So, you’re at a business function and there’s lots of networking and introductions taking place. Suddenly you’re introduced to a seriously good prospect who then asks you ‘so what is it that you do?’ As your heart starts to race you try to formulate a clear and professional answer and your mind goes blank. As you stumble through a mixture of messages someone intervenes and takes the prospect away. The opportunity to spark real interest in what you have to say has gone.

If only you had prepared!

This is where the ‘elevator pitch’ comes into play; a short, well-rehearsed statement which clearly states what your business does and will prompt enough further interest for there to be an exchange of details.

To ensure that you are NEVER caught out when faced with one chance to make a first impression, we’ve put together 10 tips on how to prepare the perfect elevator pitch.

1. What is the elevator pitch?

Its name comes from the idea that you have the time it takes to travel up in an escalator (around 30 seconds) to say very succinctly what you do as a business, plant the seed of a great idea or project or sell yourself as an individual. Having a rehearsed ‘script’ helps you to formulate a quick, response more succinctly and get across key messages or prompts which will engage the listener.

2. How and when should an elevator pitch be used?

We can all recall times when someone has asked us what we do or who we work for and it’s very likely that the answer will be different every time, simply because we don’t have time to think it through. The circumstances can vary enormously – you may be in a lift with someone you have not seen for a while or you may be at an exhibition, giving a talk, or maybe just you’re suddenly face to face with the most senior person in your business.

The script may be about yourself, a new idea, a new product, a service or the entire business. The important thing is to be prepared and use the opportunity well in order to answer the question clearly and leave an opening for further conversation.

3. How and when should an elevator pitch be used?

The short answer is anyone can use it. Whilst sales people may be more prepared or confident in answering a specific question or pitching an idea, all staff within a business should be able to clearly state what they do personally and what the company does. This should form part of the brand guidelines so that everyone ‘sings the same tune’.

4. How to prepare an elevator pitch

If you company does not already have any pre-prepared statements in place, you will need to prepare and practice. You should start with writing down at least two different questions and practice answering each one. You can even use a stop watch to time your answer; what might seem like a short answer to you may in fact take you 2 minutes to say!

Practice your words and the timings and try several different approaches, ensuring that your reply always sounds natural. Your script should also include a ‘teaser’ or a question that will either prompt a further question or you can even ask a question at the end of it.

When you think you have the right balance, ask a colleague or friend to listen – it might sound like an odd request but feedback is essential. This way if the pitch was clear and engaging, you can then keep rehearsing it until you know it off by heart.

Remember, all circumstances will be different, as will the people that might ask, so ensure that your pitch has a little bit of flexibility.

5. Preparing to pitch an ‘organisation’.

Everyone in an organisation should know what the company does. However, not all companies provide brand training. As a little test why not canvas 10 people in your business and compare their answers to ‘what do we do?’ Undoubtedly every answer will be different.

Start by referring to your brand guidelines, or ask your marketing contact to help you. If you don’t have this support, think about the key message that you would like to get across, without it sounding too much like a sales pitch. Think about:

What do you want that person to remember most? Use a key phrase or USP Consider ’emotion’ – something that resonates with that person or what they do Remember, get them to remember you! Be enthusiastic, creative, engaging, personable – get them excited!

For example:

As a creative agency we could be asked what we do and we could say “we are a creative marketing agency for lots of different industrial companies” Not particularly engaging you might say!

Instead we could say “we help industrial companies to become market leaders by modernising their brands and showing them how to execute modern marketing techniques.” This is far more interesting as it prompts the question, how?

6. Preparing to pitch YOU.

Pitching yourself is far trickier than pitching your company simply because it’s hard to know where to start! How on earth can you make a quick impression in just 30 seconds?

Again, it’s all in the preparation. What you want to do is make a good impression so you need to consider your own USP’s. In that 30 seconds you need to:

Show your personality Show that you are a good communicator Show just the right amount of enthusiasm Tell the person in front of you, very succinctly, what you do and what others have gained from your work.

As before, write down the key facts that you would like to get across and practice the words so that a) you will remember what to say and b) they will remember you.

7. Use a question within your pitch

Whether your pitch is for a company, an idea or even you, try to end it with a further question which could help to hold their attention. For example, we might ask “How have you kept your brand in line with digital changes?” This is not a ‘sell’, it is the start of a conversation allowing the person to reveal more about their circumstances or position.

8. Body language

Most sales staff will have a good understanding of body language, however all of us need to be aware of basic good etiquette when we meet new people. It’s all about perception; you might think you are really enthusiastic when you speak, but not everyone likes someone who is ‘too full on’!

Practice your stance, your pace of words, use of your hands and also be aware of how close you stand in front of someone – there’s a fine line between just right and smelling your cologne! Above all remember to smile with your mouth AND your eyes! If need be, practice in front of a mirror or again, ask a friend or colleague to score you.

9. The test of time

The need for an elevator pitch is pretty infrequent so it’s important to set a reminder to practice, after all you don’t want to go to all of the trouble to perfect the perfect pitch, only to forget it 6 months from now.

10. Adjust your pitch

One last tip to remember is to update your pitch if you move jobs or if your company changes direction. It will not be the first thing on your mind but it will undoubtedly still be needed at some stage in the future and it could also come in very handy at interviews!

So to sum up:

  • Be prepared
  • Explain clearly what you do
  • Remember a USP
  • Use keywords
  • Ask a question
  • Time yourself
  • Practice
  • Adjust

Good luck!