Scott Smith

Deliver a Pro Elevator Pitch by First Winning the Head Game

New Mental Approach Cures the Real Problem in Delivering a Crisp Elevator Pitch

I recently attended the Cleantech Open Academy. The Cleantech Open is the world’s largest accelerator for cleantech startups. The Academy is the start of a six-month program during which nearly 400 of the brightest, most inventive entrepreneurs in the world learn the business skills to turn their startup operations into profitable businesses. 

Several times during the three-day program, participants were asked to stand and deliver their elevator pitches, essentially a 30-second recitation of their Action Messages.

They were asked to combine the problem they were solving, their solution and how it was different from their competitors’ – thirty seconds to clarify their purpose in the business world and convince anyone to care.

Their first rambling attempts were long, filled with features instead of benefits and targeted to no one in particular. After a critique and some coaching from their assigned mentors, they each took another shot.

While better, most couldn’t implement the concepts, even though they understood them well. They were cramming in too much and stumbling over all kinds of information. Often, they couldn’t even make it clear what they did.

As the individuals delivered their pitches, I could hear people all around me correctly assessing every misstep. They’d then take their turns and be as hapless as all the others.

This is all familiar to me, having guided people through this exercise countless times . . .  and suffered through it myself many times.

The reason it’s so difficult to compose our own 30-second elevator pitches is our total immersion in the subject compounded by a mental thing. Being too deep in the forest isn’t a big revelation and can be overcome with a little coaching. Not so easy to overcome is our compulsion to burst out with every feature, benefit and spec we know to convince a prospect.

I once witnessed a vice president in a technology firm take a half hour to answer a reporter's first question: "What's your new product?" His elevator pitch would have gotten the interview off with his Action Message and probably a quote.

We subconsciously fear leaving a prospect, reporter or anyone without knowing everything. It’s a mental thing. 

So, how do you achieve the right perspective when we’re so compulsively wired ? I call it the “Rule of One.” It requires discipline, but I use it successfully to sidestep my compulsion to share everything, taking it completely out of the game. 

I sit down at my desk and compose the perfect elevator pitch. Then I get up and walk to the other side of the desk, where a client would customarily sit. Now, I pitch myself imposing some strict rules:

  1. I must do it in one sentence within no more than one line.
  2. I can only address one problem, the customer’s most painful.
  3. I must solve it with only one of my offering’s capabilities expressed as a benefit.
  4. And I limit myself to only one differentiating point.

Forcing me to write within such restrictive criteria takes that a forest of information and unconscious attitudes inconsequential. It’s the only way to arrive at:

Only our mountain-grown apples will make you smile for a week. 

This statement meets all of the criteria at roughly half a tweet in length. Its simplicity makes it understandable and memorable. With my Action Message boiled down to so few words, I gain confidence that quells the mental demons.

Try it. See if the Rule of One can help you make your elevator pitch that clear, compelling and concise. You’ll deliver an Action Message that will have your prospects smiling in just half a minute.

Category: How To, Messaging, Wordsmanship

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