The lore of the elevator pitch comes from the early days of Hollywood when one would hope to trap an executive in an elevator and ‘pitch.’ The Elevator Pitch is an enduring shorthand that represents the simplest description of what you do.
You need brevity and simplicity… but simplicity alone is not your goal! Your goal is to get the other person to say, “I get it!” or “I want to learn more!”
The Elevator Pitch is dead. What we aim for is Elevator Engagement.
We achieve our goal more effectively and efficiently if we focus on the two-way (engagement) and not the one-way (pitch). Instead of spewing for 20-60 seconds (even if succinct), think about one great question you can ask the other person to get them ENGAGED in a conversation.
At our boot camps we do an exercise to illustrate that you can actually communicate WAYYYY more in 60 seconds by simply asking one or two questions than you can by talking (however concise you may be). It works because:
In asking a question, you start with the other person’s construct (or gestalt!).
We become fully engaged when we are talking. So, the simple act of getting the other person to talk changes the level of engagement. (This is Dale Carnegie 101!)
If you start with a question, you immediately learn what is pertinent and non-pertinent. You can use a short amount of time on relevant information.
Finally, we can position our work in their words. LISTENING is one of the most powerful selling skills in the world.
Earlier this year we were helping an organization make a neuroscience pitch to a foundation. The executive director was asked to appear before the foundation board and ‘make a pitch’. We had to reprogram her default, one-way pitch, to instead starting with a question to the panel of eight. She simply asked, “Has anyone ever had experience with a stroke, or a family member that’s had a stroke?” The board chair raised his hand and then spent two minutes talking about the importance of neuroscience research. Others jumped in. They were engaged — fully.
The executive director was able to simply build on the conversation. Though she had eight slides prepared, she found she only needed to use three of them (in response to the conversation). The board said it was one of the best pitches they had ever received – that’s because she didn’t pitch; she engaged.
She was awarded the grant!
Nota bene: There are many circles (usually tied to funding communities, e.g., silicon valley and nyc / financial) where a ‘pitch-deck’ is standard affair. Don’t let the ‘pitch deck’ put you in ‘pitch mode.’ As in the neuroscience story, you should focus on engagement. And, of course, we’re partial to the one-page pitch deck!
Record what happened on the visit. Someone on your team should be able to pick-up the memo and continue the conversation. In most cases, you can have a sheet of paper out to take notes during the visit. I’m amazed at how often sales people don’t take notes!
Use quotes. THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!! The best message in the world is the one that comes from the prospect’s mouth. Capture words and exact phrases used by the prospect(s); put them in quotes.
Bad: Prospect seemed to like our program.
Good: “Of everything you’re doing, I honestly don’t really care about the after-school program but I think the summer program has mountains of potential.”
“The human brain, according to a recent New York Times article about scientists investigating why we think the way we do, has evolved into a narrative-creating machine that takes ‘whatever it encounters, no matter how apparently random’ and imposes on it ‘chronology and cause-and-effect logic. Stories impose meaning on the chaos. They organize and give context to our sensory experiences, which otherwise might seem like no more than a fairly colorless sequence of facts. Facts are meaningless until you create a story around them.”
Here are some ways I’ve processed and coached around this recently:
As a speaker or leader. I promise you no one else is over analyzing your work or your presentation to the degree you are – especially when things go bad. You’re spending 95% of your whitespace-thinking trying to align your world in your head… how you did with a presentation or how you are doing in your role. Other people have reactions to your work but they don’t dwell on it — they dwell on themselves. They can ‘let it go’; you should too.
As a human being. Now that you’ve read this, take note of how often you’re making sense of your own life, your own narrative. What if we can shift it to something more like 50/50!? I believe we can! Or, at least, we can direct our 95% toward more empathetic thinking.
On a visit. Whomever I’m sitting with is spending 95% of their time working on their own narrative! What’s the narrative!? (Discovery! Discovery! Discovery!) I want to listen and then tie to that!
From the archives, but still relevant today – Read on for how to avoid Vocabulary Wars.
Last week we were with an organization that helps homeless people find and secure permanent housing. The Executive Director of this organization had spent the last 10 years – off and on – trying to get three specific area Foundations ‘on board.’ In that time, some $10K grants had been awarded but for the most part the Foundations said, “We don’t fund projects like yours.”
The mission statements for the foundations were almost identical to that of this homelessness organization. And, each Foundation had funded similar agencies working in the homeless arena.
After some discussion, I realized that the challenge has been vocabulary, not fit. For example:
This organization receives about $1M annually from the government — to be used for ‘capital’. It turned out that ‘capital’ in this definition meant anything that had to do with the actual home or residence (including programs to get into the residence.) In the case of this organization, the ‘home’ was the OBJECTIVE of the program. Kind of hard to end homelessness without a home somewhere in the equation… no?
The Foundations avoided ‘capital’ projects. It turned out the ‘capital’ meant ‘capital campaign’ to the them – bricks and mortar, campaign committees, fancy office chairs, etc.
The organization had structured all of its internal vocabulary based on conversations with the government. These vocabulary words were deal killers with the private foundations who heard “capital campaign” when they wanted to focus on more “programs for the homeless.” (I’m not making this up.)
So, here’s what we did:
We coached the organization’s senior leadership to go back to one of the Foundations. This time the organizations was to ask questions, listen and use the Foundation’s vocabulary to advance a discussion.
The key questions to ask were, “What is the biggest challenge you’re seeing with respect to ending homeless in this area? How are you working to address that challenge?”
The Foundation said it felt a lack of ‘housing opportunities’ were available to the working poor and that it was trying to identify agencies that worked as a catalyst to create more opportunities. Note: The most critical point of this entire story is probably right here. The organization had to LISTEN to the foundation to pull off the right ask.
The organization’s leadership was then able to position its work as a ‘catalyst to create more housing opportunities’.
Both the foundation and the organization leadership described the ensuing conversation as ‘electric’ and ‘exciting.‘ They will be meeting again next month to talk about a multi-year financial partnership.
For 10 years, would-be partners had failed to align for what amounted to a vocabulary war. At times the relationship was even contentious – there were debates and arguments between foundation heads and leaders in this organization about right/wrong and ‘justice’ in funding.
It’s important to realize in this story that at 30,000’ they were in COMPLETE alignment: all parties were trying to end homelessness. The fact that the homeless organization was getting a token $10K here and there was an indicator that there was alignment on the CAUSE (WHY), but not the CASE (WHAT). The relationship was advanced – light speed – by really, really listening and aligning the solution in terms the funder understood.
The only way to avoid a vocabulary war is to listen.
Note: In the actual coaching I said to the ED, “I want you just to listen.. to really understand the foundation’s challenges. When you hear a word you don’t understand, ask them to define it. Keep listening until you can say, ‘wait a minute, we can help solve that!’”.
This week’s theme is: Create a simple, powerful PRESENTATION and ENGAGEMENT TOOL.
The are three key components to a great presentation: Engagement, Discovery and Authenticity.
Our goal on the visit is to get people ENGAGED – in a dialogue – about them, about you, and about the opportunity you both have to save, change, and impact lives.
Asking questions is the best way to do DISCOVERY. It is the best way to create ENGAGEMENT and an absolutely marvelous way to be able to PRESENT THE OPPORTUNITY!
Here are 3 quick tips on how to be a great listener:
Focus. Actually sit up, and engage with your eyes and ears as you focus on exactly what the prospect is saying.
Get people to tell their story. This is even better than you sharing the story about impact. Let them tell you why they find meaning in your impact or organization. Nothing you say can trump their ‘WHY.’
Take notes. In my mind, this is a great way to show respect, show that you’re listening, and show that you care. The best thing about notes for me is that it helps me focus on listening, and then when the prospect is finished I can refer back to the notes and quotes.
*It’s also a great way to capture as much of the visit as you can for the Memo for the Record, which, of course, you are going to complete as soon after the call as possible.
We like to tell our Boot Camp attendees, “If you’re authentic, you can’t screw it (the visit, the conversation, the ask) up!”
AUTHENTICITY means being REAL. HONEST. CANDID. SINCERE!
The people you’re with know right away whether you’re ‘selling snake oil’ or SINCERELY PRESENTING AN OPPORTUNITY that has VALUE to both the GIVER and the RECEIVER!
I read 30 years ago (in Denis Waitley’s Seeds of Greatness) that the word SINCERE means “without wax” (in Latin, sine = without, cera = wax.) Ancient sculptors would ‘fix’ any flaws or mistakes that they made in the marble by filling in the mistake with wax.