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Is Your Personal Elevator Pitch Incoherent Babble?

There is no more cherished practice in business than the “elevator pitch.” For those unfamiliar with the practice, conventional wisdom holds that every successful businessperson should be able to explain to a stranger what they have to offer in the average time it takes to ride an elevator. Personally, beyond “what floor?” I don’t want to talk to strangers in an elevator, but in a world of 235-character messaging it’s more important than ever to have a succinct and interesting summary of who you are and what you do. And while it's increasingly unlikely that this pitch is going to take place in an elevator you still need to be ready to sell yourself in as concise a way as possible. Here is the best way to deliver a pitch and get good results:

Know what you want to communicate.

Too often people making their elevator pitch don’t have a coherent message because they haven’t thought through exactly what message they want to convey. They end up saying something so broad, disjointed, or complicated that the person with whom they are talking soon loses interest.

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Don’t push.

There’s nothing worse than asking, “what do you do?” only to be verbally assaulted with a carnivorous sales pitch from a person with the dead eyes of a serial killer. Not everyone who asks what you do even cares about the answer (they asked to be polite) much less is a hot prospect who is dying to buy what you are pitching and willing to endure the hard sell.

Explain it to me like I’m a five-year-old.

In the movie Philadelphia, Denzel Washington plays a lawyer who is fond of telling witnesses to “explain it to me like I’m a five-year-old” and that is exactly how one must successfully deliver an elevator pitch. If your pitch is full of jargon, or questions like, “how much do you know about how peanut butter is made?” You need to simplify it so that a five-year-old child can understand exactly what you’re saying.

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Invite follow up questions.

The point of the elevator pitch is to generate interest in you and to captivate the person enough so that he or she would like to learn more. If your message is too spot-on the other person may see no reason to continue the conversation.

Don’t get cute or cryptic.

I have asked people what they do for a living and they respond with “I help companies make more money” or “I’m an entertainer.” In the case of the former I assume it’s pyramid marketing scheme, and there ends the conversation. In the case of the latter I assume follow up conversations will be met with more verbal roadblocks indicating a lack of desire to continue a dialog.

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Say something that differentiates you from others in your field.

Instead of saying “I’m accountant” you can say, “I’m an accountant who specializes in tax issues for the manufacturing industry.” By having a richer description you give the other person a good idea of your area of specialization which in turn gets them thinking about people (him or herself included) who might want or need your services.

Impose limits.

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Think of your elevator pitch as a human Twitter feed. You have less than a minute and fewer than 250 words (speaking at a normal conversational speed — not like you’re auctioning hogs at the Iowa State Fair) to help the other person understand what you do.

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