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How to craft an effective elevator pitch (and why you should)

How to craft an effective elevator pitch (and why you should)

According to the author and psychologist Dr. Gloria Mark, humans have a median attention span of 40 seconds, which is nearly a 75% decrease from around the turn of the 21st century. Dr. Mark's findings put into stark relief the necessity of being able to package your ideas for others effectively. Especially in the business and employment setting, delivering short, clear, and memorable messages can help you make better impressions that lead to desirable outcomes. Introducing yourself with a compelling elevator pitch, whether at networking events, job fairs, meetings, or informal introductions, can help you meet your career goals.

What is an elevator pitch?

An elevator pitch, also called an elevator speech, is an advertisement about you. It's equal parts introduction and self-promotion and should convey who you are, what you want, what you can offer, and how all that can benefit the person you're speaking to. It's also brief — around 30 seconds — though 60-second elevator pitches aren't uncommon. 

Brevity is a foundational characteristic of elevator pitches. The name itself implies this. One of the stories telling where elevator pitches got their start is that, in the 1990s, Michael Caruso, a senior editor at Vanity Fair, frequently pitched ideas to the editor-in-chief, Tina Brown, who was always busy and on the move. The only way he could present his story ideas was to focus on their essential parts and pitch them in the brief moments they shared, such as when riding an elevator together. Caruso's partner at the time, journalist Ilene Rosenzweig, coined the term "elevator pitch."

Why do you need an elevator pitch?

As a member of the working world, you need an elevator pitch because it helps ensure that others hear your ideas and remember who you are, which are the common goals of networking events and other professional functions. 

To understand the importance of an elevator speech, imagine that you want to launch a project but need approval from a supervisor. Even if the supervisor has all the time in the world to listen to your proposal, you can't be sure they'll listen past the half-minute mark. But if you can fit and arrange a project's worth of details into a captivating and well-spoken 30-second message, they're much more likely to hear, understand, and support your idea.

"According to the author and psychologist Dr. Gloria Mark, humans have a median attention span of 40 seconds, which is nearly a 75% decrease from around the turn of the 21st century. Dr. Mark's findings put into stark relief the necessity of being able to package your ideas for others effectively."

How to craft an elevator pitch

An elevator pitch is unique not only to the person delivering it but also to the topic and the target audience. Effective elevator pitches have several common characteristics, so following a few basic steps can ensure you incorporate all the elements of success into yours.

Visualize your goal

Your goal is what you want to achieve with your elevator pitch. Maybe it's to get a job at an esteemed firm, have your supervisor give you the green light on a project, or make industry connections that can benefit your career path. Whatever it is, always keep your goal in mind because it's the foundation for every step that follows.

Define who you are

An elevator pitch is an introduction that involves talking at least a little about yourself. Remember, the idea is to distill the topic into the most important and impactful parts. You may want to spend some time assessing who you are, including your qualities, credentials, core competencies, etc. Then, weed out the parts that aren't relevant to your goal.

Show what you can offer

Validate your introduction with details that demonstrate you have what it takes to turn your goal into reality. Depending on your goal, you might discuss a major professional achievement or a problem you solved. You could also work on connecting with the other person on a friendly level, with your personality being one of the assets you can offer. 

Be sure to indicate why you're interested in the person you're speaking with. You don't have to say it explicitly, but you can hint at it. For example, if you're chatting with an executive at another company, you might note a recent success at the company and express your admiration.

Convey your ask

Your speech should make clear what you want — your goal — but you should convey it in such a way that it's less a request and more of an invitation to take the next steps with you. For example, if your goal is to make an industry connection, your ask might be, "I'd love to talk some more with you, so when can we set up a meeting?"

Tips for creating and delivering an elevator pitch

Several tips can help you create and deliver a top-notch elevator pitch.

Focus

The entire point of an elevator pitch is to be concise, so there's no time for tangents or unnecessary details that have nothing to do with your goal. 

Take your time

Although the elevator pitch format naturally has time constraints, don't make the mistake of cramming information into your pitch by talking faster. That can give the wrong impression, as speaking at a slower, natural pace conveys greater confidence and credibility. Not to mention that your message is easier to understand if you take your time.

Demonstrate value

An elevator pitch appears to be about you on the surface, but an effective one should focus on the person or company you're targeting. Focus on what you can offer them — rather than what you hope to gain — to encourage them to get on board with your pitch.

Tailor to the target

An elevator pitch unique to your target, whether an employer or company, is much more likely to stand out in their memory than a cookie-cutter pitch you recite from memory. If it sounds like you're using the same speech for them that you use for everyone else, you'll likely lose their attention without accomplishing your goal.

Practice

Although practicing what to say may seem like a reversal of the previous point, customizing your pitch and rehearsing it aren't mutually exclusive. Have a few key points in mind you always address in an elevator pitch, and practice improvising ways to touch on those points clearly and concisely.

Follow up

After delivering your pitch, wait up to a week, then send a follow-up email. Reintroduce yourself, contextualize your meeting, and suggest the possibility of working together to flesh out your idea.

Delivering an effective, engaging, and natural elevator pitch is advantageous in your initial job search and can benefit you throughout your career. You can even apply the principles of crafting an elevator pitch to your resume. Then, once you have a killer resume ready to go, you can upload it to CareerBuilder and start applying for the jobs you want.

More tips about putting yourself out there

An elevator pitch can be a valuable tool at a networking event. Incorporate it into your networking strategy to get the best results.

Perfecting your elevator pitch can do wonders in other aspects of your professional life. Applying the principles of good elevator pitching can help you write an impressive cover letter.

If you can master a 30-second pitch, you might find yourself having an easier time with job interviews, no matter what type you're dealing with