Why Your Elevator Pitch Isn't Working

Here's how to keep it short, sweet and successful.
Why Your Elevator Pitch Isn't Working
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Guest Writer
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4 min read
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An elevator pitch is one of the most important tools in the earliest stages of any startup’s development. Designed to be a short, catchy way to describe your business concept when you don’t have time to explain the details (as in during an elevator ride), there are a few hallmarks for effectiveness, but just as many ways it can go wrong. Here are some of the likeliest culprits, as well as how they can be resolved.

You Sound Like Everyone Else

It's tempting to describe your business in terms that are familiar to other entrepreneurs, but the danger here is that you might fall into cliché. For example, how many times have you heard a new tech startup describe itsef as “the Uber" of its industry? While it’s natural to want to ride on the success of a unicorn, that's not a memorable or original hook. Your business is different in some key way, so play up that distinctiveness.

The Length Is Off

Some experts suggest that an ideal elevator pitch should be between 20 and 30 seconds, but it’s hard to put a number on it. There isn’t necessarily a “right” length in general, but there may be a right length for yours. If your business idea is simple, spending too long describing it could bore or annoy your listener, or make it seem like you’re overconfident. If your business idea is more complex, abbreviating your pitch could shortchange its true value. Ultimately, make the pitch as short as it can be without omitting the crux of what makes your business desirable.

Related: Watch: 'Elevator Pitch'

The Bottom Line Isn’t Apparent

The “bottom line” will vary depending on your audience, but it should always be apparent when you’re making the pitch. For investors, it’s either profitability or longevity. For clients, it’s often a proposed solution to a real problem. For example, if you’re pitching a new app that helps pet owners find good dog parks, you can talk up how well the app works, but that isn’t going to matter to either group. Investors want to know how this app is going to make money, and prospective users would want to know why they couldn’t just use Google Maps.

Your Concept Is Too Abstract

Entrepreneurs sometimes get lost in the abstract concept behind their idea, and aren’t able to present it in concrete terms that an unfamiliar outsider would quickly or easily understand. This is usually a symptom of too much brainstorming and not enough on-paper planning. Focus on the ground-level structure and mechanisms of your business, and less on the philosophy or abstract goals behind it.

You’re Over-Rehearsing

Practice makes perfect, until it makes terrible. Over-rehearsing your elevator pitch, like any speech, can be problematic. If you’re too reliant on specific language or a rigid order to the conversation, you’ll risk sounding insincere or robotic. You’ll also forgo the possibility of wiggle room for comfortably adjusting to your audience on the fly.

Related: Everything You Need to Know to Pitch an Investor

You’re Under-Rehearsing

Of course, you can also make the opposite mistake. If you try to improvise your elevator pitch, you’ll end up hitting redundant points, overexplaining yourself or leaving out some important details entirely. Do at least a few dry runs with a colleague or in front of a mirror before taking it live.

You Aren’t Experimenting

One of the best ways to improve an elevator pitch is to try out different variants. There’s a certain intangible quality to successful pitches that’s hard to conceptualize or bake into your outline from the outset. However, you can tell by your listeners’s facial expressions and body language when you hit an important point or make a connection. Use these cues, combined with tiny variants in your approach, to learn which phrases or angles best serve your idea.

Your elevator pitch isn’t something you can master, at least not in a permanent way. Instead, it should evolve naturally as you learn more about your business, gain more experience talking to prospective partners and clients and learn which techniques or approaches don’t work. Commit to revisiting your outline on a regular basis until you’ve achieved your primary goal, whether that’s securing a line of investment capital or landing your first client.

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