How to Spit-Shine Your Elevator Pitch

It’s called an elevator pitch. You’ve probably heard the term before, but I’ll explain because, well, if you don’t know what it is, this post won’t do you a whole lot of good. It’s a pitch on anything -- a business idea, a TV show, a marriage proposal, etc. -- that should be short enough to convey the essence of your vision and why someone should be interested during a ride in the elevator.

It’s called that because you rarely have oodles of time with big important decision-makers, and you’ll usually get a few moments in an elevator ride as they go up to their penthouse or down to their Bentley in their private parking lot you aren’t allowed to set foot in.

With banks lending less and less and the competition for capital becoming more and more cutthroat, it seemed a good a time as any to go over what missteps people make when doing these pitches, and also offer some choreography lessons so you don’t twist your ankle next time.

So, other than your elevator pitch needing to be short (two sentences, some purists would say), what else should it have?

It should have sincerity. Eye contact. And above all else, it should establish that you have a genuine interest in the person you’re pitching it to and why and how it’ll help them -- or how they’ll be able to help others by extension. In other words, there’s more to an elevator pitch than just rehearsing in front of a mirror. (Though you should still do that.)

“One can't just give information,” said Preston Kirk, who runs a one-man PR consulting firm and taught executive training seminars for 25 years. “While being fast on your conversational feet is a practiced art, one need not be glib. A genuine interest must be conveyed. Without role-playing, it is hard to go from there, since the scenarios are manifold.”

I’ve pitched show ideas and article ideas, and it’s true. You never know what someone is going to ask you or when they’ll cut you off and say, “Yeah, but what if…” The worst disservice you can do yourself is not being prepared, meaning not knowing your idea back and forth. The upshot is that it’s your idea, so by nature no one else can know more about it. (In theory.)

Another thing is to research the person you’re pitching. It’s all about context. “You need to know the recipients hot buttons, and how to bring forward the aspects of your business that will interest the listener,” said Robbin Block, a marketing strategist. “The rest will fall on deaf ears.”

You should also emphasize how they’ll be helping you, not how you can help them. You’re pitching them because you need their help.

I mean, you could write an entire book on elevator pitches, and I’m sure people have, but these are the broad strokes. Just be yourself, be enthused, don’t be pushy and if they aren’t receptive, don’t get angry. It’s fine to check back later, but don’t make them take the stairs to avoid you indefinitely.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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