Posted by: kevinliebl | January 25, 2010

The Legendary, but Elusive “Elevator Speech”

Elevator ButtonsIn business, we often refer to and utilize, the elevator speech.  The origins of the term are debatable.  However, the definition is very simple.  If you were on an elevator and someone asked you what you do for a living (or what your company does), how would you sum up the answer in the amount of time it takes to ride the elevator?  Most people limit an elevator speech (or pitch) to approximately 60 seconds.

An elevator speech should not be confused with a tagline.  A company tagline is more of a one-line summary that is typically linked to the company logo.  It is often in the form of a double-entendre and has its roots in the jingles of the 1950s.  An elevator speech is a more lengthy description.  It is also very different from a mission statement or a value proposition.  The elevator speech is purely a description of your line of business.

Elevator speeches are used in many different circumstances.  They are used to describe a company’s line of business.  They are used by executives in transition to describe the target job they are seeking.  They are used by entrepreneurs who are pitching a new business opportunity to investors.  They are even used by speed-daters to describe themselves and/or their perfect partner.

In my experience, the common denominator in most elevator speeches is that they are always changing and the author is never entirely satisfied with them.  I believe that it is because it is very difficult to encapsulate all of the information in 60 seconds.  This is what makes an effective elevator pitch so powerful, yet so elusive.

An effective elevator pitch should describe the product, service or project in a very clear and concise way.  It should describe the features/benefits and why it will be successful.  This is a simple task in principle, but a difficult one in practice.

Marketing organizations have had to focus on a similar challenge with television and radio advertising.  The 60-second commercial has had a very similar goal.  Communicate in 60-seconds what the product or service offering is, and why you would want to engage it.  With the advent of viral video marketing on YouTube and video podcasting, the art of the 60-second pitch is becoming even more common and more refined.

There are many techniques used to create an entertaining and engaging message.  The following are two examples that I find very powerful.  (A disclaimer – I am not connected with either of these organizations in any way.  I am not endorsing their products and/or services and cannot make any comment on the value or credibility of their companies.  I simply find their online videos very creative.) – When you have one of the most powerful blenders on the market, how can you convince the public that your blender is worth the premium price?  Answer – create viral videos of your product blending anything and everything. – How do you communicate the concept of “skipping” some of your simple luxuries to help those less fortunate than yourself?  Watch the video in the bottom right corner of the website.

I am curious, what are some of your favorite examples of effective elevator speeches?


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  1. Kevin…

    I struggle with the infamous elevator speech. I believe 60 seconds isn’t just too long – it’s WAY too long. I can give a presentation – it’s encapsulating it into 15-30 seconds that is the challenge.

    Here is my Monday afternoon version…

    ‘We help local small business adapt to the new, changing economy by utilizing their website, a blog, social media, and search marketing.’

    I can toss that out fairly quickly. 😉

    • Dennis,

      Nice job. Short, descriptive, to the point, etc… Many people have two versions – a 15-30 second version and a 45-60 second version (it depends on how many floors you are changing on the elevator ). There is nothing wrong with a crisp version. You (may) consider a longer version as well though. You could include a more detailed definition of “local” (e.g., the northeast Georgia area). You could also give a broader definition of “how” (e.g., through online and face-to-face consulting and web development). You could also give a couple of data points on success (e.g., Many of our clients have seen a 200% increase in web traffic). Again, it all depends on audience and situation. You may want to have a couple of “pitches” to pull from. However, there is nothing wrong with your current short-version.

      Thanks for the comment!


  2. I also struggle with this – A LOT. In my line of work (Microsoft Office Application Development) it’s difficult to explain what I do in 15, 30, or even 60 seconds. I almost feel like I need to keep a portfolio of screenshots with me at all times.

    My most recent iteration is this: I help businesses all over the world streamline and automate business processes using Microsoft Office (Access databases, Excel spreadsheets, etc.).

    Even if my audience uses Microsoft Office every day, it’s more common to get that glazed-over “I don’t know anything about computers” look (even though they say, “Oh, okay,” and politely nod).

    Now I’m trying to incorporate specific examples when I’m speaking one-on-one with someone. “So you’re in the insurance business… I’ll bet you have a ton of contacts. Let’s say you wanted to get a list of all of the 30-35 year old homeowners that you insure to offer them a new product. I could create an application that would easily and automatically pull all of that data into any format needed so you could use it for email marketing or sending a series of letters using Microsoft Word’s Mail Merge feature.”

    It’s usually then that the target has the elusive “light bulb” moment. I’m going to try to incorporate some of your other suggestions (e.g., “The improvement over the manual process saved one of my clients over 95% in labor costs.”

    Great tips, Kevin!

  3. One thing to remember when giving an elevator speech is to customize it according to the audience. Present it in a way that the listener can understand, and relate to.

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