The elevator pitch: What it is, examples and how to write one
9 min read
22 February 2019
You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘elevator pitch’ 100 times. You may even have given a few, knowingly or otherwise. But what actually is an elevator pitch? And what makes one good or bad?
Real Business takes a look at some real-life examples of elevator pitches, as well as how to write one that does your business justice.
What is an elevator pitch?
An elevator pitch is a short speech designed to create interest in a business project or concept. It should, supposedly, take no longer than a lift ride to the top floor of a building.
The phrase has numerous origin stories. Perhaps the most compelling, however, comes from 90s journalists Michael Caruso and Ilene Rosenzweig, then Vanity Fair’s editor-in-chief. Always on the move, Rosenzweig’s free time was limited. Caruso only had moments each day to pitch stories to her, such as in the lift. And so the concept of an elevator pitch was born.
Here’s a more modern version of a literal elevator pitch.
There are various benefits to having a honed elevator pitch:
- Understanding. Distilling your idea or project into a 30-second or minute-long speech will ensure you understand it inside-out. You’ll know exactly where its strengths and weaknesses lie, and which niche it fills in the market
- Cost. An elevator pitch might take a little time to craft, but it can open important doors when delivered well, for next to no expense
- Efficacy. Given how many things people now have competing for their attention, an elevator pitch is effective because it’s short, punchy and easy to digest (and, crucially, you haven’t wasted anyone’s time if they’re not interested)
Some compelling elevator pitch examples
Effective elevator pitches come in all shapes and sizes. With the increasing popularity of speed networking events, they are only becoming more common.
Here are three very different pitches, all of which have been successful over the years.
1. Short and sweet
“Google organizes the world’s information and makes it universally accessible.”
According to Sequoia Capital’s Michael Moritz, this was Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s core line in their concise, purposeful pitch. In his book Leading, the venture capitalist investor says it was the most succinct business plan he ever heard.
At 10 words, it’s pithy. Every word counts. Brin and Page showed their ambition, for example, by targeting the ‘world’s’ information. ‘Easily’ accessible is the more natural phrase – one they were probably tempted to write – although ‘universally’ is more accurate.
What’s more, the pitch worked. Brin and Page walked out with Google’s first major round of funding.
2. Problem: Solution
“Book rooms with locals rather than hotels.”
An alternative route to follow is airbnb’s problem-solution format. Despite difficult beginnings, airbnb’s founders smartened up their marketing and convinced 20 million people to use their platform by 2014. They identified the problem – hotels – in the condensed, seven-word version of their elevator pitch above. However, they detailed the problem more thoroughly in the pitch below:
Having identified the issue, airbnb neatly provided a solution benefiting hosts and guests alike. It was a successful formula. By 2017, the company had raised an impressive $3 billion from a range of investors.
“Making better food for healthier living.”
And finally, here’s a great video of how to deliver a concise elevator pitch. Gaylene Anderson, CEO of Solanux, covers a lot of ground – clearly and succinctly – in just over a minute.
Anderson strikes a good balance between the what and the why, the detail and the big picture. She not only identifies a problem and a solution, but gives the audience an idea of the products and their benefits. She shows that Solanux has purpose: the company has not only run the appropriate tests, but obtained investment. However, it needs more to set up operations. Finally, Anderson includes a call to action (“come see one of our Solanux members tonight”), a personal note, and finishes on a punchy slogan.
Her pitch won first prize in a contest of 42 elevator pitches.
How to write an elevator pitch
There are many ways to write an elevator pitch. This is because all businesses, projects and ideas are different. The audiences listening to these pitches are multifarious too.
There are, however, certain qualities that remain true across all successful elevator pitches. Brevity, clarity of message and relevance to your audience are essential.
Like a good recipe, there are various ingredients to a successful elevator pitch you can choose to include or omit. Ultimately then, the end result should turn out much the same.
1. Capture your audience’s attention
Starting with a controversial statement, a question, a personal story or a problem to solve can help you stand out.
2. Make your purpose clear
The aim of your project should be obvious. If it’s not, your audience will likely leave confused. Google’s pitch, for example, demonstrated real purpose: “Google organizes the world’s information and makes it universally accessible.”
3. Identify a problem and a solution
Highlighting an issue and how you resolve it demonstrates a genuine need for your project or concept.
4. Highlight the benefits
It’s easy to focus on what your project is and how it works. Remember to explain how it makes your audience better off. If you’re struggling to work out the benefits, ask yourself ‘so what?’ after each sentence.
5. Give examples
You don’t always need to provide examples, but they can really help to illustrate your message and demonstrate that your idea has worked previously.
6. Include a call to action
Make it obvious what you want your audience to do. Otherwise they may struggle to understand how they fit into your pitch.
Top elevator pitch tips
Keep it short
If you can summarise your pitch in a sentence that’s a good sign. It will help you clarify your ideas – and help your audience retain, remember, and act on them. Take airbnb’s “Book rooms with locals rather than hotels” as a good example.
Researchers have found that if you make your pitch more conversational, it can improve the chances of your idea being adopted. Rather than simply transmitting information, a successful elevator pitch should encourage the audience to make a decision. The best way to achieve this is to see a pitch as short conversation.
Avoid using jargon
Don’t assume that using acronyms or technical language will make you appear knowledgeable. Speaking plainly about your idea will help to engage more people and hold their interest for longer.
Give your audience time to respond
It’s all too easy to rattle off your elevator pitch in one go. In some cases, this is exactly the right thing to do. In others, it’ll be more appropriate to allow space for questions, or simply to give your audience a chance to gather their thoughts. Giving your audience a chance to interject might just be the best part of your pitch.