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Many of us find ourselves in a mini-crisis, when we have to explain what our business or brand is about. This could happen at a networking session, an investor capital raising forum, or an unanticipated encounter with someone, who could give your venture a significant lift with funding or some other kind of support. We struggle to find the right words and string them into a short convincing narrative that makes the hearer interested in what it describes. We only manage to sew up and deliver a couple of loosely related, lifeless and bland sentences; the listener nods without batting an eyelid, probably even yawns in your face, and utters a detached “okay” in response. And it all ends there. There’s a thing called an elevator pitch, and it’s designed to make it more unlikely that there’ll be an underwhelming reception of your business idea by those you tell it to. Actually, it’s up to you to come up with one for yourself, if you wish to win more interest in your idea or company (or yourself, if you’re pitching for a job). What it involves is you creating a simple, short, concise description of what you’re talking about- your startup, your product, yourself; one that is brief enough to get said between the time it takes to get from the bottom floor of a building to the top, via an elevator. In actual fact, the elevator pitch typically fits into thirty seconds. How do you make such a short speech powerful enough to get the hearer eager to know more? Here, we’ll go through a few rules that will help you, and steps you should take to craft a winning elevator pitch.

Formulating the pitch

As already pointed out, your elevator pitch should be short, and should contain the essentials of the business it’s describing. Take this one by Chika Uwazie, CEO and cofounder of startup TalentBase, which she presented for the AsoVilla Demo Day in 2016: “TalentBase is an HR cloud software, and we mostly work with three main clients: SMEs, to automate their HR tasks; large scale businesses, to formalize their HR processes; and government, to enable them to save costs lost to ghost workers and increase productivity.” This pitch, like any good one, answers these two questions:
  1. Who are you? (an HR cloud software startup).
Note: in the original pitch, Uwazie introduced herself first. She told the audience her name (Chika Uwazie) and the position she held at the startup (co-founder and CEO, TalentBase). You should have this at the start of your speech too, so that your audience appreciates that your idea or project is being driven by humans like themselves (and is not just a faceless, lifeless name or concept).
  1. What do you do, and for whom? (automate HR tasks, formalize HR processes, and save costs, for SMEs, large-scale businesses, and governments).
Let’s say you meet a big brand business executive at a networking session, and you think there’s a chance he would want to do business with your startup. Maybe you’re aware that his company needs a printing service, and that’s what you provide. You tell him you run XYZ enterprise, and he asks you what it’s about. How do you answer?

Just remember the two-question guideline; it’ll probably lead you to give an answer like this:

“XYZ (your business) is a modern printing service, and we provide SMEs and large companies with unique, contemporary, customer-selected print designs for their in-house needs and marketing campaigns”. Whatever you do, be sure that your elevator pitch answers the questions “who are you”, and “for whom, and why.” Here are a number of other points to note.
  1. Make the pitch memorable
The person (or people) you’re talking to probably has hundreds of other things flying through their minds over the course of the day. You’re literally competing against thousands of other elements (seen and unseen) for your audience’s attention. There’s got to be something in your pitch to make it stick to their memory, something outstanding and apart from dull regularity. Adjectives like foremost, pioneering, leading, unique, e.t.c. are in order. This might make you sound slightly like a salesperson sometimes;  it’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you avoid lacing your pitch with words and phrases that make it sound like marketing copy read aloud.
  1. Use audience-sensitive language
Don’t try to impress your potential investor, interviewer or contact with jargon-filled expositions of what your brand is about (except they’re in your industry and use the jargons regularly themselves). Chika Uwazie’s speech referred to previously was aimed at a tech-savvy audience- one that knew what the phrase “cloud software” meant. If she was addressing a group of people, who didn’t care much for ‘the cloud’, she might have used different terms; she might even have delivered a significantly different speech.
  1. Point to a solution

When you’re able to show that your idea or startup is a solution to a problem (especially a pressing or widespread one), you demonstrate a reason for it to exist. You establish the fact that it’s reason-able. If people see that your venture is an answer (more impressively, the answer) to a real-world question, they’re more likely to get interested in it. This is why the ‘what do you do, and for whom?’ the question must be answered by all pitches if they’re to stand any chance of convincing the people they’re directed to.
  1. Practice

Prepare yourself for the opportunity to explain your stuff to the world. Read and reread the statement you’ve crafted, commit it to memory, and get comfortable with it. If it doesn’t sound to you like something you could say to someone at a meetup without appearing like a robot, you either need to practice more or make the statement more conversation friendly. You’ll learn all of this as you try to get it to roll off your tongue and watch yourself do so before the mirror. Finally, don’t let the chance to unveil your brand or product (or even yourself) to the world cause you to stumble. It’s an opportunity to tell a compelling (even if brief) story of what you’re about and what you can do. Take it calmly and make the best of it; you never know what wonderful door-openings could come of such situations.

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This article was first published on 30th November 2017


Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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