Your Elevator Pitch: A Complete Answer to “So, What Do You Do?”
When you think of an elevator pitch, what comes to mind first?
Personally, I picture business people in a stuffy, beige office building. One is a top executive and the other is an underpaid, lowly salesperson. The lowly employee has a great idea and only has a short time in an elevator to get his idea out before the executive reaches her floor and dismissively peaces out.
Of course, the elevator pitch is so-named not because they occur in actual elevators, but because they should last about the same amount of time as an average elevator ride.
So the term “elevator pitch” doesn’t mean it’s in an elevator, and apparently it doesn’t necessarily apply to people with brilliant ideas. It simply refers to a short sales pitch about, well, anything. It’s often used to describe a person’s short summary of what they do for a living, but it can also describe a sales pitch for a business or a product.
Ready to get to it? Download your free worksheet here:
It’s a skill that just about everyone needs to have, not just business–and sales–minded people. Keeping an elevator pitch in your back pocket is handy anytime someone asks you the most generic question of all (the adult version of “what’s your major?”): “what do you do?”
We spent far too many years (and dollars) on our educations to be unable to answer that question. Even if what you do day to day isn’t your dream job, you ought to be able to summarize your unique skills and interests in just a few sentences. This is a skill in and of itself that shows apt communication skills and self-awareness.
1) Memorize it.
I’m guessing you are having one of two reactions to this point: it was either “well, duh” or “no, then it’ll sound rehearsed”. I have attended enough classes and career workshops throughout the years to know that I’m always told to memorize it, I never used to, and then I regret it at the most inopportune moments.
So this is me telling you: seriously, memorize it word-for-word or point-by-point, whichever is the most comfortable for you. Commit it to memory and you’ll be better off when the moment arrives to use it. I have finally started doing this and it’s magical. I barely remember anything about high school Spanish, but I can spit out one sentence at rapid speed: “quitate la ropa“.
I’m not proud of it, but it serves an important purpose here: If you treat your elevator pitch the same way a high schooler would treat the sentence “take of your clothes” in Spanish class (which is to say, repeats it over and over ad nauseum), then eventually it will become second nature to say on demand. Except you won’t have a disgruntled Profesora to deal with.
2) Don’t give too much detail.
I’m a textbook INTP, which means I’m all about over-examination and detail, detail, detail. Sometimes I go into too much detail because I think all of the context is absolutely crucial always.
It’s what has created my thorough but wordy writing style, so there’s that. When you’re ready to answer the question “so, what do you do?”, conciseness is your friend. Too much detail will make them lose interest, which could lead to a lost opportunity.
This person may know someone offering a job that’s perfect for you, or maybe they just heard about a new organization that could help you get your business off the ground. Now you’ll never know because you’re rambling about the specific software you use at work (who cares?) and now they’re daydreaming about their high school Spanish teacher quitate-ing her la ropa. Basically, if they want more information, they will ask you for it.
3) Stay away from jargon.
This is important if you’re talking with someone outside your field. Every field has a mess of jargon and acronyms that no one else understands.
If I told you that my job involves georeferencing and digitizing land use maps in ArcGIS, you’d be like “huh?” (unless you’re in the cartography/GIS world). There is definitely a way to explain my job that does not involve jargon: “I create digital maps from old paper maps”. This is a more appropriate way to breach the subject and I sound like less of an ass, so it’s a win-win.
If you’re super ingrained in your field and it’s your life’s passion and you live and breathe it every moment of every day, it might be hard to convert the jargon into terms a layperson can understand.
If you don’t know where to start, try explaining your job to a friend or family member who barely knows what you do (you must have at least one). When they can finally understand your job, you know you’ve figured out the right way to describe it.
Just like #2, if they want more detail about what you do, they’ll ask about it.
4) Connect it to them.
Maybe you don’t know a thing about them yet, but you can still connect your elevator pitch to them by asking a question like “Do you know how some areas have limited access to hospitals? Well, what I do is…”, or “Did you know that most people find jobs through their already existing networks? What my business does is…”.
See, those are already pretty interesting. Even if they didn’t know a thing about the background information, you told them as much as they need to know and gave them a reason to care. This serves the dual purpose of being kind of an “attention getter” (remember 6th grade English?) and telling them about the problem your job solves. Now you sound interesting and important.
5) Don’t let it go stale.
All the way back at #1, you memorized your elevator pitch and now it’s perfect and you’ll never have to change it again! Nah, sorry.
Maybe your field stays pretty static over time, but those fields are pretty rare. And even so, what you do in your field is likely to change at some point. Most careers cycle through changing technologies, fresh jargon, and new skillsets all the time. Just like you’re always abreast of those changes, your elevator pitch needs to stay up to date. Review it on the regular to make sure it still highlights the problem you’re solving, your interests, and your most impressive skills.
6) Put it online.
Yes, you memorized it and can recite it to anyone, anytime, and that’s awesome! However, your online presence is an extension of who you are as a person. This is even more important if you work in a social or tech-related field, but I’m a believer that it’s important for just about everyone.
If you are active on social media and have public accounts, your online presence should reflect who you are as a brand. No, you don’t need your own logo and you don’t necessarily even need a professional headshot, but you do need a consistent message throughout. Make it clear who you are and what you’re about (only the good stuff, not the Fireball Whiskey stuff).
7) Always Be “On.”
As an introvert, I know this is virtually impossible. Even in public, I am pretty withdrawn. When people talk to me out of the blue, it’s like having someone turn on the lights immediately after a movie. I wasn’t ready! But, ya know, those situations happen all the time.
Some people love to strike up a conversation with a stranger, and especially in an academic or professional environment, it will serve you well to be open to that. I have gained both network connections and jobs (two of them!) by taking out my headphones, engaging in conversation, and having some semblance of an elevator pitch ready to go at all times. You never know what might happen when you’re quietly trying to enjoy your lunch before class starts.
Now that we have exhausted just about all the background on elevator pitches, how do you actually go about creating one?
Grab your worksheet and follow along:
All you really need is to come up with three sentences that answer these questions in this order:
Question 1. Connect it to the listener by asking something like “Did you know that…?”, or “Are you familiar with…?”. This part is designed to highlight the problem that you or your business solves while adding a little background.
Example: “Did you know that about 60% of U.S. retail sales will be online by next year?”
Question 2: In plain words, describe what you do.
Example: “I specialize in ensuring that retailers’ websites are optimized to be found by search engines.”
Note: This part can have more jargon if you’re talking to someone who is familiar with it already.
Question 3: Lastly, craft a sentence that explains an end result or a success you have had.
Example: “One of my client’s page views increased by 50% in two months and their sales increased by the same amount.”
Put it all together and you get:
“Did you know that about 60% of U.S. retail sales will be online by next year? I specialize in ensuring that retailers’ websites are optimized to be found by search engines. One of my client’s page views increased by 50% in two months and their sales increased by the same amount”.
This is pretty darn good. We have some information about why their job is important, what skills they have, and what benefits have come out of it.
What does your perfect elevator pitch look like?