Why Your Elevator Pitch is Confusing and How to Fix It

By: Dr. Robyn Odegaard, June 25 2014

I recently attended a small networking event where everyone was asked to give their elevator pitch. As the first person finished speaking I thought, “I must have not been paying attention. I don’t know what she does.” I focused more carefully as the next person started to speak. Sadly of the 15-20 people in attendance, I only understood what 3-5 of them actually did. Everyone else just said a bunch of words I didn’t know how to categorize, let alone understand how they could help my business or I could help theirs.

Most of us work long and hard to make sure our pitch is polished to perfection. How do so many of them end up murky?

You are too industry specific – If you are talking to people from your trade maybe you can use acronyms and trade specific jargon. If you are talking to a potential client or someone you hope will refer business, use common language they will easily understand.

You use too many adjectives/adverbs – Don’t waste your precious seconds talking about how well or how long you’ve been doing what you do. Let me first understand what you do. Then tell me what sets you apart from your competition.

You don’t know your audience – In NYC a young actress asked me what I did. I replied, “I am an executive coach and corporate trainer. I teach conflict resolution skills.” She looked me right in the eye and said, (this is a direct quote) “I don’t know what any of those words mean.” Obviously I failed to take into account that she had never spent any time in the business world and what I told her meant nothing to her. Who you are speaking to matters. Adjust your pitch accordingly.

You don't provide memory peg information – I have often heard that it isn’t wise to give yourself a label such as “computer guy” or “plumber” because people will think, “oh I already know one of those” and dismiss you. While I agree, I also think it is risky to provide a description that is so niche people have no way to categorize you in their mind. Explaining what sets you apart is fine. Just be careful about being so different that we don’t have a place to remember you in our mind.

You talk too fast – I can be guilty of this. I only have a few seconds to catch someone’s attention and sometimes that causes me to try to squeeze in as many words as possible before they stop listening. It would be just as effective to rattle off your phone number and tell them to call you. Instead of trying to say lots of words, make sure the ones you say are valuable.

You say too much – Don’t try to hit every point of what you do. When I first started my business and founded the Stop The Drama! Campaign I tried to talk in detail about both of them anytime someone asked, “What do you do?” It took me awhile to realize I was overwhelming people with words and they were leaving thinking “Huh?” If you have two or more businesses and/or an important group you volunteer for, pick one and explain it well. Leave the rest to be discovered as the person gets to know you.

Your elevator pitch is one of the most valuable assets you have. It is a potential client’s first glimpse into your world. It is not a one size fits all. Create different types for different situations and hone them carefully. Try them out on people who know nothing about what you do and pay attention to their response. If you have the ability to do so, invest in someone to work with you to make sure what you want to convey is what you are actually saying.

Here is a version of an elevator pitch I might use at an event for business professionals:

I am an executive coach, corporate trainer and speaker. I focus on helping people improve their relationships with their clients, venders, employees and partners by developing the things they can control, their emotional intelligence, how they communicate expectations, how disagreements are addressed and conflicts are resolved. I am also the author of two books. (It is about 20 seconds long.)

Share your critiques and let me know what makes your pitch great in the comments.