Power Questions

The Elevator Pitch is Dead

“What’s your elevator pitch?”

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!

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Elevator Pitch vs. Elevator Engagement

“What’s your Elevator Pitch?”

The Elevator Pitch may be one of the most powerful framing devices ever. By common definition, the Elevator Pitch means being prepared to cram as much about ourselves/our organization as we can in between floors one and three.

But, did you know that the world’s first elevator pitch involved Elisha Otis climbing on top of one of the first elevators and taking an axe to the cable, showing that the brakes would work?

When you think of it this way, it becomes much more an Elevator ENGAGEMENT than an Elevator PITCH.

If you have 60 seconds with someone on an elevator, to pitch yourself, your impact or organization, presumably the goal is to get the other person to say, “Hey, this sounds interesting. Let’s keep talking.” If that’s the goal then we should be asking ourselves, “What’s the best way to engage in a short time frame?”

You engage more in a short time frame by asking questions than you can by talking. Instead of spewing for 20-60 seconds, even if succinct, think about one great question you can ask of the other person to get them ENGAGED in a conversation.

I’m not throwing out the concept, but I do want to draw your attention to the difference between a one-way communication and a two-way communication. Focus on the two-way (engagement) and not the one-way (pitch.) Think about the difference between SAYING and ENGAGING.

When you’re with a prospect on a visit, by phone, leading a tour or on an elevator, are you SAYING or ENGAGING?

Read more about Power Questions here.

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