Have you ever found yourself sharing an elevator with an important person who could boost your career—if only you knew just the right thing to say?
But luckily, the concept of an “elevator pitch” doesn’t require you to actually be in an elevator. The idea is that you should plan ahead for any unexpected moment when you need to share your concept, plan, or business quickly.
How does it work, what makes a good one, and should you really have your own? Let’s take a look at how to write an elevator pitch you can then use to open doors for your career, whether or not you’re in an elevator.
What Is an Elevator Pitch?
The basic concept is easy to grasp: An elevator pitch is a short speech meant to convince someone your idea or brand is worth their time.
The idea behind the “elevator pitch” name is that elevator rides tend to last less than 30 seconds, so your pitch should, too. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re really under the time constraints of an elevator. If your pitch goes much over 30 seconds, the person listening will probably lose interest.
Keeping it short also prevents you from rambling on in your nervousness, burying the point of your pitch under too many words. When you need to impress someone fast, having a short, prepared speech helps ensure you don’t get in your own way.
Different elevator pitches can have different purposes. For example, if you’re a freelancer, your pitch should be all about who you are and what you do best for clients. If you’re launching a company, your pitch should focus more on what your company does, and who it’s for.
However, no matter what the details are, your pitch should always cover this: “Here’s what I can do for you.” The person listening doesn’t just want to know where you went to school and how many career accolades you’ve racked up. They want to know why they should care.
When to Use an Elevator Pitch
Anytime you have the opportunity to speak to someone who might be a valuable career connection, you have a chance to use your elevator pitch. These moments can happen at:
- Networking events
- Career fairs
- Work parties
- Coffee shops
- Grocery stores
In short, they can happen both where you expect them to, and where you don’t. Showing up to a networking event or work party with a pitch prepared is definitely wise. But if you find yourself chatting with a successful CEO in line at the coffee shop, why not be prepared then, too?
With that in mind, a good pitch shouldn’t sound stiff or contrived. You need to be able to express yourself in a relaxed, confident, genuine way that suits chance meetings as well as planned encounters.
Do You Need an Elevator Pitch?
Yes. Unless you’re perfectly satisfied with your current career and never hope to make any changes to your job or income, you should have an elevator pitch.
Your pitch can help land you new clients, more money, bigger opportunities, or a career in a whole new field. It also makes answering the classic party question “So, what do you do?” way less awkward.
How to Write a Great One
Now, here’s the most important part: how to make an elevator pitch that really works.
If you haven’t put a “brainstorm” on paper since high school English class, now is the time to revive that old tactic. Your brainstorm can look like a list, a web, or a totally disorganized word cloud. However, it should include some ideas about who you are and what you do (professionally).
The point of a brainstorm is that it doesn’t have to be polished, so jot down anything you think could be relevant in this step. You can draw lines or circles to connect ideas that fit together. Cross out things that don’t seem to fit with the rest. Highlight the ones that stand out as essential.
If it helps, think of this from the perspective of bragging. Imagine you have 30 seconds to make a rival or an ex jealous of your career success. What highlights would you mention?
Now, take the information from your brainstorm and fit it into an outline.
Your outline should answer these questions, clearly and succinctly:
- Who are you (professionally)?
- What makes you (or your idea or company) unique?
- How does this help the person listening?
- What action should the person listening take next?
For example, let’s say you own a photography business. Your outline might look something like this:
- I am a wedding and event photographer.
- I use a photojournalistic shooting style to capture thrilling and candid moments.
- I’ll bring your event to life with professionally edited, social media-friendly images.
- You can check out more of my work on my Instragram.
Don’t worry too much about phrasing things perfectly during this stage. As you write your outline, you might find your wording sounds stiff or convoluted. But you can fix that later. For now, just focus on getting the essentials down on paper.
In addition to answering those four important questions, you can add anything else you want people to know about you or your business. Just keep it short: You only have 30 seconds!
Next, you should add some details that will support your broad outline statements. For example, if you’ve photographed over 500 events, you could add that.
Try to think of several impressive details to list. You may not use them all in your pitch, but having a few to choose from helps. They could include your years in the industry, sales goals you’ve met, your most famous client, or anything else you can think of.
Once you have a few ideas, pick one of those impressive details to put near the start of your elevator pitch. This “hook” will ensure the listener is intrigued and keeps listening. If other specific details fit well elsewhere in your pitch, use those, too.
You’re now ready to make sure your speech sounds great out loud.
This means getting rid of anything overly stiff, formal, or bland. Is there business jargon you could rewrite in layperson’s terms? Can you think of a way to state your experience more candidly?
For example, “I love shooting weddings and events, and I’ve been doing it for over 10 years” sounds far more pleasant and conversational than “I am an experienced wedding and event photographer.”
During this step, you’ll need to read your speech out loud multiple times. It may feel strange, but that’s the only way to get a feel for what sounds right and what doesn’t. Keep changing the phrasing until it feels comfortable to say out loud. Write down the exact wording you like best.
Practice and Record
If you didn’t like reading your words out loud to edit them, then you really won’t like this step. But trust us—it’s necessary. You need to practice your speech out loud, record yourself doing it, and listen to the recording.
You can practice alone in front of a mirror or in front of a trusted friend. We recommend a friend, since their feedback can be valuable. Regardless, once you’ve practiced and revised your pitch a few times, make a recording. Listening to it can give you great perspective on how it will sound to others. Plus, this will let you see how long your pitch really is.
Remember to speak slowly. Your speech should be short, not rushed! And don’t worry about memorizing the exact wording (although you should still write down the phrasing you like best). Just work on remembering the essential information.
Focus on the Call to Action
Your elevator pitch should get the listener interested in what you have to offer. But most importantly, it should give them the next step to take. As you practice your elevator pitch, make sure you always include a relevant call to action.
The right call to action will depend on what you’re hoping to get out of the encounter. It may even change depending on the situation. Some call-to-action ideas include:
- Inviting them to check out your website
- Connecting on LinkedIn or another social media site
- Offering a business card
- Setting up a future meeting
Always keep your phrasing welcoming, rather than pushy. It should sound like an enticing invitation, not a plea or a command.
Use Your Pitch
Good job—you’ve now written a successful elevator pitch. The best way to get comfortable with your new pitch? Actually use it!
Once you have your pitch drafted, edited, and practiced, find some low-key situations to use it. Check out a new networking event, or go to a party where you don’t know many people. These experiences give you low-stakes practice, so you can state your pitch with more confidence when the stakes are higher. Plus, the more you use it, the more easily you’ll remember it.
There’s no reason not to be prepared for career-changing moments that could come your way. An elevator pitch is one way to prepare. For more business-savvy preparation tips, check out our guide to the elusive business casual dress code.