“So, what do you do?”
This question often strikes fear into the hearts of the unprepared. If you’re a job seeker, or simply interested in growing your professional network, it might be exactly the question you want to be asked, but something you find frustrating to answer. This is where the elevator pitch comes in.
Delivering an elevator pitch is an essential skill for getting across who you are and what you do. Think of it as a personal summary or introduction, designed to convey your skills, experience, and future goals in a way that is both concise and engaging.
Contrary to the image it conjures up, the elevator pitch does not have to take place in an actual elevator, and is not only for people in suits, long seasoned in selling themselves. Elevator pitches are for everyone, in any profession, and can be extremely useful in a variety of situations.
You never know when you’re going to cross paths with your next big opportunity, so it’s best to come prepared.
How to write your elevator pitch
The most important aspect of a good elevator pitch is its length. It should take somewhere between 30 and 60 seconds to deliver (so about 75-100 words) – or, about the time you might spend riding an elevator.
Be kind to your audience. If your elevator pitch is any longer than this then they’ll either have too much information to process or feel they’re getting more than just an introduction. The aim of an elevator pitch is to get the listener interested. Jump the gun and you might put them off.
Ultimately your pitch must be flexible and natural, adapted to both the situation and the audience. But, nevertheless, it’s best to first write it up. This will help you prioritize the information you want to communicate, boiling things down to the bare essentials required to make a good impression.
For inspiration, I’ve included some elevator pitch examples at the bottom of this article, but you should always structure your pitch in three parts: present, past, future (and in that order).
Summary (Present): First off, you should introduce yourself personally. Ideally, you can then describe what you do in a single sentence.
Example: “Hi, I’m Claire, it’s great to meet you. I’m a business consultant, specializing in strategic consulting for NGOs and charities…”
Background (Past): Now you want to clarify ‘what you do’ with a little context. Briefly note the most relevant aspects of your education and professional experience, giving the listener a sense of where you’re coming from.
Claire again: “...I first studied Economics and then went on to take a Master’s degree in Developmental Economics. After completing an internship with the United Nations Development Program, I’ve spent the last 2 years at a small animal protection charity...”
Goals (Future): Never end it in the past tense. Follow your background up with where you want to go next, and what you want to achieve.
Example: “I am most interested in working for an international NGO or charity, and am looking for opportunities that are more focused on helping support entrepreneurship in low-income communities.”
Pro tip. You might want to write several versions for different situations (e.g. a job interview, a professional networking event, a private social event), that way you can practice adjusting your pitch to suit the audience and the context.
How to deliver your elevator pitch
Style and substance
Now that you’ve drafted your written pitch(es), you can focus on the all-important delivery.
Whether you’re making an elevator pitch to introduce yourself to a prospective employer or simply an acquaintance, your aim is to make a good impression. Doing that doesn’t just come down to what you say, but how you say it.
Here are some important principles (and handy tips) to keep in mind:
- Keep it conversational. The elevator pitch is somewhere between informal and formal. You want to keep the tone conversational even if the content is serious. This is crucial in getting the most from your pitch: it should be flexible, and always adapted to suit the situation and the person you are talking to – and the type of conversation you are having.
- Don’t rush. You might want to keep things brief, but you certainly don’t want to talk too fast. Avoid niche terminology and speak clearly. This is where your preparation pays off: having boiled your pitch down to the fundamentals, you can take your time expressing yourself clearly without going off on a tangent.
- Be persuasive. Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of “selling” themselves, but ultimately you are pitching because you think your skills and experience are worth talking about. Don’t be afraid to try and convince your audience – many people are prone to playing down their own abilities and achievements.
- Be confident. A good elevator pitch will always convey what is most impressive about a person, and it should give an indication of their ambitions and aims for the future. And it may well lead to the chance of a lifetime. For that to happen, the audience needs to know you believe in what you’re telling them.
- Be yourself. Although preparation is essential for an engaging elevator pitch, so is a natural, genuine manner in delivering it. Whatever you write should feel authentic when converted into speech, and everything you say should be expressed in your natural voice. It’s you, after all, that the listener wants to know more about.
Practice makes perfect
There’s no getting away from the fact that the more you practice it, the better your elevator pitch will be. Writing the perfect text and imbibing the principles of good delivery is not enough if you want to seize the day and make the most of every opportunity.
The next step is getting out there and putting what you’ve rehearsed into practice, especially if you find selling yourself awkward or difficult. Each time you pitch you’ll feel more confident as a result, and it’ll feel more natural. You’ll get better at improvising with time, and adapting your message for different audiences and contexts will get easier too.
Be yourself, be prepared, and get pitching. Good luck!
Some elevator pitch examples
Christopher, Accounting graduate
Nice to meet you, I’m Chris. I’m a Financial Accountant. I recently finished a Finance and Accounting Master’s, having first studied Business Administration and Commercial Law at undergraduate level. I gained some months’ work experience during my studies, but am now looking to gain more experience, hopefully at a big accounting or consultancy firm. I’m open to any opportunities though and am keeping my eye out for internships or accounting positions at SMEs in the financial sector.
Helen, Front-end Software Developer
Hi, I’m Helen, it’s really great to meet you. I’m a Front-end Developer, working mainly on mobile apps. After studying Computer Science I worked for some years as a software developer for a startup. As the company expanded I found myself specializing in front-end software development, and I ended up working exclusively on the company’s mobile app. Now I am working freelance as I work part-time on my own projects, so I’m very interested in any projects looking for development support or consultancy, especially startups.
John, Sales Executive
I’m John, it’s nice to meet you. I’m a Sales Executive, specializing in the healthcare industry. I am currently working at a big pharmaceutical company, MediCo, which is actually my first job in sales. I studied Political Science as an undergraduate but found my first job as a Customer Support Specialist. I quickly realized that I wanted to go into sales, and I love what I do. Having got to know the healthcare sector, I’d like to stay in this line of work, and hopefully, in the future, I can start managing my own team of account executives.
Jamie, University Student
Hello, I’m Jamie. I’m so glad you’ve taken the time to meet with me. I’m currently a student at Copenhagen Business School where I’m getting my bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Service Management. I’m very active in my school’s Academic Council association, and as a representative for my class, I’ve helped organize various projects and events, such as the CBS Goes Green initiative. I’ve always known I wanted to work in sustainability, and that’s why I think I would make a great addition to your team.