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This document is copyright © 2009 Chris O'Leary and the LIMB Press LLC. It is licensed for personal use only. Any organizational or institutional use must be approved by Chris O'Leary.


One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears; by listening to them.

– Dean Rusk

One of my favorite books is Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the key lessons of this book is that successful people begin with the end in mind. They know what they want to achieve before they start work­ing. This helps them plan out what they are going to do before they get started. This also helps them monitor their progress along the way and make any adjustments that are necessary.

The problem is that it’s hard to know what to do, and what the end looks like, if you don’t understand what the process looks like. I believe that helps explain why so many elevator pitches are so long and/or ineffective (or just plain bad). Most people do not know what the process actually looks like, so they are just flying blind.

Let me try to shed a little light on things.


If your elevator pitch was the only chance you had to convey your message to someone before they decided to back you – or not – then it would make sense to cram as much stuff into it as possible.

But that’s not the case.

Instead of being the Alpha and the Omega of an investment decision, an elevator pitch is just one step in the process. Yes, it’s an extremely impor­tant step, but at the end of the day you will have several other opportunities to tell –- and to flesh out –- your story.

At this point, all you want to do is get the audience’s attention.

If you do manage to get a venture capitalist’s attention with your elevator pitch, then they will probably ask to see your business plan. If the executive summary of your business plan appeals to them –- and to their firm –- then they will likely read the rest of your business plan. Assuming your business plan holds together, they will then ask you to come in and give a one-hour presentation. After that comes the whole due diligence process, during which they will finally be interested in getting into the HOW of your Solution.

What all of this means is that you shouldn’t get ahead of yourself when creating or delivering your elevator pitch.

Instead of trying to close the deal then and there, your goal should be to just get to the next step; sending them your business plan or setting up a longer meeting.


The process is similar if you are selling a project within a large organization or trying to close the sale for a product or service. In neither case are you going to close the deal with your elevator pitch. Instead, you’re going to have to attend at least one –- and probably multiple –- meetings. As a result, your goal should just be to interest the audience in what you have to say by explaining WHAT you are doing, WHY you are doing it, and WHORU.


One problem that many people run into is that they get so focused on delivering their elevator pitch that they lose sight of the audience and its reaction to their pitch.

There isn’t much you can do about this if you are delivering your pitch to a room full of people. However, if you are talking to just one or two people, you have the opportunity to judge how your elevator pitch is going over and customize it on the fly. To do that, you have to have your pitch memorized to the degree that you can be paying close attention to the reaction of the audience. Do they look like they are following your Elevator pitch or do they look lost?


Along the same lines, unlike some people I use the term “Elevator Pitch,” rather than “Elevator Speech,” because I think the word “Pitch” better communicates what you are trying to accomplish and how. A good pitch is an interactive, conversational thing while a speech is a one-way thing.


Sometimes when I am delivering an elevator pitch to an individual, and especially if I don’t know anything about the person to whom I am speaking, I will deliberately pause after I deliver my summary sentence and before I get into the body of my pitch. This is so that I can judge the reaction of the audience and so that they can interject something that may help me customize my pitch to their interests. The idea is to gain additional information that I can use to make the pitch more relevant and resonant with the audience.


One of the rules of selling is that you should always ask for the sale. While this makes sense in some circumstances, it doesn’t work in the context of an elevator pitch.

As I said before, the point of an elevator pitch isn’t to close the deal. Rather, the point of an elevator pitch is to just take the conversation to the next level.

If you try to close prematurely, you are more likely to turn the audience off than you are to turn them on. As a result, instead of asking for the sale at the end of your elevator pitch, ask for the opportunity to tell the audience more about who you are, what you are doing, and why.

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