who you are, what you do and why you are good at it.

Build you elevator pitch with these four elements:

  • An anecdote which captures a key characteristic (think of how others describe you or something that was typical behaviour when you were growing up that led you to your current role).
  • The twist: How this one characteristic enhances your ability to do the job (for example an obsession with chess makes you an exceptional program manager).
  • The skill: Your ‘sweet spot’.
  • The pitch: What your career goal is, the one thing you would love a shot at, or the one thing you want to leave this person with. (This should alter for each situation and person you are speaking to.)

Here’s an example from one of my clients (not her real name):

‘Hi, my name is Angela. I love solving problems. I was the kid that took the clock to pieces to see how it worked (anecdote). For the last twenty years I’ve been in IT. Understanding, sorting out and structuring data is what I’m superb at (skill), but I also love working in a team and watching my people thrive and solve complex problems. My original training was as a solution architect, so I’m as strong at designing solutions as I am at solving them. (twist). If you know of anyone looking for a thoughtful, dynamic technical leader, I’d love to talk to them (pitch).’

To build your elevator pitch, start with what are your core strengths based on your current role. Then look at adding an anecdote of how you got into this line of work.  That could be a chance meeting, what you were like as a kid, or how others describe you.  The anecdote is the part that makes it memorable, as we are hard wired to remember stories, and an anecdote is a mini story. Then think of your twist.  What is that you do, that others in your role / field / industry don’t typical do?  Is it a way of working or an unusual mix of skills?  Finally think about what the pitch is you want to make.  I recommend you have a few options depending on who you might meet.  This might include a pitch for a new job, a recommendation to find an ally or mentor or an opportunity to meet up with this person to explore ways of collaborating.  You can work out what this needs to be but have at least three pitches you have developed.

If you are struggling with the anecdote and twist, then speak to a few trusted colleagues or even family and friends who have known you a long time and see how they describe you for some inspiration.

Once you have developed your elevator pitch, practice, practice, practice. Take a few weeks to learn it word for word. That way, it will be effortless when you are in the right place with the right person and want to convey your brilliance quickly.

This is an excerpt from The Female Edge, a new leadership book for women by Mary McGuire.  Published by Rethink Press on 23rd September and available from Amazon.

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