It wasn’t too long ago that most business was generated through in-person networking.
Back then, you had to be good at explaining what you did, whom you served, and why you were different or better from the competition.
In other words, you needed a good elevator pitch… because one of the first questions people asked at networking meetings was,
“What do you do?”
These days, most of us market ourselves online. So we’re not talking to prospects face-to-face or on the phone.
But we still need a strong elevator pitch. Because your ability to clearly and persuasively explain what you do will have a direct impact on your success as a copywriter.
Here are seven specific steps to crafting the perfect answer to that common question, regardless of who’s asking.
- Talk Like a Human
Please, please, please — for the love of all that’s good in this world — DON’T sound like a walking brochure! Talk like a human being!
Or here’s another way to put it: Don’t talk the way you write.
Yes, you’re going to write down your pitch. But you don’t want it to sound like brochure copy or a tagline. It has to feel natural to say and hear.
In other words, you have to make it sound like it just rolled off your tongue.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
I help tech markets write marketing pieces that generate more leads and speed up sales cycles.
That pitch may work well on your website. But can you imagine yourself saying that to someone in person? No!
Now look at this version:
I write marketing and sales materials for software companies. I basically help my clients ‘sell’ the value of their products and services through written materials.
I write marketing and sales materials for software companies. I basically help them sell on paper. Because most buyers these days would rather read what they want on a website than meet with a pushy salesperson.
See the difference?
A good elevator pitch sounds natural. It’s easy to say and understand. And it’s a little bit fun!
- Cut Out the Jargon
Make sure your elevator pitch is free of fluff and worthless jargon, even if the other person is an industry insider.
For example, how would you respond to the following elevator speech?
I work with thought leaders and evangelists in leading-edge Internet of Things organizations to craft robust client personas and drive multi-modal synergies across industry verticals. I take a holistic, granular, yet scalable approach to generating best-of-breed, cross-platform digital content solutions that drive ROI and have measurable organizational impact.
It’s a total snooze, right? You’d have a hard time coming up with a follow-up question because you couldn’t understand anything the person just said!
So instead, talk like you would to anyone. Be conversational. Skip the flowery words and elaborate sentence structures. You can’t go wrong using simple language. The insider you’re talking to will still understand what you’re saying — and others will too!
This alone will dramatically increase your chances of starting a meaningful conversation.
- Don’t Oversimplify!
At the same time, be careful not to oversimplify. Brevity is important, but your pitch needs to have some meat to spark a real conversation.
Here’s an example of a “too brief” speech:
I’m a storyteller. I write stories people want to read.
Here, you’re not giving listeners enough to grab onto, which makes them feel awkward and unsure.
Instead, how about:
I help companies write compelling stories about how their customers use their products and services to solve big problems.
See the difference?
- Break It Up
As a writer, you already know that it’s easier to process ideas and information in chunks. Your pitch should also follow the same rule.
Some common advice is that a 60-second pitch is a reasonable length. But can you imagine delivering a 60-second pitch? There’s nothing natural about it! It’s WAY too long.
After all, you’re trying to spark a conversation. And droning on for 60-seconds nonstop isn’t a good way to do it!
That’s why I suggest you break your elevator pitch into two or more parts. Start by delivering one or two sentences (or a combination of a sentence or two and a question) and allow listeners to respond with a follow-up question.
Then you answer that question with another sentence or two.
The listener then acknowledges your reply, and you can cap off your pitch with another statement based on their reaction.
Here’s an example:
Brian: So what do you do, Ed?
Ed: I run an e-learning company. I basically publish online training courses that teach freelance writers, designers, and other creative professionals how to market and sell their services with more confidence.
Brian: Oh, that’s cool. So, do you teach workshops? How does it work?
Ed: It’s mostly home-study training courses that you go through online and at your own pace. And then I have some programs that involve some group coaching and mentoring with me.
Brian: Yeah, that makes sense. That’s neat. How did you get into that?
See how each one of these statements is bite-sized and easy to process? And each statement focuses on one idea.
- Prepare Two Versions
You should prepare two different versions of your pitch: one for prospects or industry insiders and one for laypeople.
When you create a version for laypeople, preface what you do with some context, such as a brief explanation or “tutorial.”
So instead of:
I write marketing materials for healthcare companies. I work with them to explain the value of their products to their…
You might instead start with:
I write marketing materials for healthcare companies. So here’s what happens… Healthcare companies that sell complex equipment, devices, and services need to explain the value of those products and services to their potential buyers. In other words, they need to educate their potential customers on the features, benefits, and advantages of their offerings — and they need to do that via written materials. The problem is that they don’t always have the staff to get it all done in-house. I solve that problem for them by helping them write these pieces when they’re stretched thin but don’t want to hire a full-time writer.
- Practice Saying It Out Loud
The best way to get your elevator pitch running smoothly is to role-play. Practice saying it to a family member or friend. In addition, keep editing your script until:
- It feels 100% natural and unrehearsed.
- You can deliver the first “chunk” comfortably in no more than 20 or 30 seconds.
- You can deliver it with confidence.
It’s ironic, but the best elevator pitches are the ones where the person creating them worked very hard to make them sound as if no work went into it at all.
- Ask Listeners about Themselves
Don’t make this conversation all about you. Of course it’s fine to use your pitch to engage the other person and talk about what you do. But after some back and forth, turn the conversation back to them:
“So, what about you? What do you do, Brian?”
No one wants to have a one-way conversation! So keep it balanced by prompting the other person to tell you about themselves.
Perfecting your elevator pitch takes some time and practice. But you’ll be glad you put forth the effort next time a potential client or referral source asks you the inevitable question, “So… what do you do for a living?”