Crafting a winning elevator pitch: Best practices

In the competitive world of small business, leaving an impression can make or break the future of your operation. Entrepreneurs often only have a few minutes to convey their company’s value and potential to prospective investors and clients.

This pivotal moment is called an “elevator pitch” — and it can be mission-critical for business owners.

Looking to brush up on your pitching skills? This guide explores best practices and strategies for crafting a winning elevator pitch.

What is an elevator pitch?

First, what is an elevator pitch? At its core, an elevator pitch is a small window of time — the length of a hypothetical elevator ride — when entrepreneurs introduce themselves, make key points about their business, and develop a connection with someone who can help move the business forward.

Elevator pitches can be either planned or spontaneous. You may be presenting in a pre-scheduled, closed-door meeting. Or perhaps you get the opportunity at a networking event or even by a chance encounter.

That’s why it’s essential to have a well-rehearsed pitch ready to go on a moment’s notice.

When to use an elevator pitch

Understanding when to use an elevator pitch is almost as important as the pitch itself. While it’s true that opportunities may not come around often, ill-timed or poorly judged pitches may do more harm than good.

Elevator pitches commonly occur in scheduled meetings, such as when applying for a bank loan or investment. They may also happen at networking events or trade shows.

However, avoid forcing an elevator pitch into non-business or social situations when the target may be otherwise engaged or distracted.

How to deliver an elevator pitch in a few simple steps

While an elevator pitch is designed to feel spontaneous and passionate, great pitches are often well-thought-out, rehearsed, and finely tuned.

Below are some key steps outlining how to give an elevator pitch for maximum impact.

Understanding the audience for pitching

A successful pitch needs to identify and empathize with its audience. As a result, you may create several versions for different targets. Perhaps you have one version for prospective clients, and another version for potential investors.

It’s crucial to gauge the tone and nature of the pitch environment and target every pitch to each unique listener.

Essential components of an elevator pitch

The basic form of a pitch should touch on the following components:

  • Problem
  • Solution
  • Market
  • Traction
  • Ask

The pitch should begin with a captivating opening statement, outlining your experience, mission, and solution. This will help convey your business's unique value proposition clearly and succinctly.

Consider structuring your elevator pitch as follows:

  • Who are you? Start with a captivating introduction that includes who you are and what you do. It’s vital your audience knows who is addressing them and why.
  • What do you do? Describe your relevant experience and establish your credentials in the field.
  • What’s your mission? State your goals or mission. Then, move into the problem your business solves and the potential need and market for it.
  • How will you help? Describe the solution you offer. This is where you can explain what makes your business a standout.
  • What do you need to succeed? What are next steps? Explain how their audience can help you achieve your mission.

Keep it short and sweet

How long should an elevator pitch be? Put simply, it should be as quick as possible.

If an entrepreneur can’t make their point within a short timeframe —usually between 30 seconds and two minutes — then they may start to lose the listener’s interest.

Tips for a memorable delivery

The way a pitch is delivered is equally as important as the contents of the pitch itself. Presentation skills, demeanor, and passion must shine through — even in such a short window.

Here are some delivery tips for an elevator pitch:

  • Focus on tone of voice to present with confidence and credibility.
  • Utilize effective body language and eye contact.
  • Ensure the pitch is well rehearsed.
  • Seek feedback and make necessary improvements from previous pitch experiences.
  • Create a compelling narrative within the pitch and hook listeners with a bold opening statement.

Tailoring the elevator pitch for a few common scenarios

Effective pitches should appeal to the right audience. In other words, every elevator pitch should be designed specifically to its target listener.

Therefore, it can be beneficial to develop and rehearse a few slightly different pitches so you can present the most appropriate version depending on your environment.

For example, a pitch delivered to a potential investor will differ from a pitch for a potential business contact or customer.

Pitching to investors

Pitching to investors should include relevant finance information, such as the growth potential and return on investment (ROI) they can expect.

The pitch should demonstrate a clear path to profitability, with key figures to back up the claims.

Networking events

At networking events, entrepreneurs can adapt their pitch to a more casual atmosphere. These pitches typically have less emphasis on finances and more of a focus on the potential benefits of partnership and collaboration.

Pitching to potential customers

When pitching to customers, businesses should address pain points, followed by offering tangible solutions. This is the time to emphasize relevant benefits and explain how your business is positioned to help.

Common pitfalls to avoid

Because your window of opportunity may be narrow, it’s important to make every second count. Here are some common pitfalls to avoid when pitching:

  • Overuse of jargon
  • Lack of preparedness
  • A focus on features rather than benefits
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Ignoring constructive feedback

Get out there and practice

One of the best ways to develop an effective elevator pitch is to practice. Feedback and constructive criticism from peers will help refine your message, helping you develop a better understanding of tone, body language, and audience.

As you nail your elevator pitch, learn more about the basics of a business plan.

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