How do you answer the question “What do you do?”
Everyone should have an answer that is authentic, impactful, and non-boring.
Here’s the problem: Most of us aren’t confident talking about what we do and why it matters.
I’m here to help.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- how to craft a perfect elevator pitch to land jobs and become memorable
- the best elevator pitches (with examples)
- a step-by-step guide on what to do in the elevator (or career fair/event/etc.)
- and more!
Let’s dive in.
What is an Elevator Pitch?
An elevator pitch is a 20–30 second speech that showcases your unique talents and what you have to offer. The goal of an elevator pitch is to make the person you are talking to want to meet up for a second conversation.
An amazing elevator pitch should get people interested in you. Ideally, it will end with you giving your contact info, handing over your business card, or connecting on LinkedIn.
Here’s what an elevator pitch is NOT:
- a sleazy pitch to get someone to buy your product
- a plea to get a job offer
- telling your life story in half a minute
- desperate, unclear, or confusing
How Long Should an Elevator Pitch Be?
The sweet spot for an elevator pitch is anywhere between 10 seconds to a minute. Elevator pitches should be brief, memorable, and leave the prospect wanting to know more.
The Elevator Pitch Myth
Writer Peter Denning and his coauthor, Bob Dunham, conducted an experiment to find out if elevator pitches actually work. They enlisted the help of successful small business CEOs and asked them to give their elevator pitch to 2 random listeners.
And the results were shocking. The CEOs flopped at pitching their own businesses!
Their elevator pitches completely failed—feedback was mostly negative, and the listeners were not engaged at all.
But how could top CEOs fail at pitching their own businesses? Denning and Dunham had to find out.
They ran the same test again but with different groups this time. Like in the first experiment, the first couple of CEOs ran their pitch and got so-so feedback. But then Denning decided to test something different—he decided to turn the “pitch” into a conversation. Like this:
- Listener: Your turn.
- Peter: Before we start… are you interested in innovation?
- Listener: You bet. If my business does not come up with an innovative idea soon, we’ll be gone.
- Peter: I’m writing a book on how to succeed at innovation. Would you be interested in talking about it at lunch?
- Listener: Sure thing! But let’s get back to our work. What is your offer?
- Peter: I just made it.
And with that, Denning reinvented the elevator pitch, which the other CEOs failed at doing.
An amazing elevator pitch isn’t about giving a presentation. It’s about having a genuine conversation with someone.
It turns out, the CEOs were trying to spew out information about their businesses—how their businesses operated, what the sales numbers looked like, all that jazz.
But in reality, this doesn’t work. People don’t want information—they want connection.
So if your elevator pitch is fluid, conversational, and natural, your prospect is much more likely to want to meet up with you again than if it’s 100% information. They’ll understand you better, feel great after your pitch, and relate to you as a person.
How to Write The Perfect Elevator Pitch
Writing an elevator pitch is simple. Remember, sometimes it’s more about how you say your elevator pitch than what you say. Studies show the world’s greatest leaders use 2.9 times more appeals to emotion than logic.
With that in mind, here’s my “Delicious” Framework to craft an unforgettable elevator pitch:
#1. The Appetizer
First, grab a pen and paper and write down one line that describes you best.
Yep. Just ONE line.
I call this line the Appetizer. The purpose of the appetizer is to try to condense your entire pitch into one succinct sentence that answers the question: Who are you?
If you’re having trouble, think about what makes you unique compared to others. Try not to focus too much on the details—focus on a catchy, creative tagline that immediately makes others want to know more.
You can start with who you are, an interesting fact or statistic about your career, or even a conversation starter. Go with something that resonates!
My Appetizer: “Hi, I’m Vanessa and I’m a recovering awkward person.”
This is a go-to appetizer because it immediately creates question-asking opportunities: How was I an awkward person? How did I recover? What do I do now?
Some other examples of catchy, interesting one-liners:
- “I help 9th graders discover the magic of books.”
- “I’m a momtrepreneur.”
- “I’m a psychologist-turned-author.”
#2. Meat & Potatoes
Obviously, we’re not going to stop at the appetizer.
Next, we’re going to expand our one-liner with the Meat and Potatoes. Take your appetizer line and expand upon it:
- What is your mission statement? What is your WHY for your business or personal goals?
- What problems do you solve? Who’s your target audience, and what solutions do you bring to the table?
- How do you stand out? Do you have any USPs (unique selling points) or other characteristics that are different from your competitors’?
- What’s your unique process/workflow/product that makes you stand out from your competitors?
You can make this part as long or as short as you like. Don’t overthink it, as we’ll come back later and clean this part up.
Jot down as many relevant pieces of information as you’d like to include in your elevator pitch. Here’s my short and sweet edition…
My Meat and Potatoes: “I love helping people sound more confident, control their body and language to better express their ideas, and build stronger relationships. Throughout my work, I’ve been able to train thousands of students and change their lives forever. I’m so happy to help people feel just a little less awkward in their lives—now they can call themselves recovering awkward people too!”
#3. The Dessert
Finally, let’s take your expanded work and wrap it up with a question or call to action.
Since you’re likely going to be giving your pitch in a conversational manner, you want to ask a question to get to know them (remember how we hinted at empathy before?). For example, if your business is a project management company, you can ask something like: “What’s your biggest project management pain point?”
Or you can simply hand them your business card with the next steps to connect again.
My Dessert: “Do you ever feel a little awkward at times, or is that just me?”
#4. Your Spark Line
OK, so you’ve got your basic pitch ready. Now for the juicy part—time to add a Spark Line.
Your spark line is the major “wow” moment of your pitch. It can be a highlight that shows why you’re unique, a critical piece of information people wouldn’t guess just by looking at you, or something else that makes you stand out.
Your spark line is the most memorable part of your pitch.
Perhaps your spark line is already in your pitch. Whatever the case, make sure you have one big memorable point in your pitch—one that people will remember when they think back to you.
How do you know what part of your elevator pitch is the spark line?
Pitch your family and friends! Then ask them a couple of hours later what the most memorable line from your speech was. The phrase they remember the most will most likely be your spark line.
For example, I noticed that whenever I shared a meat and potatoes idea—“I love helping technically brilliant folks improve their people skills. I teach soft skills in a hard-skills way of thinking.”—people lit up! Now I always add it.
#5. Cut & Run
Time to turn on your editing brain.
Cut sentences that are too long or unclear, add in unique dopamine-boosting words or phrases, and change it up so it sounds more natural. It’s OK if you spend most of your time here or have a case of writer’s block—to avoid over-editing, set a timer for, say, 7 minutes, and whatever’s left, run with it.
Take your pitch and practice it—then refine it along the way!
Try to CUT any words that are confusing or unclear. (If someone needs a dictionary, cut it!)
Try to ADD words that get people excited or intrigued. (If someone raises their eyebrows at you, it means they are interested.)
Want extra help? Share your unique elevator pitch with the world! Leave a comment down below and ask the internet what they think.
Time to record your pitch.
Grab your phone or camera gear and record your elevator pitch. Make sure you aren’t repeating any words, adding extra “uhs” and “hmms”, or coming off as too awkward or salesy.
If your elevator pitch is too long or short, check your cadence—are you talking too fast or is your pitch too long?
Pro Tip: Practice a lot, ideally with someone who knows you and your speaking style. Ask for feedback too. Do you sound natural? Is your elevator pitch conversational and free-flowing?
Fun Tip: Try watching Shark Tank pitches. Their pitches are a bit longer, but most entrepreneurs have amazing pitches that have been crafted to a T.
So you wrote your elevator pitch. Now what?
You can have the best pitch out there, but how you say it is often more important than what’s said. Here’s how to deliver an elevator pitch the charismatic way:
#7. Use Confident Body Language
First impressions matter. The key to setting up a great first impression is to set the tone yourself. Do you want to be friendly and approachable? Professional and calm? Cheerful and happy?
Your few seconds or minutes mean it’s crucial to deliver how you want to be perceived. Along with the right tone, keep in mind these critical body language cues:
- Strong eye contact. Making strong eye contact is a proven dopamine booster (i.e., really good for building trust!). Don’t overdo it—about 70–80% of the time is a good amount to be making eye contact.
- Open torso. When facing your prospect, you’ll ideally want to face them straight on with your torso open and turned toward them. This is called fronting. When you front, your arms are not crossed over your chest, and ideally there’s not a chair between you two to block you.
- Strong voice. If you’ve got some prep time, I strongly recommend trying some vocal warm-ups to optimize your voice. My favorite is the Goog exercise—you’ll be amazed at how much more confident you feel and sound after these warm-ups!
- The handshake. Are you planning on shaking hands? If you fail to give a handshake—or worse, give a cold, clammy one—then it can break all chances of nailing your elevator pitch.
The key is to make sure your body language is warm and open. Think hanging out with a good friend rather than talking to a stranger or enemy. Keep this in mind and your body language will naturally open up.
#8. Don’t Forget About Rapport
Sometimes you are making small talk with someone before they ask what you do. In fact, if you have been building rapport and having a great conversation, people are more likely to ask what you do.
Keep your conversation authentic. The more you connect with someone emotionally—by having fun, laughing, and showing some personality—the more they will want to meet up again with you later.
“But Vanessa, I don’t have social skills!”
Don’t worry! If you’re struggling to find the right words to say or topics to talk about, there are simple tips and tricks to help you get far:
- Learn to be funny. You don’t need to be a comedian—learn how to be funny using the rule of 3s, character switch, and real-life stories.
- Hold a conversation. What happens if your elevator pitch goes beyond a couple of minutes? I used to be terrible at having conversations, until I learned these conversational tricks.
- How to end a conversation. You can use your elevator pitch in pretty much any situation—so here’s the perfect resource for you to find that perfect ending (without being awkward!).
#9. End Well
After your conversation is over, you’ll want an easy way to meet up later. Try giving your own business card to them—and if you don’t have one, I have an article all about creating them here.
If you’ve got a couple of minutes to spare, you can also swap LinkedIn profiles (make sure your professional profile is up to date with these LinkedIn tips).
I always like to end a conversation with something like:
- “It’s been great talking to you, let’s keep in touch.”
- “This has been fun, let’s connect on social media.”
- “Thank you for such a lovely conversation. Let’s do it again next week over coffee?”
Avoid these Common Elevator Pitch Mistakes
Great! Now you’re properly set up—but before we dive into how to deliver elevator pitches below, let’s look at 3 common mistakes I often see when people give their elevator pitches:
Entrepreneur Seth Godin says the best elevator pitch isn’t polished or memorized, like a college final exam.
It’s natural and sporadic, like chatting up a good friend you haven’t seen in months.
And this is where I see many of my students overdoing it—they’ve practiced their pitch so much that they lose their natural charm. Their pitch isn’t enthusiastic. And they start sounding more robotic. How boring!
Elevator Pitch Quick Tip: Ditch the script and go au naturel! I highly recommend NOT memorizing your pitch word for word. Simply remember the main BIG points you want to cover so that you sound more natural. Every time you give your elevator pitch, your brain won’t automatically “shut off” since you still have to “create” the words on the spot. You’ll sound more engaging. You’ll be more excited. And best of all, you won’t put your prospect to sleep.
Got a bad case of stage fright? You’re not alone! Nearly 30% of Americans report that they’re “afraid or very afraid” of public speaking. When it comes to giving an elevator speech, you might not have enough prep time to do your vocal warm-ups or power pose.
Elevator Pitch Quick Tip: So what do you do if you run into the president of a famous company all of a sudden?
ALWAYS be prepared.
Not over-practiced, but over-prepared.
It might not get rid of your stage fright completely, but being prepared may greatly help your anxiety and give you that confidence boost you need during these crucial minutes. You can also work on your stage presence if you have time before your pitch.
Don’t be a Salesman
How many times have you heard the advice “Sell yourself”? I don’t use this phrase because you NEVER want to come off as a salesperson when giving an elevator pitch (unless you’re aiming for a sales role!).
And if you try too hard to be pushy, you might just ruin your first impression. So what do you do instead?
Elevator Pitch Quick Tip: Employ empathy. When you empathize with someone (yes, even a stranger), you’ll be more considerate of their needs and desires. And you won’t be hard-pressed to sell someone your product if they don’t even want it. To employ empathy, check out our article on how to cultivate compassion.
Elevator Pitch Examples
Some of our amazing readers submitted their elevator pitches for me to review and for us all to learn from. Thank you! I reviewed some reader-submitted pitches to give us all an opportunity to learn what to do… and what not to do.
Johnn the website analyst
“Hi! My name is Johnn and I’m a website analyst. I study the traffic on your website and find out where your website is leaving money on the table, where it’s losing leads, and what opportunities it’s missing to attract and engage your customers. The website data won’t tell us why people do what they do on your site, but it does tell us the story of what they do and how they do it. And I think this is an important and interesting story for your business to understand.”
Johnn’s Elevator Pitch Positives:
- Enunciation: great enunciation, you can hear him clearly
- Cadence: not too fast or robotic-sounding
- Open torso: no crossed arms or legs, not hiding behind objects
Johnn’s Elevator Pitch Negatives:
- Lack of movement: no head or body movement
- Lack of hand gestures: use hand gestures to avoid looking robotic
- Needs a story: include the “why” part of your pitch
Marcelo the neurologist
“Hi, my name’s Marcelo. I’m from Brazil. I’m 41. I’m married and I have a daughter—she’s 6. I love to be with my family as much as possible. When I wake up, it’s difficult to find the reason to go ahead. But after coffee, my brain realizes it’s the good things around me—like my wife and daughter. I’m a neurologist and my practice revolves around private autopsy and public health.”
Marcelo’s Elevator Pitch Positives:
- Shows passion: Marcelo clearly leads in with what he loves, and his passion shows
- Slight head nodding: he reaffirms what’s important by nodding slightly
- Eyebrow flash: flashing the eyebrows nonverbally keeps people engaged
Marcelo’s Elevator Pitch Negatives:
- Needs emotion: Marcelo could add some emotion, especially when talking about things he cares about
- Hand gestures: adding in a hand-over-heart gesture can really show sympathy and sincerity
- Smiling: Marcelo could smile more, which helps build trust and would make his face more full of energy
Cameron the business improver
“Hello! My name is Cameron and I’m a senior at the University of Alabama. I’m majoring in management information systems and I have a minor in computing technology and applications and a specialty in business administration. What we do, in my major, is we’ll look at a business process and decide how to improve it. We take what they have and we merge our own ideas. We end up saving them so much money and making their lives so much easier. Ever since I was young, I’ve been doing this over and over again ever since I’ve started my own business. I truly love people and the satisfaction I get when helping them.”
Cameron’s Elevator Pitch Positives:
- Shows the palms: the more you can show your hands, the more honesty you convey and trust you earn
- Use of hand gestures: great use of gestures keeps us entertained and engaged
Cameron’s Elevator Pitch Negatives:
- Self-soothing gestures: hand clasping can come off as insecure or unconfident
- Monotonous: try using more vocal variation
- Mouthful of technical terms: try adding in humor to spice things up
Where to Use Your Elevator Pitch
Unfortunately, it’s not often people meet just the right person at just the right time in the elevator… except in the movies.
Besides the elevator, more popular places to use your pitch include:
- booths and trade shows
- networking events
- job fairs
- chance encounters
- the airport
Any time you have a few minutes to impress, you can break out your elevator pitch.
How to Give Your Pitch… When You’ve Only Got 1 Floor to Go
The best piece of advice I can give if you’ve literally got 5 seconds to impress is to drop the elevator pitch altogether and hand them your business card.
This is also why you should always carry around a spare business card or two in your back pocket if you’re a job seeker or business owner.
It also helps if you’ve got a quick one-liner you can say, like “I’d love to bring you to my favorite coffee shop in town,” after your brief intro. This will help you avoid sounding rushed but keep it short and simple while still offering a way for your prospect to connect with you.
Bonus: Tell Me About Yourself
For job interviews, one question that almost always pops up is “Tell me about yourself.”
This is basically the extended version of an elevator pitch.
And just like an elevator pitch, this question can either make or break a job opportunity. Learn to master your answer with my special framework: How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” in 3 Simple Steps.
Bonus #2: Talk to VIPs
Are you pitching a VIP, such as the president of a company or a senior manager?
I used to be deathly afraid of VIPs, until I learned how to talk to them. If you’re struggling to talk to VIPs, check out my article: How to Talk to VIPs: 8 Unique Tips To Conquer Awkwardness.