In August 2013, I ran a short workshop on Elevator Pitches and Short Speeches for the Student Editors of Trove. The team of six undergraduates – comprising aspiring artists, writers, editors, and publishers – are currently preparing short speeches to make call for submissions for Trove Volume 4, Issue 2 at their lectures and tutorials. They will also be attending a string of networking events, book launches, media previews, and corporate events, so the session was intended for the students to pick up theory and practical tips on the art of oratory. Here are some tips for preparing a good Elevator Pitch. Please feel free to use with credits back to this page.
What is the function of an Elevator Pitch?
When asked, most students would say Elevator Pitches are conversation starters, an initial attention grabber, perhaps even a quick overview on ‘who you are’ and ‘what you do’ so that the other party can mentally size you up in a span of a few minutes. Those are all accurate, but it might be more helpful and effective to remember that Elevator Pitches comprise a definition and a value proposition.
a) Define your audience.
They may be a person who holds many hats with a rather fascinating background. Did you want to approach them as an editor, a writer, a mother, a pianist, or simply a person who really loves cats? It would be good to choose one of their titles or one facet of their colourful background as a springboard for conversation. Establish a relationship with them before diving into your Pitch. You do not want to appear too eager and confronting. I once found myself connecting with a director of a national lottery operator over our shared love for choral music (lucky me!). I thought it made me memorable to her amidst a pool of undergraduates; five years on and we still keep up a good relationship. I would never have associated such a government official with music back then, but the conversation sparked off because I noticed she was particularly enjoying an instrumental performance at the event. In the same vein, define yourself. How would you position yourself to your audience? Which personal facts would you throw out to connect with them?
b) Have a value proposition.
An Elevator Pitch should avoid sounding like a monologue or close-ended broadcast but instead be a springboard for potential collaborations or relationships. You should have something you want to offer your audience, or have something you desire to receive from them. This could be a shot at that internship interview, a personal introduction to one of their contacts, or a request to receive mentorship and advice from them. Do not plainly present a verbal profile of yourself and truncate the conversation.
Angling your Elevator Pitch
There are four useful angles to consider when you are preparing the content of your Pitch.
a) Self vs. Company vs. Project
Who/what are you presenting? Did you want to talk about yourself as an autonomous individual with interests and ambitions? Or perhaps represent your corporation and talk about its vision and mission? You might even want to focus on curious facts, successes, or even difficulties of a particular project – corporate or personal – that you are working on. The thing to remember is that you will have to shift in and out of these different positionalities/slices of yourself depending on whom you are speaking to. Speaking about your experiences with Trove would be suited for a group whom you are persuading to join as editors. Publicising Trove’s extensive readership would draw authors and artists to consider submitting to the journal. Raving about interesting bites from previously published issues would invite a general audience to read the journal. You don’t necessarily have to include everything in your Pitch; just focus on the your main objective and use the related information in a concise manner.
b) Past vs. Present vs. Future
What about yourself did you want to include? Previous successes? Current endeavours? Future ambitions? Most people who try to impress are likely to methodologically list their past achievements by name dropping awards and milestones. But while the audience may be interested in your successes, they are more likely to take note of your potential for further growth. Are you promoting your history in a bid to land a job similar to your last? Or are you willing to learn on the job and be exposed to new challenges? It is important to tie in both your past experience and your desire to step out of your comfort zone.
c) Sell vs. Serve
Following from the previous example of rampant self-promotion, remember that Elevator Pitches are really not about selling yourself. Rather, position yourself as someone who can serve the organisation with the skill set and vision that you have. It is not helpful to say you ran a Student Publication for three years. Publishing houses are likely to take interest if you tell them that this experience you have gained has taught you to understand youth markets and pitch to a young crowd, which are skills you can bring to the organisation.
d) Impress vs. Be credible
While it is tempting to paint a very glowing portrait of yourself, remember to always be sincere, humble, and above all, credible! Suppose you contributed to the logistical arm of an arts festival. Be specific and let your audience know exactly what your role was and how it tied in with the rest of the project. I would not advise attempting to wow your audience with reports of having run the entire festival on your own. Similarly, if you are asked to take on a task and you are not feeling completely confident, be honest with your audience and add that you are willing to start learning and acquiring the necessary skills. You would not want to make pompous promises only to end up being unable to deliver.
Presenting your Elevator Pitch
There are three helpful points to think through when you are preparing to perform your Pitch.
a) Flash vs. Reel
Do you want your Pitch to resemble a Science-y poster that is to the point with all the vital information flashed out? Or would you rather reel your audience in with intriguing nuggets of information, hoping their curiosities are piqued? I feel that both work fine depending on the context and how receptive your audience appears to be. I personally prefer to reel people in because it presents opportunities for them to ask me questions. For instance, instead of immediately flashing Trove out as an online creative arts journal with mission ‘x’ and vision ‘y’, I would tell my audience that although our Student Editors are only in their early 20s, in this year alone Trove will be launching four issues in our creative arts journal. The conversation could then steer in various streams starting with the team’s relative youth, the publishing feat, or about the creative arts in general. (PS: Please excuse the flattery!)
b) Talk vs. Listen
More often than not, we end up rambling about ourselves before coming to an abrupt end and end up awkwardly waiting for our audience to respond or say something about themselves. The key is to pace yourself and allow them to interject with questions or comments. Listening to your audience and reading their non-verbal cues allows you to ascertain which aspects of your Pitch they seem more interested in, and you may then consider going more in depth with those particular points. Also listen to what about themselves they are volunteering information about. Is it said in their professional or personal capacity? Are they sharing similar vignettes from their end or trying to steer the topic in another direction? Giving the audience your attention is the sure way of gaining their attention in exchange.
c) Speech vs. Conversation
As a nice summary, remember that while Elevator Pitches may appear like short ‘overview’-type speeches on the surface, you are in effect holding an introductory conversation with someone in order to sustain their interest into some more long term beyond those few minutes – perhaps moving into a quieter part of the room to continue your conversation, catching a coffee after the event, or exchanging business cards. Elevator Pitches are only the beginning; keep it open-ended!
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