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The (St)Art of Public Speaking: The Elevator Pitch

Some people are innately good at public speaking but the rest of us, unfortunately, have to work at it. It has never been something I have felt proficient in and thanks to some free time during the pandemic, it is a skill that I’m trying to develop. From reading books, to listening to podcasts, and sometimes talking to myself (all in the name of practice of course), I am going to share some of the things I learn in the next few issues of The Oppy.

Part 1: The Elevator Pitch

In business school, the importance of an elevator pitch is hammered into us. A good pitch, we’re told, is necessary in a culture that relies so much on networking to succeed. However, creating a concise, compelling message that captures the attention of each individual you meet is no easy feat. I’ve been considering mine a lot lately and realized that I had the concept all wrong. A good elevator pitch is not a retelling of your academic and professional timeline. Someone can look at your LinkedIn profile for that. It’s selling who you are as a holistic person. The time that you invest in thinking about your message opens the door for further communication and collaboration. So, what should you include in this personal brand story?

Other than the basic facts, such as your name, industry, and title, there are five things you need to include in a good elevator pitch:

1) What value do you bring to others or what problems can you solve (aka what usefulness would you bring to a firm)?

2) What makes you unique?

3) What methods do you use to help solve problems?

4) What are your intrinsic motivators?

5) Spin that makes it personal and relatable to the person you’re sharing it with.

Equally important as what you say is how you say it. You’re not talking at people; you’re talking with people. Craft your pitch with the perspective of the other person in mind. It’s not about you, the focus is on your conversation partner. Instead of a blanket pitch, create a few variations based on your audience. You’re not just giving facts; you’re sharing your story, so the recipient has a better understanding of who you are. The goal is to make a personal connection with warmth in order to establish rapport.

Intrinsic motivation is not something that many of us reflect on routinely. However, it is what drives us and, therefore, should be included in our pitches. Yes, high salaries, which lead to nice lifestyles, are motivating, but they don’t make us happy. As business school students, we are similar in that we are all driven. Yet, the reasons why we are driven vary greatly from person to person. It may not be obvious what your intrinsic motivators are at first and that’s okay. Take some time to consider what you want and what you are trying to accomplish during this lifetime. Then contemplate on reasons why you want this. It’s not always easy to figure out but it should be a work in progress. 

Embrace small talk. Yes, small talk is tiresome, but it can lead to deeper conversation. A gradual professional conversation is what you’re trying to accomplish. Small talk can be helpful in learning the basics about who you’re talking to and what interests them. This will hopefully become the foundation of an engaging conversation, where you will express who you are and what you do. Plus, making a personal connection makes the experience of giving your pitch less tedious!

Make it personal. Integrating an individualized component demonstrates what makes you unique. And learning something distinctive, although not necessarily relevant to your career journey, makes a pitch more attention-grabbing and memorable. A personal example I can think of is from a leadership workshop I attended. We were put into breakout groups to practice our elevator pitches. I was with a Stern alumnus. He gave me a brief but thorough story of his professional endeavors and why he felt strongly about his accomplishments and goals. The pitch was really impressive, and I could tell he had put the work into it. During it, I heard children’s voices in the background, and I became curious about that. I commended him on evaluating and including his “intrinsic why,” but gave him the feedback about tying it together with something personal. He responded that, while he didn’t think it was relevant to a pitch, he did have four kids. I found that fascinating and told him so. I could tell he wasn’t really buying what I was trying to sell. It was then my turn to give my pitch. I told him my personal reasons for why I went into medicine and how healthcare satisfies my motivation. I expressed what I was hoping to accomplish with an MBA, albeit not exactly knowing how just yet. I wrapped my pitch up with “and on a personal level, I love running. I raced marathons prior to the pandemic, which I’m missing. So, I did a virtual marathon last weekend for my hospital’s charity team.” Despite his initial disinclination to a personal fact, he seemed the most interested in that component of my pitch. This led him to ultimately agreed with my point. The personal aspect helped him learn more about who I am as a complete person versus just my professional story.

All of this should be shared in a few sentences. I know, not easy. The point is that you want to be able to give your pitch in a minute or so. Sometimes less is more, especially when it prevents you from rambling and speaking rapidly in order to jam everything you want to say in a short timeframe. Like anything else, it takes practice. There was never a more worthwhile reason to talk to yourself!

Photo credit: https://medium.com/signal-v-noise/ditch-the-elevator-pitch-c4e39b18197c

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