You've worked hard on your elevator pitch, the short description of an idea, product, company--or yourself. But when the moment comes that you step into the elevator with an influential person, your pitch falls flat. By the time the doors open, your chance is lost.

The problem, says Chris O'Leary, author of Elevator Pitch Essentials, is that you're making one (or more) of 7 common mistakes that people make when crafting a pitch. The good news is that all of these pitfalls are easy to fix:

  1. Unfocused. Enthusiastic people (like you) want to tell the whole amazing story of what you're trying to pitch. But when you try to share everything, you end up with a big, gnarly mess. Instead, decide on one or two objectives for your statement. Ask yourself, "What is your desired state? What will participants know, believe and do by the end of my time with them?"
  2. Too salesy. You know, of course, that an elevator pitch is a communication tool to help you articulate your message. But you may think that the main objective of the pitch is to sell. Not so fast, warns O'Leary. "Most importantly, an elevator pitch is a teaching tool," he writes. "There is no point in trying to close a deal if the audience does not understand what you are talking about and why you should care." So the pitch has to play the role of a primer--a basic introduction to whatever it is that you are selling.
  3. Narcissistic. Yes, you're pitching something you've designed or figured out and care about--you may even be trying to sell yourself. But you still need to design your elevator pitch for your audience. In fact, an effective pitch always addresses the needs and concerns of the audience, answering those classic questions, "What does this mean to me?" and "How will this help me?"  
  4. Overweight. A key principle for elevator pitches is that brevity. Important influencers like senior executives "are constantly being asked to decide what is a priority," O'Leary explains. "That means their time is precious. As a result, the way to get their attention, and to impress them, is to be able to quickly get to the point in just a few seconds or at most minutes."
  5. Inflexible.  Your elevator speech has to be short. But you also need to be prepared to use all the time you've been given. "While in some cases you may only have 10 or 20 seconds to deliver your pitch, in other cases you may have as much as two minutes," says O'Leary. "As a result, a good way to think of your elevator pitch is like an accordion. If you keep your hands close together, then an accordion is narrow and compact. If you spread your hands apart, then an accordion is wide and expansive. An effective elevator pitch must be able to do the same thing; it must be able to be short and focused if necessary, but also be able to expand and fill the time available."
  6. Lecture-y. Many elevator pitches are constructed like a monologue: The pitcher acts like he or she is making a speech on stage. But O'Leary maintains that "the purpose of an elevator pitch is to just interest the audience in continuing to talk; to get a conversation started."
  7. Overcomplicated. Rather than using acronyms, MBA-speak and ten-dollar words, "an effective elevator speech should be understood by your grandparents, your spouse and your children." Even the most sophisticated people--venture capitalists, investors and executives--are too busy to want to deal with technical, complicated terms. "Instead," writes O'Leary, "they just want you to speak English."

Above all, your elevator pitch should be designed to explain what you're pitching to someone who has 17 other things on his or her mind. "You must assume that people are looking for a reason to tune you out," O'Leary advises. "Explain your idea in a manner that that requires the audience to do the least amount of work." By doing so, you'll get your audience's attention and start a conversation that will lead to your desired outcome.