Kiss Your Elevator Pitch Good-Bye

It’s official. I’m mustering all my authority (however much that is) and declaring that the
Era of the Elevator Pitch is over. Done with. Kaput. So last century.


Because the whole concept of the elevator pitch is slightly flawed. Sure, you need a concise way to answer the question, “What do you do?” but is every response a “pitch”? There’s Flaw 1.

Flaw 2: we haven’t stopped riding in elevators, but we’re just as likely to meet a potential prospect somewhere else, like in line at the grocery store, while watching our kids softball (or lacrosse or soccer) game, or doing volunteer work.

Every situation is different, and heaven help you if you trot out the old, “We’re the leading provider of high-end widgets to discerning widget buyers the world over” speech.

What happens after the pitch? Do you expect someone to hold the door while you trade cards? Have you generated enough interest with your little speech to make that happen? That’s
Flaw 3.

Kiss it Good-Bye

We need something better. A situational response that lets you adapt the message to your audience and the time you have available to talk.

You need a hook, but not a corny one.

You need to catch interest, not yawns.

You need to open the discussion, and invite further conversation.

How do you do it?

Start with your message matrix. If you just said, “My what…?” we’ve got some work to do.

Your message matrix should include all your key audiences: decision makers, influencers, customers, investors and potential referral partners.

Anyone who asks you that “What do you do?” question could fall in one of these categories. It’s your job to quickly figure out where they fit, and how to give them what they need.

You might start with a broad statement, like “I’m in the IT industry,” but that won’t invite much follow-up, will it?

So how do you say what you do at a high-level, without a long drawn out explanation?

Keep the core, with a twist.

Try something like, “We help companies use their IT investments to increase profitability.”

If you’re lucky, the next question will be, “How?”

If not, it’s time for some questions of your own. Probe just a little and you’re likely to discover a kernel of information that will help your better position your message.

Say you’re talking to the woman next you on the bus. “Oh, I work at a dentist’s office, I’m a hygienist.”

End of conversation?


Think quick, what’s it like to work there?

Ask a good follow-up question and you’re off…

“I’ve noticed that in some dental offices, the computer system really slows down patient appointments while the hygienist enters information, is that a problem in your office?”

“Why yes, sometimes it is…”

“Well, we work with dentists and other medical professionals to improve the patient work flow so technology works for you, not against you. Maybe I could meet with someone in your office to see if we could help you.”

See that? Pretty cool huh?

OK, so she’s not a decision maker, but I bet she’s influential enough to get you a contact in her office, and maybe even an appointment with the person who does make the decisions.

Your Message Framework

To make this approach work, you need a matrix of top level messages and supporting points you can pull out on a moment’s notice. It’s easy to create, and it gives everyone on your team the flexibility to have naturally-flowing conversations instead of feeling like a bad actor bombing in front of a hostile audience.

Forget memorizing that old elevator pitch word for word. It’s the concepts and framework that matter. Build your matrix, then run through some role-playing scenarios with your team to practice using those messages in real-life scenarios.

After that, give your team a week to try out this new approach on everyone they meet.

Then get your your team together again, and gather their feedback. Did the messages work? Were some of them suspect? Too stilted or not believable?

Feel free to rework your message matrix with the phases and keywords that work best. Eventually, you’ll have a finely tuned collection of messages for the various audiences you meet.

  1. I applaud this article. It deserves a million standing ovations. Nails hit on several heads. My favorite line” Catch interests not yawns”

  2. Great article! Your Dental Hygienist example provides a smooth conversational model for turning a social interaction into a business opportunity.

    It’s actually Mistake #1 of the 7 Biggest Elevator Pitch Mistakes to use your 30-Second Elevator Pitch when asked “What do you do?”

    The 30-Second Elevator Pitch is for introducing yourself to a room full of people. It’s awkward in one-on-one situations when what you really want to do is start a conversation. Thanks for sharing this compelling example of an effective Conversational Elevator Pitch.

    Happy Networking!

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