What is an elevator pitch?

It is just a normal day and you are on your way to a meeting when you get into the elevator where a well-dressed and obviously succesful woman greets you with a smile. To break that awkward elevator silence, she asks what you do for a living.

If you have your well thought-out elevator pitch ready, you will exit the elevator with her business card in hand.

But, if you are like most people, you will still be blabbering about your job by the time she is out of the elevator and walking down the passage. What you are missing is that the woman who asked what you do, is not in fact interested in your career. She is interested in finding out what you represent – something she can use to make her life easier.

An elevator pitch is just what it says: pitching your story in the time it takes an elevator to move from where someone asks what you do, to when the person exits the elevator.

There are as many definitions of an elevator pitch as there are authors who write about it.

Our definition: “An ‘elevator pitch’ is a 15 to 60 second business introduction to the reasons why a business exists and what it can do for people. It answers the 5W’s and H and is used to create interest in the product or service you offer. It also entices people to ask for more information or share their contact information.”

If you are familiar with the views of Simon Sinek, you will notice his Golden Circle in our definition. For those not familiar with the Golden Circle: It teaches that traditional sales pitches go from an outside circle “What” you do, to a middle circle “How” you do it and (sometimes) to the inner circle “Why” you do it. Sinek advocates that one should start with “Why” and work to the outside. Here is a shortened version of the video:

What are the features of a successful elevator pitch or business introduction?

An elevator pitch should:

  • Be concise – between 15 and 60 seconds. A useful measurement is that 70 words equal a 30 second message.
  • Illustrate why your service, product or business exists – such as make her life easier.
  • Show a person how you can solve her problem or fulfill her need – such as baking cakes.
  • Show what you can do for her – save her time and effort by baking exciting cakes and delivering it.

The elevator pitch wants

  • a person to ask for more information,
  • secure you an invite to a meeting to learn more or, at least,
  • enable you to successfully ask for a business card.

An often overlooked advantage of an elevator pitch

The elevator pitch has another, very important, advantage which most people do not realise.

It is a most useful tool to ensure you really understand the place and role of your business in the community. Most business owners and salespeople are unable to describe their businesses in 70 words or 30 seconds.

View the complete Sinek video here

We use the elevator pitch to enable a client to extract the essence of the business based on the premise that true understanding of anything is only possible if it is broken down into its most basic parts.

If you cannot describe your business in 30 seconds or 70 words (break it down into its most basic parts) you don’t understand your own business.

Think of the scientist who must explain to people that he formulated an observation that energy is equal to the measurement of the quantity of matter, multiplied by the speed of light, squared! It is extremely difficult to explain that in simple language, but you can use mathematical “language” to explain it. (We are, of course, talking about Einstein’s E = mc2)

But people generally do not talk in mathematics (most understand little of it) and we are therefore dependent on conventional spoken and written language for our communication. The demand is that we must be able to explain our business to anyone in less than a minute and, more often, in the passing.

That puts great demand on our control of language and forces us to be extremely economical with words, while, at the same time, we must convey our message more clearly than if we had unlimited time and words to work with.

Really, the only way in which we can do that, is to answer the least number of (but most focused) questions. Those would be the 5 W’s and H. What? Why? Who? When? Where? How?

If you answer just some of these five questions in 30 seconds, you have your elevator pitch.

You can answer them in a different sequence, but in formulating your elevator pitch, you will have more success if you start with Why.


“Why” is the reason why your business exists

Note: I have found that including a Verb, makes it easier to nail down your Why.

Do you educate, stop roofs from leaking, beautify people’s houses, tell stories that promote businesses, sell the drinks that let people become friends around a weekend braai or help people solve problems? Write down what need your product, service or business fulfills.

Some people fill the need of working mothers who do not have the time to bake cakes for their childrens’ parties – they bake exciting cupcakes for busy mothers. Others fill the need of people who lack the legal knowledge, or don’t have the time, to conduct their own legal affairs. They look after their clients’ legal affairs, or transfer property effortlessly.

I fulfil the need of business owners to promote their businesses.


What you do is the reason people usually (wrongly) give for other people to do business with them.

At networking events, people are often asked to “introduce yourself and tell us about your business”. That invitation leads to introductions such as: “I am Mary, and I have a cupcake bakery” or “I am John, and I am a lawyer”

What you do, should tell prospective clients what you can do for them. How about: “I help busy mothers save time with my cupcakes” or “I help people manage their complicated legal affairs”?

I help businesses tell their stories


Think of How, not as a question, but as an answer. 

As humans, we are not really interested in how people do what they do. We are actually interested in how they can fulfill our needs or solve our problems. Not many people really care how you bake their cupcakes or transfer their property, they are interested in the answer of the fix, the solution, the removal of an obstacle, for them.

They want to know how your cupcakes will solve their lack-of-time-problem or how your legal knowledge will solve their I-don’t-know-how-to-get-a-house-on-my-name-problem.

So, how about “I bake cupcakes for busy mothers” or “I register your house in your name”?

My business storytelling create a footprint for your business on the Internet.

If you have the Why, How and What covered, you are set. Then you just add the Who, When and Where, if you need to.

“Hi. I am Mary, and I help busy mothers save time. I bake cupcakes for children’s parties and deliver it to your house or creche.” or “Hi, I am John and I am an attorney and conveyancer. I specialise in the transfer of houses, townhouses and farms on behalf of my clients.”

I am Nico Prinsloo and I am a businesss storyteller. I help businesses tell their stories to make people aware of their products and services.

Have two elevator pitches ready

We advise our clients to prepare a multiple part elevator pitch – after all, you don’t know whether the other person will get off on the next, or on the 15th floor! I doubt whether a 3 minute sales pitch is in fact an elevator pitch. People rarely travel in an elevator for 3 minutes, unless they are stuck!

“Hi, I am Mary and I bake cupcakes for busy mothers” Pinggg! (We are on the first floor!)

“I help people save time by baking cupcakes and delivering it to where you need it.” Pingelinggg! (We are on the second floor!)

“We bake cupcakes of any flavour, colour or size. We can bake a green banana, strawberry, carrot cupcake that weighs 3kg, is a metre-and-a-half tall and have it delivered, all within 3 days! Could I have your business card?” (Put out your hand to receive the card) Powowww! (We are on the third floor and we have her business card!)

Oh, we don’t have her business card?

Well, does she have your card?!

Now we leave it to her to ask us what information she still lacks.

Warning: Do not fear the silence! Most people, when they do not receive a quick reply, will jump in again to fill the silence – and talk themselves out of new business.

When you have delivered your elevator pitch, SHUT UP … and give the person an opportunity to think about what you said, formulate a view, and reply.

What should your elevator pitch be?

Many business people try to use an elevator pitch they heard or read somewhere. An elevator pitch “from the shelf” will rarely work for you because it is not you.

Your elevator pitch should reflect:

  • your tone of voice;
  • your rhythm of speech;
  • words that you would normally use;
  • words that you are confortable with;
  • words that you have tested over and over so it comes naturally.

Write a short and long elevator pitch. Write, rewrite and learn it from heart so it comes naturally, and get over your shyness of introducing yourself in a way that people don’t expect, or which will draw attention.

If you have a well thought out, well-worded and well-practised elevator pitch, you will draw attention, people will remember you, and you will get business cards and appointments.

Then it is up to you to seize the opportunities.