How to Master the Elevator Pitch

“People love their businesses, but when it’s time to sell who they are and what they do, there’s a reluctance to sound too ‘salesy,’” says Terri Sjodin, founder of Sjodin Communications, a public speaking, sales training, and consulting firm in Newport Beach, Calif. “[But] you can learn to be persuasive without giving a hard sell.”

Mastering the art of pitching can yield positive results when you’re meeting with investors and customers, attending networking events and trade shows, or managing any situation in which you want to tell your story succinctly.

In her new book Small Message, Big Impact: The Elevator Speech Effect, Sjodin dispenses practical tips, helpful worksheets, and step-by-step guidance on how to create a compelling message about yourself or your business in just a few sentences. “In a competitive market, you are not entitled to a person’s time and attention,” she says. “It takes about three minutes to establish rapport with someone and present an intriguing message.”

The Intuit Small Business Blog asked Sjodin to share some of her insights into crafting the perfect sales pitch.

ISBB: What is an “elevator speech”?

Sjodin: It’s a concise and persuasive message or presentation delivered in about three minutes to a decision maker, a peer, or a potential customer. The goal of an elevator speech is not to present the whole dog-and-pony show, but to intrigue and inspire a listener to want to hear more. It’s possible to sell and be persuasive in an elegant, polished manner without being overly informative. The elevator speech is just a tool to advance the ball.

Tell us about the elevator speech you created to promote your book online.

On the web, three minutes is way too long. In a video format, I felt that I had about 75 seconds to convert in a creative way. We got 21,000 visits in 60 days. There’s no way I could have given 21,000 elevator speeches in 60 days. Small businesses can do their own elevator speeches on their websites to create more interest in hearing the complete proposition.

In crafting a message, what’s the biggest challenge for newbies?

It’s hard to say what you want to say in few words. It’s easy to speak for an hour, but if someone says you have two minutes to tell your story, you really have to think it through. You have to self-edit and sound authentic. If you want a good elevator speech, it requires preparation. You want it to be original, persuasive, and creative, so you have to roll up your shirtsleeves and do the work.

You provide guidelines in the book about how to structure an elevator speech. Give us a few basics.

Structure gives you a foundation for your elevator speech. It helps you stay on point or get back there if you stray. It starts with an introduction that grabs the listener’s attention. Then the body of the speech covers three talking points, followed by a conclusion, and it ends with a call to action, like asking for an appointment to meet.

How do you develop talking points?

You have to answer three questions: Why should your listener choose you? Why should this person choose your company? And, Why should your listener act now? Or, consider starting by discussing where your audience was in the past, establish what they are currently achieving or not achieving, and then explain how you can improve their future. Identify the need. Get the basics down, then start shaping the message for your listeners.

Describe the general outline you recommend.

First, you have to build your case. Second, you have to be creative in the story you tell. It’s like creating a movie in the mind of the listener that they will remember. Third, [you have to consider your] delivery. You must be authentic. Think about making the listener want to ask what happens next. Don’t take the risk of doing it off the cuff, but you don’t want to sound over-rehearsed either. Practice maybe 10 times. Make sure you keep it conversational.

What’s the best way to get over feeling nervous? 

It’s normal to feel nervous. When someone speaks in his or her own authentic voice, we don’t mind if there is an occasional hiccup. The more comfortable you are with the material, the more confident you will feel. That comes with practice. When people don’t know you, they don’t know if you’re making your best effort.

Any final advice?

The big things to remember are: Keep it short, but give enough meat to intrigue and inspire. Don’t do a data dump.

Don’t borrow a comedian’s joke; it’s not yours. Robin Williams has his own style. For you to come on like Mork from Ork in a business meeting might not be appropriate. When you craft your message in your voice, it will have your style.

Give yourself permission to get in the game. You have the power to change not only your own life, but also the world, with your unique voice.

About Kristin Ewald

Kristin Ewald, a former Time Inc. editor based in California, has written frequently for the SMB audience. She is also a small business owner who helps companies write and produce user-friendly websites.
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