Say What You Want, Say it in Under 30 Seconds

By February 22, 2008 May 4th, 2018 No Comments
man's arm, with a focus on his wrist and closed hand to highlight the watch as a metaphor for the elevator pitch

Article Summary:  In today’s business world, communication moves at race-car speed. You often have less than a minute to tell your story. That’s why you need to make your business story succinct and compelling, one that will leave people asking for more. Here are three key steps to developing an elevator pitch that screams, “I need that.”

Say What you Want, Say it in Under 30 Seconds

Copyright © 2008, Washington Business Journal. Used by permission.
Ira J. Koretsky
February 22, 2008

In today’s business world, communication moves at race-car speed. You often have less than a minute to tell your story. That’s why you need to make your business story succinct and compelling, one that will leave people asking for more.

Imagine yourself at a business function. You are introduced to someone who asks, “What do you do?”

The answer to that ubiquitous question has many names (e.g., elevator speech, elevator pitch, and martini monologue). We’ll go with this one:  your elevator pitch. It should tell your core business message or story in 30 seconds or less, about the duration of a typical elevator ride.

I created a three-step process proven to help you perfect your core business story, one that will generate the recruiting, sales, and marketing results you want.

1.  Craft a Compelling Headline

To construct your elevator pitch, start by identifying your objectives.

Are you trying to sell a product? Position yourself for a new job? Make a networking connection? Find volunteers or corporate sponsors? Get an idea approved?

Determining your objectives helps you direct the tone, language, and delivery of your elevator pitch.

Focus on who you are and what you are trying to do. Pare that information down to its bare bones. A reporter tells a story by showing who, what, where, when and why. Think of telling your story in a similar way.

Let’s use a corporate example:

  1. Who:  We are XYZ Company
  2. What:  We eliminate financial emergencies
  3. How:  Through a variety of products and services, including financial planning, wealth protection, and wealth building
  4. Why:  Clients have praised us as great listeners who have delivered on our promises, “predicted” the future with confidence and helped them achieve their financial objectives
  5. What makes us different:  28 years in business, 95 percent client retention, beat the Dow the last eight years
  6. Problems/issues we solve:  Wealth protection, wealth building and wealth sharing for the family and philanthropy

Now think about the people you want to reach with your message. Knowing your audience is critical to effective communication.

Develop a profile for your ideal [blank]. The [blank] is your target audience, client, partner, board of directors, subscriber, member, etc. Who would be best served by your services and products?

Tailor your talk to the audience in your ideal [blank] profile. The elevator pitch to a principal at a nonprofit organization will be different from the pitch to a principal at a publicly traded company. The pitch to the head of a government contractor won’t be the same as the one to the CEO of a startup. Narrow it down, customize it, and fine-tune it.

Now craft a compelling headline, what we call at The Chief Storyteller®, your Better Tomorrow MessageTM. Headlines grab your attention. They arouse your curiosity with the juiciest parts of the story.

Visual headlines are the best. A wonderful example is General Electric’s classic, “We bring good things to light.” Illuminating a home appeals to people in a way that “we make light bulbs” cannot.

Here are a few of my favorite Better Tomorrow MessagesTM I developed for my clients [all phrases Copyright © their respective owners]:

  • “We are champions of healthy living”  © American Diabetes Association®
  • “We create workplace happiness”  © Transwestern Commercial Services
  • “We are like a hotel for business”  © Carr Workplaces.

Keep it short, between three and seven words. Use active verbs. Use these two formats as a guide: “We are like [noun] for [noun]” and “We help [verb] your [blank].”

Work with your team to develop new ideas, to identify key words and to practice. You are developing one headline that will be shared across all your recruiting, sales, marketing and communication materials.

2.  Add the “How” Details

Your core business message should provide details that explain your headline in one to three sentences.

These sentences describe what you do while sharing some of the benefits of working with you. Keep it simple. Avoid jargon and industry-specific language.

Here is an example from Transwestern:

“For the CEO, happiness is office space that supports the corporate vision. For the CFO, happiness is a lease with lower rents, better space, and a sound exit strategy. For employees, happiness is an easy commute to a great location with an upbeat interior.”

3.  Share a Tailored Success Story

Now that you have a compelling Better Tomorrow MessageTM with intriguing details, add a success story tailored to your target audience. This will heighten their interest and increase your emotional connection. Limit your success story to two sentences.

An example of a success story: “Since 1940, the American Diabetes Association has been improving the lives of all people affected by diabetes with the help of great organizations like Kraft Foods, Gold’s Gym, and General Mills.”

Balance bragging with humility.


Finally, evaluate the success of your business story. Your elevator pitch must resonate on a personal and emotional level. You can read someone’s body language and verbal response to get a quick answer to your elevator pitch’s effectiveness.

Receptive body language includes the other person smiling broadly and affirmative head nodding.

Also look for verbal cues. Does your conversation partner ask intelligent and active questions, share a related personal story, offer a business card, ask to set up a meeting, or refer you to a friend? If so, then your elevator pitch is working.

Tweak it over time to ensure that it generates the right results for you.


Photography Source:  Unsplash, Rawpixel

Ira Koretsky

About Ira Koretsky

Ira Koretsky has built The Chief Storyteller® into one of the most recognized names in business storytelling. He has delivered over 500 keynote presentations and workshops in nearly a dozen countries, in more than one hundred cities, across 30 plus industries. His specialties are simplifying the complex and communicating when the stakes are high. He is also an adjunct professor in public speaking and storytelling at the University of Maryland's Business School. With over 25 years of experience, he is a sought-after global speaker, trainer, consultant, and executive communication coach.