New Zealand is a small country. You just never know who you’ll end up in an elevator with. It might be your dream boss, a childhood hero or an international superstar. You may be faced with the opportunity to tell your story to someone who could make your dreams come true. And 30 seconds to tell them why they should help you!

Don’t choke.

Trust me. I once was in an elevator with Sean Penn.

I said a grand total of two words, “Good Morning”.

Thankfully, I have no ambitions of becoming a Hollywood actor, so I’m not regretting this forever. But, if Sean Penn was Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg or Theresa Gattung, I probably would still be kicking myself.

Having an elevator pitch up your sleeve means you’re ready for any serendipitous encounters.

Plus you’ll be prepared for more common situations like meeting new clients or networking events.

Aren’t elevator pitches just for the Wolf of Wall Street?


It’s true. The term “elevator pitch” conjures up thoughts of sleazy 80s salesmen, who talk too fast and lie too easily.

But in a media-overloaded world, getting your point across quickly and in a way that engages is more important that ever. Elevator pitches are just short stories.

And the best stories are personal, honest and authentic.

Stories are shareable

Great stories are shared. Having every person in your team, confident in your company and product stories is an incredibly powerful marketing asset.

Last week, at the #NZSMJ event, Ash Alhashim told the story of how Optimizely was created. It starts with the founders quitting their jobs at Google to help Obama get elected. Through AB testing they helped gather millions in extra campaign donations. But despite the huge success of AB testing they were frustrated by the software available. So they created Optimizely to fix this.

It’s a memorable, engaging story that I’ve retold several times since. The Optimizely pitch ticks a lot of traditional storytelling boxes; it has heroic characters, a conflict and a resolution. All of which creates intrigue and desire.

We don’t share slogans or branding – we share stories.

What’s your story?

Tips for writing an elevator pitch

  • Start with the audience – who is the one person you are talking to? Why should they care?
  • Create a story that speaks to this person
  • If your product is technical think of a simple analogy people can identify with. Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of start-ups use other apps to explain their own. Eg “The Uber of video”
  • Start taking note of pitches you think are successful – examine what makes them stand out.
  • Leave them wanting more, don’t tell everything, you want a follow-up discussion!
  • Think about the ideal outcome – what action would you want to happen next?
  • Be natural – make sure it’s in your own language! Avoid all jargon!
  • Practice lots
  • Ask for feedback
Morepork Elevator Pitch

Spark Ventures explain their complex technology offerings in accessible ways.

How long should an elevator pitch be? 

The shorter, the better.

Being concise ensures you edit brutally, sharing only the most important information.

At the #NZSMJ event last week, the audience was challenged to tweet in their elevator pitches. 140 characters provides the perfect constraint for creativity.

This is my favourite, definitely memorable!

At SilverStripe, we recently had a “Pitch Challenge” after some internal training on a new product. We asked people to create pitches based on existing examples but in their own language. The we gave them in our building’s elevator, a trip up and down 6 floors. 25-30 seconds to convince someone. It added a little humour and pressure, and most people were pleasantly surprised at how much they had learned about the product.

Personal elevator pitches

While I find product pitches part of my DNA as a marketer, I struggled when it comes to talking about myself. I always find networking events and “small talk” uncomfortable. Even though I’m outgoing, I dread having to introduce myself! It’s taken years to become confident saying what I do for a job, rather than just vaguely “I’m in marketing”.

But, it’s just as important to know what your personal elevator pitch as your company one.

A personal elevator pitch can help you overcome the first question of most interviews “So tell me about yourself…”

It doesn’t need to be about your current situation. It can also be about where you want to get to. If you jump in any LA taxi and ask the driver about themselves, they’ll likely tell you they’re an aspiring actor, screenwriter, or director. They’re used to telling anyone this, as they never know who might be in their cab. They’d definitely handle Sean Penn better!

Telling people what you want to be doing one day is a great way of finding out new opportunities. I force myself to tell anyone I meet with a vague connection to New York that I want to work there one day. Conversely, when people tell me what they’re working towards, it often triggers ideas on who I could introduce them too to help this happen.

Your turn!

So what’s your elevator pitch? Leave it in the comments below or tweet me if you want any advice (or perhaps some help!).

Posted by Nicole Williams

I'm a marketing geek with a passion for tech. Previously, I was the marketing manager for SilverStripe (open source CMS and cloud PaaS) Currently, podcaster and blogger for and founder of Wellington Marketing meetup. Currently exploring Europe and living the dream! I'm always up for a chat about marketing and I love sharing my experiences so that others don't have to learn the hard way.

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