Get your elevator pitch ready for more than an elevator
"How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? He would chuck, he would, as much as he could, and chuck as much wood as a woodchuck would if a woodchuck could chuck wood." - elevator pitch for a woodchuck that could chuck wood
The elevator pitch gets its name from the fact that its length matches the time spent during an elevator ride. But what if the ride stops at the 4th floor, so you only have 10 seconds, instead of the 30 you prepared for? Or the opposite, what if you’re pitching to someone who works at the 37th floor, or you’re in a lift that is bound to make a lot of stops, extending the available time frame to a couple of minutes? Who or what defines how long an elevator ride, and subsequently an elevator pitch, should be?
Well, simply put, it doesn’t even matter. Whether it’s 5 seconds or a minute and a half, you should be prepared to swiftly adjust and deliver the most important pieces of information in that window of availability. Here’s some tips on how to do that.
Choose the right location to pitch. If it’s up to you to choose the venue where the business meeting takes place, the first thing you should do is decide what type of message you want to send. If you want to display your rigorous approach to business, keep it in a formal setting, at the office or in a meeting room. If, on the other hand, you’d rather show your support for the business relationship, rather than the deal itself, you have the option of holding the meeting at a coffee house. However, few are the cases where this is entirely appropriate, so we’d advise caution. Plus, coffee shops can impede a flawless pitch execution, because they lack a few crucial elements, such as privacy and resources. You can find more on this subject here.
If you don’t have control over where the meeting goes down, you can still try to influence your meeting partner’s decision. Suggest neutral ground, so no party can gain the psychological upper hand. If influence is out of the question as well, don’t worry, make use of the rest of the tips here and you’ll ace the meeting.
Read the room to quickly estimate how much time you have. This applies to both situations, whether you chose the place or not. Reading the room obviously doesn’t refer to the actual setting. What it actually means is picking up verbal and non-verbal cues that deliver information about an individual’s state of mind. Try to scan any facial expression, gesture, posture etc. that lets you catch a glimpse of their mind. Someone is slouching in the chair or downright yawning? Maybe cut the speech short. Are they leaning towards you while they’re listening? That means they’re interested and you’re on the right path - there’s still time to push some more details.
In any case, paying close attention to what information is being transmitted through a non-verbal means of communication will help you estimate the amount of time your audience is willing to offer you. Learn how to identify them correctly and you’ll know what your window of availability is.
Start strong, to catch the listeners’ attention. Different numbers relating to the human attention span are circulating. Each can be regarded as valid, because the studies run in order to reach them took different factors into consideration. One thing is for sure. You only have one or two dozens of seconds until you lose your audience.
The best time to make full use of the public’s attention is at the very beginning, when they are curious about what you’re going to say. Start well, and you have them hooked. Pack up those first couple of sentences with the most important pieces of information you have. They’ll still be drifting on and off throughout the entire presentation, but they’ll be left with the gist of it.
Don’t go into details, unless specifically requested. Even though some of the details might seem essential to you, the feeling might not be shared by the members of your audience. When pitching a business proposal, keep the discourse on a general note. Focus on what is to be gained from it, both by you and your potential partner. Be fair and balanced in your discourse; after all, it is a negotiation that should leave both sides content. Leave specific aspects aside, and only deliver the broad definition of what the deal is about. Nevertheless, you’re not exempt from keeping as much information as possible close at hand, as you might have to answer questions in detail.
Always have a fact in your sleeve. People are quite drawn to cold hard facts. Using them might actually boost your credibility. The impact they have was actually named the “nonsense math effect”, by Kimmo Eriksson, a researcher whose study can be found here. It might be a good idea to keep a few numbers or percentages conveniently in your pocket, and throw them into the conversation to steer it your way.
The answer, by the way? 700 pounds. That’s how much wood a woodchuck would chuck if a woodchuck would chuck wood.