3 Tips To Sharpen Your Elevator Pitch

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We might not be sure what the future holds, but one thing is for sure: Being adaptable to change is key, particularly in the hybrid form of work that has taken hold of the business world over the past year. As we embrace this new landscape, a possibly rusty skill will reassert its value and importance; the elevator pitch (even if it might look a bit different these days).

As seen on “Shark Tank,” the successful contestants who receive funding often have a quick-to-explain idea and a very personal reason for starting their business. The goal of an elevator pitch is to explain a concept — oftentimes for a business or product — in a way that can be understood quickly. As the name implies, the perfect pitch can be completed in the amount of time it takes to ride an elevator — one in an Atlanta business office, not a New York tower — 30 or 60 seconds max. In fact, a Microsoft study found people’s attention spans are about eight seconds — shorter than that of a goldfish. 

The conversation that led to my first big sale for my company, Patientco — a payment technology company I co-founded to rethink the health care payment experience — literally happened in an elevator. Let’s be honest, elevator rides can be awkward — people often avoid small talk or making eye contact. But one day, a woman got on the elevator with me on the fourth floor. We happened to make eye contact and she asked what I did for a living. I explained, “Well, after my wife had a baby, we were flooded with bills from many different providers. Often, patients don’t anticipate the bills to be so high and therefore have trouble paying. And even when patients do have the means to pay, it’s hard for the hospitals to process the payments because the systems are designed to accept insurance payments, not consumer payments. I’m working on a new technology platform to make it easier for patients to pay providers.”

She replied, “I’m the COO of Eagle Hospital Physicians, and we are trying to solve this very problem. Can you come present this platform to our CEO so we can learn more?”

As the saying goes, ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,’ and preparation begins with truly knowing your craft and how to break it down to its simplest form for others to understand. And since the elevator pitch could be renamed the Zoom pitch, it’s still very relevant. 

Here are three tips and observations to keep in mind as you develop your own elevator pitch:

1. Know your business or product well enough to keep it simple. 

People respond to knowledge, and a person with a good elevator pitch has to know their stuff. Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it to a 6-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Another way of saying you need to be able to express something concisely, in its simplest terms to take advantage of that power. 

2. Identify the core problem being solved. 

If you’re going to give a great elevator pitch, you need to understand not just the business and product, but the overarching problem it solves in the world and why it’s important. 

Write your elevator pitch like a story with your business or product as the hero. Who is the hero trying to help and why? What is the problem — or who is the villain — your hero is trying to overcome? What will happen if the hero fails or succeeds, and how will victory make the world a better place? Remember, the path to victory is often littered with challenges, that’s what makes it so satisfying when the hero succeeds. 

3. Make it personal. 

One of the sincerest difficulties we have as people is connecting with others, even though we crave connection as a species. It is very easy to be self-conscious, to worry that you’ve got no way of knowing how to connect with a complete stranger in an elevator.

It becomes a problem of generating sympathy without being presumptuous. Remember, the more personal something is, the more universal it becomes. Don’t concern yourself with trying to understand strangers in advance; you can’t. So concern yourself with your problem. The more particular your problem is, the more it will resonate, and the more people will want to hear your solution to it.

During my elevator ride, I explained how almost everyone can relate to our experience checking the mail, only to find a doctor’s bill they were not anticipating. And, being frustrated trying to understand the cost and what we owe for care received. 

You may be wondering what I said to my fellow elevator companion when she asked me to present to her CEO. As I hinted earlier, my pitch in the elevator was the jumping-off point for my business. Of course I wholeheartedly accepted the meeting. But, I did so with one minor detail in the back of my mind: I hadn’t built the product yet. 

For the next month, we worked to build a minimum viable product (MVP). While tight, the month timeline was perfect because it forced us to keep the MVP simple, avoid scope creep with several iterations, and solve a core problem for our target customer. Before kicking off the project we also found a buyer who wanted to collaborate with us on the cutting edge of health care and was willing to pay upfront — which meant they had skin in the game, too. Throughout the process that buyer became a raging supporter of ours — the best type of salesperson you can have when introducing a new product or service to the market. In the end, it paid off, with a $699,000, two-year contract.

While that story ended in success, not all elevator pitches do. But don’t be discouraged, one of the greatest aspects of mastering the elevator pitch is its transferable skills. 

Even if no one ever buys your product from its pitch, mastering it is worthwhile. Like a musician practicing scales, or an athlete doing a circuit, you’ll feel the benefit of the elevator pitch in other areas. In seeking to understand something well enough to pitch it, you’ll be more keenly aware of when you don’t understand things — and ideally seek to understand — as well as learning brevity, one of the only resources that cannot be reimbursed. You’ll also learn to quickly form rapport, an invaluable skill. The world has changed — it’s always changing — but people haven’t. Even if it might be virtual, the theoretical elevator doors are always open. Get in and practice.

Bird Blitch is the CEO of Patientco, a payment technology company founded specifically to rethink the health care payment experience.

  • Originally published August 12, 2021