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Creating an Elevator Pitch that Isn't Hollow

Think Clearly Blog

A blog about thinking clearly and other things that interest me

Creating an Elevator Pitch that Isn't Hollow

Greg Laugero

I've written elsewhere that most advice on elevator pitches is mechanical. Word count, duration, use of questions, hooks and a host of other techniques dominate the guidance. Good advice for sure, but it's a bit like reading eighteenth-century literary criticism -- it's all about playing by predetermined rules laid down by ancient authorities. How well you play by the rules is the basis of evaluating the quality of the pitch. 

In that LinkedIn post (Do You Believe Your Own Elevator Pitch?), I discussed authenticity as the foundation for a good pitch. HBO's Silicon Valley does a great job of lampooning the results of this rules-based approach to elevator pitches. Check it out. Everyone is playing by a common set of rules, and it all sounds the same. No authenticity, only performance without substance. Without belief. 

Here is some more advice on creating an authentic elevator pitch that you actually believe and will be compelling for others. 

It's about WHY

Use Simon Sinek's golden circle for thinking about your pitch. Remember "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." Try to understand your WHY. This is harder than you might think. It's easy to describe what we do and how we do it. "We are digital marketing experts." "We design and build mobile apps." "I'm an independent consultant focusing on the challenges of non-profits." What you do and how you do it is a function of your experience. It can lock you into a way of thinking about yourself and your company that is short-sighted and stifles your own creativity about yourself. 

WHAT = your WHY in action

Contrary to Sinek's admonition to "start with why," it is often easier to start with a clear statement of your WHAT, but you need to quickly move to WHY. Think about your WHAT as evidence of your WHY. Do this by inserting the phrase "We do this because" after your WHAT statement. 

For example: 

WHAT: "We help digital marketers set up and run conversion rate optimization programs."
WHY: "We do this because we are energized by finding new actionable insights in the data that no one had found before. That's what drives us." 

The first statement signals the context of the discussion. Who? Digital Marketers. What? Conversion Rate Optimization. But it does nothing to help your audience understand why you? Bridging the "who" and "what" with "we do this because" forces you to think more deeply about why your company does what it does.

If you're honest with yourself, you'll be able to avoid hollow "because" statements, like this one:

"We help digital marketers set up and run conversion rate optimization programs. We do this because we've been doing this for a long time. We're experts."

Not very convincing because what's missing is the authenticity. It's hollow. Longevity is not authenticity. Declaring expertise is not a WHY statement. "Because" leads you to authenticity if you honestly engage with your WHY.

Define the Value of your WHY

Why is your WHY important? What does it do for others? Why does it matter to them? Answering these questions is essential to creating an elevator pitch that doesn't sound hollow. 

Value: "You want someone on your side who is driven by finding those actionable insights in ever-increasing volumes of data. Without that passion, the job is overwhelming." 

Another way to think of this is to answer the question, why should your audience care about your WHY? They care because of something they get out of engaging with you and your company? What is it? 

Putting It All Together

For my own pitch, I used this structure to get started. This is my first draft:

WHAT and HOW: "I'm founder of a company called Think Clearly. I help entrepreneurs and non-profits think through tough issues, communicate effectively and become leaders in the process. I provide workshops, consulting, and mentoring related to One-Page Business Models, Elevators Pitches, Value Propositions, and Strategic Planning."
WHY: "I do this because I love finding clarity in complex challenges and clearly communicating the way forward."
Value: "I've helped many people become better leaders by helping them think through tough challenges and get others on board through clear, compelling communication."

Over time, I've been able to refine the pitch and drop the "because" statement as the bridge and start with WHY: 

WHY and Value: "When you talk to people who have worked with me for a long time, they'll tell you that I help them find clarity in chaotic situations and communicate the way forward. They're better leaders as a result. I've created a company, Think Clearly, to bring this passion and talent to entrepreneurs, investors, and non-profits."
WHAT and HOW: "So how do you put my telents to use? We provide workshops, consulting, and mentoring related to One-Page Business Models, Elevators Pitches, Value Propositions, and Strategic Planning."

From there, I see what (if anything) has created a hook. Unfold the conversation from there. If it's authentic, then you'll be confident in yourself and not have to rely on a scripted speech that doesn't ring true to you our your audience. 

My Posts on Authentic Brands and "WHY"