Going UP? The Essence of the Elevator Pitch

Tired of missing opportunities? You may need to learn to spot them and, more importantly, capitalize on them. In this post, we’ll discuss the development of visual acuity for opportunities and creating the “elevator pitch” to reel them in.

Why do we think we aren’t given many opportunities to grow our career?

Every time I talk with new clients it becomes a discussion about their opportunities. They’ve worked hard to educate themselves. They’ve overcome huge barriers and accomplished great things. They’ve done everything right. Still, they are poised to do more, if only someone asked them to. Almost everyone has a story in their background of a known missed opportunity. For every one we know about, there are likely many more that we didn’t.

Some years ago, I was shopping with my wife for new minivan. Yes, I’m a family man. We went to a local dealer to look at the latest models. My wife walked up to the first person she saw and asked to see what they had to offer. He was young and looked as if he had just started work that day. When we got to the first vehicle, my wife asked him to tell her about it. The young salesman blurted out one short sentence. He stated that “he didn’t know much about this model and would have to get the brochure for it.”

One simple question and one simple answer. My wife headed back to our car and motioned she was ready to go somewhere else. In just one minute, an opportunity was lost. To the young salesman, it was just another customer looking at another car. Nothing else.

Now put this situation into cubicle space. Can you recognize an opportunity to sell yourself at work? How do you respond to it? Literally. What do you say? As that car salesman learned, your words can make or break a deal in an instant.

In the corporate world, you don’t have a lot of time to respond. People are busy. Constantly moving. As Chris O’Leary, Author of The Elevator Pitch Essentials puts it, “given that the pace of life is increasing and people are becoming increasingly pressed for time, the elevator pitch is an idea that is becoming more relevant, not less.”

To put these opportunities into a time perspective, we can look at the length of time one should spend on making the pitch. The typical elevator pitch is one minute or less (or roughly the time it takes an elevator to move between floors). That’s pretty fast. If you think about the question that occurs prior to your pitch, it may occur at even faster speeds. How long does it take you to say “What do you do?”

The point here is that opportunities can pass by us very quickly, leaving little time to respond and make a favorable impression. Making the most of these moments requires an ability to recognize them and capitalize on them.

Developing the visual acuity for opportunities takes practice. Most of us don’t spend a lot of time around influential corporate executives. When we do run into them, it’s an opportunity to educate them on who we are and what we do. And, more importantly, what we can do.

Your normal daily activities in the office aren’t the best for building this skill. You’re always interacting with people you know. To capitalize on opportunities, you must be able to communicate effectively with those you don’t know and you need to be able to influence them in a short amount of time. Here are a few things you can do to become skilled and comfortable with meeting new people.

1. Attend networking events
2. Join a professional organization
3. Become active in your church, alumni groups
4. Actively support a non-profit organization
5. Become a member of a local Toastmasters group

While you’re building visual acuity for opportunities, you should be practicing your elevator pitch. Hone it. Practice it. Improve it. Memorize it. It should flow easily from your lips without effort.

O’Leary provides some insight on how to create the elevator pitch through his 9 C’s. The Nine C’s explain the characteristics of an effective elevator pitch in a way that’s easy for people to remember. They reflect the mistakes that people tend to make in their elevator pitches and/or the information they tend to omit.

1. Concise: An effective elevator pitch contains as few words as possible, but no fewer.
2. Clear: Rather than being filled with acronyms, MBA-speak, and ten-dollar words, an effective elevator pitch can be understood by your grandparents, your spouse, and your children.
3. Compelling: An effective elevator pitch explains the problem your solution solves.
4. Credible: An effective elevator pitch explains why you are qualified to see the problem and to build your solution.
5. Conceptual: An effective elevator pitch stays at a fairly high level and does not go into too much unnecessary detail.
6. Concrete: As much as is possible, an effective elevator pitch is also specific and tangible.
7. Consistent: Every version of an effective elevator pitch conveys the same basic message.
8. Customized: An effective elevator pitch addresses the specific interests and concerns of the audience.
9. Conversational: Rather than being to close the deal, the goal of an elevator pitch is to just get the ball rolling; to start a conversation, or dialogue, with the audience.

While the elevator pitch concept is usually reserved for sales, marketing and entrepreneurs, it’s also useful for individuals who find themselves working in ever-changing organizations. With change, there comes opportunity. These opportunities could be solving someone’s problem, making personal connections, or finding yourself a new position in a new company. No matter the situation, you have to convince the audience that you have some special knowledge, insight, and/or that will allow you to succeed where most will fail. This comes from your well rehearsed elevator pitch.


Todd Rhoad is Director at BT Consulting, a career consulting firm in Altanta, and can be reached at todd.rhoad@blitzteamconsulting.com.

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