The Best Elevator (Anti-) Pitch

Don't know what to say at networking events? Or, learned techniques that feel overly contrived? This refreshing approach to the dreaded "elevator pitch" helps you both relax and get results at the same time.

By Jonathan Bender, MS, MFA works both in person and remotely as a Performance Coach, helping novice and expert presenters discover ease, presence and effectiveness. http://www.wholespeak.com; inspirational tips at http://www.theinspirationblog.com.

Whether you're an entrepreneur or a job-seeker, it's essential to be able to effectively tell anyone you meet what you do (and subtly convey why they'd want to work with you). However, no one likes feeling like a prospect or being sold to, and people can spot the “I’m-not-really-interested-in-you-but-hire-or-buy-from-me” tone or verbiage in a heartbeat. So, what to do?

OK, I admit it:hate the term “elevator pitch.” It sounds contrived, forced, and implies that you’re basically trying to sell to someone, but neither listening to nor connecting with them. So I prefer to rephrase it as effective engagement.” The problem is: when at a large networking event, mixer, or party, you have only a few moments to get people’s attention. How can you do this both effectively and organically?

Let’s start out with what you don’t want to do. First, don’t look around the room distractedly as if there might be someone better to talk with. Please. Second, and very importantly, don’t simply say, for example, “I’m an accountant” or "I teach yoga" or "I'm a drag queen" (hey, you never know). The other person has then labeled you, put you in a nice little box, and is ready to move on to the next person - which is not what you desired. 

Do these instead:

  • Make strong eye contact, and take deep breaths while listening. Give them your full attention, and sincerely enjoy meeting the mystery that is another human being. Yes, nonverbal communication is an essential aspect of engaging others.
  • When saying what your work is, address how you solve people’s problems – and state how customers feel afterward. For example, in my work as a Performance Coach, I say something to the effect of, "Well, I help entrepreneurs and executives radically transform their 'everyday performance' - such as improving their public speaking and presentation skills, and just performing in life more effectively - which helps my clients become much more comfortable and effective and leads to bottom-line results."

Yes, I intentionally employ so-so grammar in my anti-pitch, to make it more real. This doesn't translate so well to print, as the written word lacks any nonverbal communication, and it also makes it sound very formal (as does overly rehearsing it). Each time I meet someone, I change it somewhat depending on the connection. Rather than an exact pitch, I utilize a couple of phrases (out of several that I've found people respond to), which allows me to follow up in more detail depending on whatever grabbed them.

Your "pitch" is really just a sentence or such that begins the engagement; let the rest emerge naturally and conversationally. Regardless, it's best to mention how you solve problems for people, and always address emotional needs - by conveying how you resolve troubling issues, or mentioning how clients feel after experiencing your work. (This may sound basic to some, but over 90% of people I meet at networking events don't do them!) Keep in mind that these are very basic suggestions, and you need to adapt them so that they're comfortable for you.

A few other tips:

  • Don't explain your work in detail. A surgeon wouldn't tell you how she performs surgery, would she? You just want to know that your life will be saved. If a new contact really wants to know more, then explain, but largely focus on the problem being solved and/or the result. And don't try to squeeze in too much information, no matter how persuasive, in the first breath - let that be your follow up.
  • Don’t memorize your pitch. Many elevator pitch techniques say you should memorize it exactly, and also not reveal what you do at first, so they have to ask. I find both of these to sound forced and fake, and makes me want to run away and meet someone "real." Yes, the goal is to get them to inquire more about what you do – but these tips just don't work well. Instead use a “keyword search” and pull up phrases in a more relaxed manner, within the context of the conversation.
  • Make connections, not sales. Sure, someone might walk away wanting to do business with you - but in a chance meeting, it's not likely. The point is to simply make a connection; you never know who might become your biggest fan and refer many customers, even though they never work with you. Plus: if you've effectively engaged them, you're actually creating space for them to say they want to work with you.
  • Express your joy and love for what you do. Would you want to work with someone else who doesn’t enjoy how they spend their time? Sure, at some point or another, what we do is a job – but you have to focus on your joy of helping others and, in one sense or another, improving your clients’ lives. Let this come across.

Think of it as an ever-evolving art form: how to be relaxed, spontaneous, and effective. By trying out this method, instead of Pushing People with your Pitch, you can Draw them in organically, through the pleasure of meeting another human being, and sharing about your lives and what you love to do.