From the March 2006 issue of Startups

Imagine getting on an elevator with Bill Gates at the 10th floor of a building. What would you say to him on the way down to the lobby? It's the question Dave Sherman poses in Elevating Your Elevator Speech. Here, he reveals how you can make your two-minute intro a compelling one.

Entrepreneur: Why is your elevator speech so important?

Dave Sherman: An elevator speech is meant to do three things: grab the attention of your listeners, engage them in a conversation about your product or service, and encourage them to ask for more information. Ultimately, the purpose is to stir up enough interest so people are willing to get together later to discuss the potential of doing business.

Entrepreneur: If i ran my own housecleaning service, how should my pitch start?

Sherman: In that situation, a lot of times entrepreneurs will say, "I have a housecleaning business. We have 16 maids and we do business throughout the city." Well, it really doesn't matter to people how many maids you have--all they care about is what your employees are going to do for them. A better pitch is "We make your house look great without you having to do all the work." Instead of telling people about your business, tell them what your business does for them.

Entrepreneur: What are other common mistakes people make in their elevator speeches?

Sherman: Including too many random thoughts, and using jargon or industry buzzwords-if you confuse me, I will never do business with you. The more time you spend putting together a great elevator speech, the more new business you're going to gain.