I’ve always hated the idea of an elevator pitch. There is something so off-putting about the image of accosting someone who is just trying to get from one place to another and in 30 seconds telling him or her why you or your idea is so wonderful. Yet, as Dan Pink argues in his book To Sell is Human, we all are in the persuasion business. We are looking for a new job, a juicy assignment, a promotion, a raise or new clients. We want to influence our children, our bosses, our spouses, our City Council. All of us, at some point in our lives, will have to make a pitch.
Fortunately for me, Dan Pink doesn’t like elevator pitches either. He offers six alternatives that he believes work better in a distracted world where your message is easily lost in a deluge of information. You don’t have to use all six. Each alternative works best in different situations. And he makes a compelling, research-based case for each one.
The One Word Pitch
What do you think when you hear the word “priceless?” Mastercard has mastered the one word pitch. The idea is to boil down your message to a single word. You want people to remember that word and think of you or your idea when they hear it. It seems simplistic but creating a single word forces you to be very clear and very focused. I once had a client who was looking for a job and who saw himself as a great number 2 to a visionary leader. He was an implementer—a word that sums up beautifully his many gifts.
The Question Pitch
“Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” It was with this question that Ronald Reagan made his successful pitch to the American people. A great pitch is one that, as Pink says, “begins a conversation, brings the other person in as a participant, and eventually arrives at an outcome that appeals to both of you.” What better way to achieve this than to start the conversation with a question interesting enough that your audience wants to answer it?
The Rhyming Pitch
You may be rolling your eyes at this one but researchers Jessica Tofighbakhsh and Matthew McGlone of Lafayette College demonstrated that rhyming aphorisms, such as “woes unite foes” were perceived as describing human behavior more accurately than non-rhyming versions of the same aphorism. That is, people believed the rhyming versions were more accurate even though the non-rhyming version said exactly the same thing. For example, the non-rhyming version of “woes unite foes” was “woes unite enemies.” Our brains like rhymes because they’re easier to process. So if you want your message to stand out in the crowd, slip a rhyme that conveys your message into your presentation.
The Subject Line Pitch
As people scan hundreds of e-mails deciding which ones to open, the person sending it is the most important determinant. Second is what’s in the subject line. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that people were more likely to open and read e-mail that promised to be useful to them. This was particularly true if they were busy. The more specific and clear you are, the more likely your e-mail will get read. For example, Pink's “3 simple, but proven ways to get your e-mail opened” will get better results than “e-mail effectiveness secrets.” If people aren’t really busy, e-mails that arouse curiosity like “Some weird things I just learned about e-mail” are more likely to be opened.
The Twitter Pitch
Nothing forces you to be short and sweet like the pressure of 140 characters. Pink cites research that indicates that the highest rated tweets are ones that ask a question, give useful information (like a link), and that self promote (as long as the promotion includes useful information). In the study Pink cites, only 36% of tweets are worth reading. Make yours stand out.
The Pixar Pitch
Never underestimate the power of a good story. Pixar, one of the most successful movie studios, has figured out how to tell a compelling story time after time. It turns out that their stories all have the same structure, and this structure is a great way to create a powerful pitch. It goes like this:
Once upon a time___________. Every day, ____________. One day, ___________. Because of that, ___________. Because of that, __________. Until finally, ____________.A big benefit of this format is that it forces you to be succinct yet it allows you to tell a compelling story.
Any pitch method you choose should answer three questions. After someone hears your pitch:
What do you want them to know?
What do you want them to feel?
What do you want them to do?
Answer these questions, decide on the pitch that works for you, experiment, practice and perfect. Are you ready to ditch the elevator pitch?
Plum Cluverius, PCC is an executive coach with over 30 years experience in leadership and professional development. She lives and works in Richmond, Virginia.