Pitch perfect: Expert tips to unlock the power of an elevator pitch

Feb 23, 2023 - updated Feb 08, 2024

6 mins

Pitch perfect: Expert tips to unlock the power of an elevator pitch
Debbie Garrick

Freelance writer and translator, ex-recruiter

An elevator pitch is a key skill for promoting yourself. You can use it at an interview, a networking event, or even just chatting with someone new. It’s a handy tool for anyone attending a professional conference or event. Simply put, an elevator pitch is a way of introducing yourself, usually in 30 seconds or less, (the time it takes to ride an elevator) but in some cases, it can last up to a minute. NYC-based Public Speaking & Communication Coach, Lizzie Docel, refers to it as, “An opportunity for someone to connect with your story. A quick trailer to who you are.”

You might think you don’t need one, but as an active job hunter, you have a unique story to tell, and your elevator pitch is giving people a chance to see that and connect with it in a short amount of time. You might be tempted to search for elevator pitch templates so you can create your own easily, but building one from scratch doesn’t have to be complicated. Think of it as a more structured way of introducing yourself.

How to create an elevator pitch

When it comes to creating your pitch, Docel says she relates it all to the ART of communication: authenticity, relatability, and trustworthiness. And an effective elevator pitch should encapsulate each of those characteristics. Applying this method to your pitch will make it feel less like a sales pitch and more like a genuine, honest, and accurate representation of who you are. “I love networking when it’s authentic, but when it feels like you are putting on this show and have to perform, it doesn’t feel good and it’s not what people are looking for.” If the conversation moves on from work, and you start talking about other things, then it’s probably a good sign that you’re connecting and communicating authentically.

Docel’s best piece of advice is not to rely on a written elevator pitch at all. You can look up elevator pitch examples if you like, but there’s no crazy elevator pitch template to follow. It’s better to be your unique self and keeping it simple is key. She suggests you start with who you are and where you’re from, what you’re doing right now, and what you’re looking to do, and then add in a key value or attribute that’s relevant to the situation.

You can include a personal detail about yourself and where you’re from if you want to talk for longer, and if it’s relevant to the event. “I might share that I love deep dish pizza, I usually do share that I used to be an actor or improviser, but sometimes that might not be relevant for the event that I’m at.” Docel advises against falling into the trap of using the exact same elevator pitch at every event you go to, because as soon as people can tell they’re listening to a scripted pitch you start to lose that authenticity, and if you’re being inauthentic then people will lose trust in what you’re sharing. A scripted speech sounds like you either don’t believe what you’re saying or you don’t trust yourself to say it in the moment. You should be able to talk about yourself without it being pre-written. For key themes and values, think about what you believe in, what’s driving your mission, and why you do what you do. It’s ok to share something you’re good at if that feels authentic to you and you’re not cringing as you say it.

Record yourself speaking spontaneously

Rather than writing your elevator pitch down, which usually leads to unnatural, awkward phrasing and chips away at authenticity, Docel recommends pulling up the questions you want to answer and recording yourself answering them using Zoom, Google Meet, or her personal favorite, Yoodli. She shares that Yoodli, an AI speech coach, gives you great insights, providing you with a transcript, your speaking rate, and the filler words you’re using. You can also share it with others, such as a real-life career coach to get feedback.

When you’re making these recordings it’s worth thinking about the different questions that might lead to an opening for you to use your elevator pitch. Not everyone is going to say, “Tell me about yourself.” You might be asked what you do, where you’re from, or why you’re at a certain event. All of these open up the opportunity to use your elevator pitch but you might only need to use certain parts of it.

If you’re stuck for ideas, ask others for help

If you have no clue what to include in your elevator pitch, you can always turn to trusted friends and current or former colleagues. Asking people to take a second look at what you’ve got or inspire you with ideas can be a great support and confidence booster. Docel likes the idea of asking others as a self-awareness check. Do you come across the way you think you do? How do other people see you? She suggests asking a trusted colleague what their first impression of you was—ideally someone you got to know in the last couple of years.

Practice different ways to help with nerves

When it comes to the job hunt, whether you’re preparing for interviews or your elevator pitch, practice makes perfect. It helps you get comfortable and gives you the chance to prove that you can do it. Once you’ve practiced alone you can ease in using baby steps, and practice with a small group. You don’t have to start at the huge event where you have to stand up in front of thousands of people, but you can get there step by step if that’s your goal.

Listening back to yourself practicing different ways of saying things is of huge benefit. Docel explains, “If you have a script and you forget it, you’ll be completely thrown if you stumble over a word or say things in the wrong order, whereas if you can say things in different ways you’ve got options and you can be more natural.” She recommends practicing in front of a mirror and in different spaces so the different setting doesn’t put you off, and even in the shoes you’re going to wear on that day so they aren’t a distraction. It’s a good idea to try out different thoughts for your elevator pitch and maybe have some favorite ways of phrasing things, but practice saying things differently every time so you can speak with confidence. “Confidence isn’t believing everything will go perfectly, confidence is knowing that when something is a little different you’re going to be ok and you’re going to figure it out.”

Consider getting a coach

Docel appreciates that people might feel silly reaching out to a coach for a 30-second elevator pitch, but she would advise them not to worry. It’s a really great way to start working with a coach to build confidence. “This is your intro to everything, it’s the first barrier you have to overcome, so there’s no harm in getting a coach to help you get there.” You don’t have to be a CEO to benefit from the help of the coach, and there are so many coaches out there to help people at every step of the way.

Friends and family can be kind and offer feedback but a coach is your partner, they’re going to build your confidence with genuine and objective feedback. “As coaches, it’s our job to break things down and feed that back so that you can repeat it,” Docel explains. Coaches can also let you know what isn’t working and break that down for you too.

Prepare on the day

On the day of your event, remember everyone is feeling the same thing and looking for a connection. The goal of the people you meet is to get to know the real you. Not everyone you meet will be your person, just like you won’t enjoy working for every company. To prepare, Docel recommends doing what you do on days that you feel like your best self. She also advises doing a vocal warm-up so you have a strong, confident speaking voice, especially if you’re likely to be in a noisy environment. Once you’ve done those things and you’re getting ready, put on a podcast or TV show that makes you laugh. “You’ve done the work and you have to trust it will show when you get there, so put on a show and allow yourself to laugh—it’s the best way to relax and beat the stress.”

In the moment, remember to be authentic, because an elevator pitch that conforms with what you believe you should be rather than who you truly are doesn’t serve you at all. You might create a good impression, but if it’s not the best impression of your true self then you could wind up in a job you hate. Be happy to talk about things other than work, at the end of the day it’s about connection—talking about other things means it’s going well!

Key takeaways: using an elevator pitch at a networking event

An elevator pitch is a crucial tool for anyone looking to promote themselves in a professional context. A well-crafted elevator pitch can help you make a memorable impression on potential employers. The key points to remember from Docel’s advice are as follows:

  • Be authentic, relatable, and trustworthy. Rather than following a pre-written template, it’s better to be your unique self and keep it simple.
  • Start with who you are, what you’re doing right now, and what you’re looking to do in the future.
  • Avoid using the exact same elevator pitch at every event as this can make you come across as inauthentic.
  • Record yourself speaking spontaneously using a video tool. This can help you identify areas for improvement and get feedback from others, such as a real-life career coach.
  • Practice your elevator pitch until you feel comfortable and confident with what you’re saying. This can be done alone or with a small group, and it’s important to try different ways of saying things to find what works best for you.

Overall, crafting a successful elevator pitch takes time and effort, but with the right approach, it can be a valuable tool in advancing your career.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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