Maybe you're starting a company or managing an initiative in a large corporation. 

Or you're promoting a product or service--or yourself. 

Or you're formally presenting to a senior leader or hoping to grab a few minutes with venture capitalists at a conference.

In all these situations, you need an elevator pitch. You're familiar with the term, I'm sure, which Business Dictionary  defines as a "very concise presentation of an idea covering all of its critical aspects, and delivered within a few seconds (the approximate duration of an elevator ride)."

The concept may not be new, but it's still sound: By reducing your message to its very essence, you can ensure that your recipients will not only understand what you have to say but will also buy into your idea.

Unfortunately, far too many elevator pitches plummet to the basement. They're too long. Or too technical. Or not focused on the benefits to the audience.

How can you build a better elevator pitch? Here are 17 ways:

  1. Understand that the purpose of an elevator pitch is to get a conversation started, advises Chris O'Leary, author of Elevator Pitch Essentials. You shouldn't cook an entire  banquet; just prepare one bite-size amuse-bouche.
  2. Decide on the desired outcome of your communication. For example: "I want to inform our customers about our new return policy." Or: "I'd like to get funding approval for this project." Or: "I want customers to call us about this new addition to our product line."
  3. Once you know the outcome you want, link it to the audience's need. 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 the classic questions, "What does this mean to me?" and "How will this help me?"  
  4. Go Hollywood. In the movie business, people who are trying to get a film made create  a "high concept" or "log line." And the late great Blake Snyder, author of Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need, wrote about why the high concept is so important in movies: "If what the movie is about isn't clear from the poster and the title, what are you going to say to describe it? If you can't tell me about the movie in one quick line, well, buddy, I'm on to something else. Until you have your pitch, and it grabs me, don't bother with the story."
  5. Create a summary--in 10 to 25 words--that meets the audience's need while achieving your objective. Here are those examples again: "How our new return policy will make your life easier." Or: "Proposed project supports important objectives." Or: "Cut your energy costs by 14 percent just by using our product."
  6. Emphasize what makes you (or your initiative, service, or product) different.
  7. Share your credentials. O'Leary recommends that you answer two key questions: "What are my qualifications to understand the problem?" And: "What are my qualifications to build or manage the solution?"
  8. Explain the problem you're trying to solve. Create dramatic tension by describing the challenge or the need--then share how your recommendation is going to address that need. For comedian Jerry Seinfeld, that means identifying "What am I really sick of?" Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee was Seinfeld's way to fix the problems of the traditional talk show. So he created a show that doesn't contain a couch, a pitch, or empty chatter. (I'll bet that Seinfeld's elevator pitch to sell the show concept was funny.)
  9. Go easy on the hype. "While it is important to appear enthusiastic and confident, you do not want to look naïve--or, worst of all, make your (recommendation) sound too good to be true," writes O'Leary.
  10. Take the advice of (Nobel Prize winner) Richard Thaler. His philosophy is the epitome of simplicity: "My mantra is if you want to get people to do something, make it easy. Remove the obstacles."
  11. Avoid acronyms, corporate speak, or tech talk. O'Leary's advice is to make sure your pitch can be easily understood by "your grandparents, your spouse, or your children."
  12. Explain your concept so people get it. "Most important, an elevator pitch is a teaching tool," O'Leary 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.
  13. Stay away from abstract concepts; choose concrete images instead. For example, "quality" doesn't mean much on its own; my sense of what it's like may be cool and blue, while yours may be square, stark, and white. But replace the word with a more tangible description--"This solution will reduce repairs by 45 percent"--and suddenly the concept comes to life.
  14. Answer the questions people ask. Common questions--the ones you hear all the time from your target clients--should be the key elements of your pitch. 
  15. Memorize and rehearse your pitch. Sorry, but you can't rely on notes--you're got to internalize your pitch. That way, you'll be consistent and confident.
  16. Listen to the people you're pitching to. "When delivering an elevator pitch," writes O'Leary, "listening is just as important as talking."
  17. Emphasize what's most remarkable. Merriam-Webster defines remarkable as "worthy of being or likely to be noticed especially as being uncommon or extraordinary." And marketing guru Michael Katz advises that you identify the thing that's so interesting or unusual or creative about what you're doing so your audience members not only remember you, they also share your story.

Ready to make your best pitch ever? Going up!