Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Elevator Pitch: Clarity, Above All

The "elevator pitch" is the current catch-all phrase for selling yourself (your background, your deal, your pitch, your company) in a few precious minutes. You’ve got two minutes. Or sometimes, 30 seconds. What do you say? How do you say it? How do you make the lasting impression? How do you create a buzz?

"Elevator pitch" is best known in the networking or recruiting environment, when you want to make yourself known or special. But the pitch applies to other business settings, too: winning the deal with a client, making a point with a business head or even CEO. Elevator pitches are relevant in pitching specific deals, products or services to clients or convincing internal committees to do a deal, approve a transaction, invest in a business or bring a client on board.

The most important factor in this one-minute pitch, above all, is clarity. Sometimes clarity is more important than the details or genuine logic of the pitch. Can the listener understand what you are saying and hear the main points without having to ask again or decipher what you said? If he/she can comprehend in minutes what you say, that's half the ballgame. The successful pitch wins you permission to get to the details or to the underlining logic of your message. If it’s not clear up front, then it's an uphill battle right away.

If the listener (the senior manager, the client, the CEO, the special networking contact, the board) understands the first few statements and points clearly, that sets the stage for the next parts of the conversation. In fact, the conversation unfurls easily from there. If those first few statements are clear, precise, and hard-hitting, sometimes you may not even need to go through the rehearsed latter parts of the pitch. The listener, inspired and eager by your convincing “headlines,” will help progress and push the conversation along, because he/she is engaged or understands where it's going.

Try to be relevant, unique, and different. But always, clear and succinct. Then show applicability right away. The listener thinks, “Okay, good point, but how can all this be useful to me right away?”

So keep in mind, after that hard-hitting first sentence, the listener wants to connect the dots with specifics and then wants to be ready to jump into the conversation in a natural way. If the dots can’t be connected and if the listener has to struggle to jump in, then the pitch dies.

Polishing the techniques of the elevator pitch works, too, for getting deals done in banking and actual business settings with clients. The client will ask, "Why should I do this deal with your bank?" Or “Why should I buy this product or service?” A bank’s internal committee will ask, "Why should we do this deal at all?" And often, you get only minutes to sell in both cases--even if the meeting is supposed to last an hour!

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