You're talking to a potential investor, a client, a reporter, and you need a killer elevator pitch -- that brief summary to hook someone's interest and keep the conversation going. But how do you write and deliver an effective and powerful pitch that will do the job?
Maybe you have a planned meeting. Or it might be that you want to be ready to pitch at any time, in case you unexpectedly catch someone. Whatever the situation, you need to prepare in advance.
You've probably already read lists of tips that sound alike: explain what you do and your unique selling proposition, use a "hook," tell listeners what's in it for them, plan time well, and polish the presentation. Those tips, while important, aren't enough. They're too focused on getting what you want in an efficient manner.
Well, duh, right? Of course you're doing this to get something. But, when everyone follows the same format and rules, they all start to sound the same. And when everything sounds similar, people doze off.
Paradoxically, those standard rules and tips -- which, don't get me wrong, are important -- can backfire if you don't apply basics of communications and persuasion. Here are seven tips to help you break through the background noise so people actually listen.
1. Know what your audience wants
The single biggest mistake entrepreneurs typically make in marketing is that they try to sell the wrong thing. They sell what's important to them, not what's important to the person they speak with. Even the advice to frame your pitch as ways to be of service to the listener can be a mistake when you keep your interests foremost in mind.
None of those people care about you. They care about themselves. Their own interests are at the fore. Can you blame them? They didn't ask for the pitch. If you're going to pitch successfully, you need to understand the person you're talking to.
In part, that means to break out the type of people you might come across. Some could be investors. Some, potential customers. You might come across potential suppliers or people from companies with complementary offerings. Maybe that listener is a member of the press, or possibly someone from a university whose research could provide the chance for innovation in your field. Each type of person has different sets of interests, although some might overlap.
In addition, if you identify people in advance and try to arrange a meeting or even stumble across them, research to get a more exact insight. For example, investors or investment firms likely have track records of previous investments. That can help illuminate the types of companies and industries of interest. If you're talking to a representative of a potential customer, learn enough about the company to identify its market challenges and current directions.
2. Understand why elevator pitches exist
Another mistake many entrepreneurs make is that they take the elevator pitch as more than it can or should be. An elevator pitch is like the opening paragraph of a memo or report. You're creating an introduction to the bigger topic. That is all.
No one will buy or invest or partner with you on the strength of the elevator pitch. They might entertain further discussion, and that is fine. The pitch is only supposed to help you to find people who might be interested, not to make a complete sale.
3. You need multiple elevator pitches
Given the previous sections, this shouldn't come as a surprise. You need multiple pitches because different types of people that you might speak with will have varying interests. If you focused on what you could do for an investor, a prospective customer will be left yawning. Make connections between your pitch and the listeners' interests.
The pitches won't be completely different and will contain common elements. But emphasis will change. Even specific aspects like describing your company could differ. The investor might be interested in a young company with a specific amount of growth within a given amount of time, the accompanying profitability, and so on. The customer will, instead, need to hear about the stability and ability to deliver what is needed, on time. Forget the one-size-fits-all presentation.
4. Paint pictures
As I've mentioned in the past, marketing is about emotion and you need to have your message resonate with the audience. Their needs aren't solely practical. Emotion is always an important part.
An investor might want to make more money as ego satisfaction, or maybe there is a child about to go to college or some other event creating stress and a desire to enhance income. Maybe you're in real estate and a potential customer is someone who has a house to sell and is worried about being cheated or anxious about not getting real market value. A corporate customer could be trying for some kind of win to advance a career or possibly to get out of trouble with a manager.
It's difficult to precisely know any of this in advance. However, because decisions are emotional, you can improve your communications by painting pictures. Images are the language of emotion. Rather than brag about the market share you expect to gain (which is almost always a number pulled out of thin air), create a brief picture of what causes customers to opt for your company versus a competitor. Make things palpable.
5. Don't pitch everyone
Even with multiple pitch variations, you don't need to pitch everyone within arm's reach and not everyone will be interested. When every conversation becomes an excuse for self-promotion, your tone of voice changes. You become nothing more than a marketing rep, to paraphrase a point from The Big Kahuna.
There's a lot to be said for honest conversations. Give yourself the option of being human. You won't feel the need to constantly repeat your pitch, even when it's not necessary. It helps you listen to other people and remain relaxed as you aren't automatically trying to figure out where to take over the conversation.
6. Practice, practice, practice and then forget
You've probably been on the receiving end of a pitch. I'll bet you could tell because people run through memorized pitches like regurgitating a poem they had to learn in high school. Two problems come out of this. One is that you will eventually do this on autopilot, no longer making a human connection. You might as well hand someone a copy of the script for all the good it will do. Second, adrenaline will kick in and you'll start racing along. Now you're like an amphetamine-driven robot. The result is so artificial that people turn you off within a few seconds.
You do need to practice your pitch repeatedly. But try to do it as an actor might. While writing the script, make note of the series of emotions that you want to evoke. The most important thing is to tie together the emotions as well as the important points you want to hit. Practice with the script. Try tossing the script out but still hitting the feelings and informational points, deliberately improvising words different from what you wrote. Try the script while emphasizing different feelings at different times. Do the same remembering different things the person needs to hear.
The ultimate goal is to be able to talk to someone, making your pitch while realizing that a human connection is more important than the specific words you use. Being authentic goes a lot further than being overly polished. Consider working with an acting coach on your delivery.
7. Remember the art of following up
You give the pitch, someone is potentially interested, and -- then what? Prepping and practicing your pitch means nothing if you don't effectively take the next step. Get contact information and schedule your follow-up activity, whether it's sending additional information or getting in touch. Chances are you'll need to follow up multiple times. Periodically do so with a light touch and lack of pressure and you'll be surprised at how successful your campaign can be over time.