I Couldn’t Care Less About Your Elevator Pitch!

I Couldn’t Care Less About Your Elevator Pitch!

Can we all agree that elevator pitches, when used as suggested, are completely annoying and ineffective?

The definition of an elevator pitch is an overview of a product, service or person, designed to get a conversation started. The word I have a problem with is “started.” If I’ve never met you before, and 10 seconds into our conversation you’re telling me how awesome your service is, you’re much more likely to annoy me than impress me. Just because we’re standing next to each other doesn’t mean you have permission to roll out a display of how effectively you can use adjectives to describe your business. The experience of having someone launch into their unique value proposition immediately after meeting is a lot like receiving an e-newsletter you didn’t subscribe to or having a pop-up ad show up on your screen. It’s ineffective because no matter how fine-tuned your pitch, I’m not going to care about your product or service until I’ve had a chance to develop some interest. And this will only happen if you show me that you are likable and authentic first.

I am blown away by how many people, when meeting someone for the first time, go right into their elevator pitch. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to do business with someone who did this. We’ve all been conditioned to ask people what they do. Fair enough. But instead of just saying you’re an accountant, many people see this stock conversation-starter as their cue to present their brand positioning – at the expense of being genuine. If I wasn’t interested in talking about taxes before we met 10 minutes ago, I’m not going to suddenly become interested because you tell me you’re “a vanguard who navigates the rough oceans of W2s to safely guide your clients to the happy island of tax deductions.”

When you meet someone new, why not ask why they’re at a particular event, where they’re from, which company they’re with in this building (if you are actually in an elevator), whether they’re playing golf this afternoon…? If you only have time for a 30-second exchange, I think that time is better spent getting to know the person and determining whether it would make sense to reconnect in the future. I like what Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, had to say in his book Delivering Happiness. If you are able to figure out how to be truly interested in someone with the goal of building a friendship instead of trying to get something out of that person, the funny thing is that almost always, something happens later down the line that ends up benefitting either your business or yourself personally.

Now, I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t have a brief, effective way to tell your story. What I am suggesting is that there is a time and a place for it. If you have a nice 1-2 minute conversation with someone after meeting for the first time and identify mutual interests (or develop mutual respect), the door is open to tell your story more genuinely some other time because you’ve earned that person’s attention. And of course, you need a concise description of what you do and how you’re different at the ready for when you receive new referrals and inquiries.

So you see, I have nothing against elevator pitches in and of themselves.

In fact, I am proud to be one of the judges for NFTE’s (Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship) upcoming elevator pitch competition, Back to School, Back to Business. NFTE is a truly amazing non-profit led locally in DC by the inspirational Julie Kantor. Its mission is to provide programs that inspire young people from low-income communities to stay in school, recognize business opportunities, and plan successful futures. This event will feature elevator pitches from 25 emerging high school entrepreneurs from NFTE classes throughout the region. It will give these students the opportunity to practice their presentation skills in front of some of Washington’s top leaders, while sharing their business ideas. More importantly, this will hopefully allow them to transcend their pitches into meaningful connections. If you want to be inspired by some wonderful kids, and network with some of DC’s top executives and entrepreneurs, I cannot recommend it enough. You can register here.

Despite the fact that these kids will be there to showcase their businesses, something tells me that when they meet another teenager at school or through one of their activities, they don’t lead with their elevator pitch. High school students are not walking around asking each other what they do. I think we could all take a lesson from them in understanding that our business is not who we are. When we have the forum to pitch what we do, we should have a great story to tell. But when we’re meeting someone for the first time, perhaps we could just focus on getting to know them a little better.

Do you use an elevator pitch effectively when meeting someone for the first time? Have you ever been so impressed by a person’s elevator pitch, when it was one of the first things they said, that you became a client?



  1. by david pordy on September 27, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Derek. Right on the money as usual. as I tell our associates all the time, project to the people you meet that you are caring , competent and likeable. The business end will come later. Best DP

  2. by Derek on September 27, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    Thanks David! You are a great leader and every attorney I have met from Shulman Rogers is a class act!

  3. by Timothy R. Hughes on September 27, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    The entire concept of elevator pitch has been one that has always bugged me. Maybe it works for other businesses, but it sure does not fit to me when your business is built around relationships and trust.

  4. by Derek on September 27, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Thanks Tim- I completely agree. I also think that networking events create an environment where people focus on this style b/c it is how everyone else approaches them. I think we need to un-learn what we have been taught when it comes to the right way to initiate conversations.

  5. by Bob Corlett on October 25, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    I’m so glad you wrote this post. Elevator pitches have always sounded too salesy, too artificial and too forced to me. Equating it to a pop-up ad is spot on.

    I have no idea what problem we are solving for a client until I get to know them.

  6. by Derek on October 29, 2011 at 8:43 am

    Thanks for the reply Bob! I agree with you and I also believe the boring ones(where people start talking about their business without realizing they are even giving their elevator pitch) are just as annoying.

  7. by Glen Hellman on January 29, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    Great post. Pitching people is talking at them. Getting involved in conversation is developing a relationship. I have enough folks talking at me.

    Mind if I repost it on my blog with link and credit back to you?


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