I stepped onto an elevator at the airport and three people followed behind me -- a young woman and two young men. We were on Floor 3, they were going to Floor 4, I was riding to Floor 5.

The door closed and the woman turned to her friends, "Do you know where my parents are right now?" They shook their heads. "They're at a burial service for my grandfather's friend who died at Pearl Harbor. They just found the body, and they're going to pay their respects to good ol' Uncle Mike."

With that, the doors opened and the trio stepped off, leaving me alone in the elevator--my jaw on the floor. A Pearl Harbor body just found now?! I admit, I almost jumped out after them but the heavy steel doors slammed shut; mocking both my curiosity and hesitation.

For decades, sales and marketing experts have been trying to solve the "elevator pitch" conundrum: how to deliver enough information and create enough intrigue that if all you had was a one-floor elevator journey with a prospect, they would want to learn more.

Certainly, these travelers weren't trying to sell anything--but that's exactly the point. Their elevator pitch wasn't a pitch at all--it was a story. Here are four simple steps to transforming your 30-second pitch into a story they absolutely have to hear.

1. Your story must have actual characters.

In the Pearl Harbor story, there were several actual people: the girl's parents and Uncle Mike, to name a few. Instantly I connected to the message--I have parents, I can relate. I have extended family members like Uncle Mike, I can relate.

Who are the characters in your company story? Was there a friend who helped get it started? Who is a customer you served? Characters make the story interesting--don't leave them out of your pitch.

2. Your story needs a sense of wonder, intrigue, or mystery.

World War II, Pearl Harbor, and finding the remains of a forgotten soldier decades later is heavy on intrigue.

Your pitch can tap into this same element of disbelief and intrigue. Did you stumble upon a solution you couldn't believe actually existed and built a company? Tell that story. Did you or someone you know encounter a problem you couldn't believe didn't have a solution? Tell that story. And if, after 30 seconds, it's time to exit the elevator, at least you'll leave the listener with a mystery they'll want to investigate. And when they do, they'll find you.

3. Leave out the information (yes, almost all of it).

It will be difficult to resist mentioning what year you launched, or the features of your product, or the year-over-year revenue growth, but resist you must. All of those facts and bits of information are utterly forgettable.

If you only have a few moments with someone, use it to engage their imagination and fall into your story.

4. Disconnect from the outcome--let the story do its job.

What if Jesus told the story of not hiding your light under a bushel and then asked listeners for a bulk order of candles. Or if Martin Luther King Jr. told the world about the dream he had and then asked people to please leave their business cards in a bowl at the back of the Mall. Spend time developing a compelling story that becomes the beginning of a relationship verses a death-by-poorly-executed-pitch.

I arrived home from the airport that evening and told my husband the story of the best elevator pitch ever (and admitted to almost losing a limb in the elevator shaft trying to chase them down to hear the rest). Together, we Googled "Mike Pearl Harbor body found" and read about the new DNA testing that meant families could finally lay their loved ones to rest. Indeed, there had been a service that day--the one the young woman's parents were likely attending.

The next time you have to explain what you do in the amount of time it would take to ride from one floor to another in an elevator, use these simple steps and choose to tell a story that leaves your listener begging for more.

Published on: May 22, 2017