Can you explain exactly what you do in three sentences or less?
- Be clear, specific, value-driven, client-focused, and to-the-point
- Come across natural and smart—but not arrogant
- Keep it fresh and super up-to-date
- Deliver it during high-stress moments when you’re meeting super important people
Welcome to elevator pitch hell. This is where you get out.
In theory, elevator pitches are super basic. But as with most soft skills, execution in the moment is what matters most. That means preparation and practice are critical to getting it right.
This article is broken up by specialization, but there are stories in each section that you can learn from if you’re looking for a deep dive into what has worked for other very successful people.
- Elevator pitching as a strategist or consultant
- Elevator pitching as a creative
- Elevator pitching as a software company/product owner
So how do you get your pitch right? It can feel like this important bit of preparation is the thing that stands between you and the potential investor, mentor, partner, or client of your dreams.
Or if you’re Doc Williams, it was the one thing standing between him and world-famous marketer Gary Vee last month.
He didn’t care as much about pitching Gary Vaynerchuk as the other people paying $10K to be in the room. It would be networking… on steroids. And everything is immortalized on YouTube since it’s Gary Vee.
He needed a simple, quick, smart way to explain something that’s taken him his whole life to build, but his work doesn’t fit into a neat category. Although he came up through the fitness industry, he no longer works exclusively in that niche.
“Even though I do marketing, the reason people pay me is techstacking,” Doc told me in an interview. “And the reason goes back to AppSumo—because a lot of startups are broke and can’t afford the big software companies. I’m able to say, ‘I know like five deals—I can make this for you real quick.’” (And he’s pieced together 175+ AppSumo deals for himself and his clients over the past five years.)
AppSumo elevator pitch brainstorming session
On May 7th, the day before the event, he got on the phone with Ilona and Chris at AppSumo for an informal brainstorming session. Ilona started by asking what’s different about what he does.
“Although I say I’m more in marketing and branding, the thing is I do different is techstacking. I’m basically like a ‘CTO for hire.’ But ‘CTO for hire’ sounds cheap like Fiverr. It sounds like gig work. Ilona mentioned that Ramit Sethi talks about having a ‘Personal CFO.’ So we decided to go with Personal CTO.”
Then Chris encouraged Doc to simply describe who he helps—knowing that then everything else would simply fall into place.
So he decided to work from there: “I help entrepreneurs who get frustrated with doing things manually and need automation. They’re already crushing it in their business, but they want to actually work on their business. They don’t have time to put these systems and processes into place.”
Then Chris helped Doc segment his pitches based on the problem the person described. “If they’re having trouble with time, I’ll talk about how I can build something for their processes. If they’re struggling to get leads, talk about how I create deep personalization to find their best-qualified leads. The last thing was stress: if people are freaking out and struggling with time allocation, then go on that pain point.”
When he went to the pre-event dinner that night, he told the room that he was a Personal CTO. “That was the first time I’ve ever done a pitch where two people in the room were instantly like, ‘I need to talk to you. That’s what I need.’ That’s never happened to me: I usually fumble through my introduction and it’s a hot mess to try to explain what I do.”
And Doc killed it in front of Gary Vee. You can see it for yourself at minute 1:28:
“My name is Doc Williams. I am the founder of Brand Factory Inc. and basically, I am a Personal CTO. I help solo entrepreneurs and small business owners when they’re struggling, trying to scale, and frustrated. I go in and basically build their tech stacks or help them with automation.”
And an impressive number of qualified leads have come Doc’s way in the past month.
“Later on at the 4Ds event, a guy said, ‘I need a CTO’ and Gary was like, ‘Well you need to talk to this guy over here.’ So Gary cosigned it right there, the guy afterwards was like, ‘Ok I need to work with you.’” Several other leads have come through that one-day event as well.
His biggest takeaway from the whole thing? “I hate talking about myself. It feels awkward. I always find that there’s a thin line between arrogant and showing what you’re worth, and I always feel self-conscious. So I feel a lot more comfortable if I’m solving someone’s problems and just saying, ‘Yeah, I have a solution for that.’”
Doc’s go-to method is a quick sentence or two about the problems he solves just so he can intrigue the person. Then he just lets it naturally lead to a real conversation.
“This lets the person fill in the blank and self-identify where I might be a good fit for them.” As he continues to discuss the person’s problems, they can then decide if it’s a good fit and whether they should work together.
Doc’s Gary Vee pitch template: “My name is <name>. I am the founder of <company> and I am a <adjective> <job title>. I help <target audience> when they’re <problem>. I go in and <killer solution(s)>.”
Doc’s pitch for everybody else: “I’m a <adjective> <job title>. My company helps <target audience> in three specific ways.” (And then just have a conversation to see what problems they have.)
After working as a producer in public radio at WNYC and directing nonfiction programming at Panoply, Kristen Meinzer found herself without a day job when Panoply dropped a bombshell that they were shuttering their entire content production last September. So Kristen decided to incorporate herself so she could continue to write, consult, and produce podcasts, including her own.
Kristen is cohost of the hilarious By The Book self-help podcast and now-author of the upcoming book So You Want to Start a Podcast which includes a section on how to pitch yourself in the podcast business. (Side note: if you actually want to start a podcast, you can start here.)
“We all know an elevator pitch is supposed to be a succinct, snappy, and persuasive pitch for a product, program, project, etc.,” she wrote in an email. “And that doesn’t change when the product is ourselves. We should keep all that snappiness. And on top of that, we should be making a few things clear:
1. Our expertise: What do we know? What are our credentials?
2. What value we bring to the table: What can we solve, fix, discuss, or bring light to?
3. Who we are: When people work with us, what will they get? A sense of calm? High energy? Leadership? A focus on problem-solving? Collaborative thinking? Attention to detail? Good humor? We’re all unique, and we should show off who we are, and why people will be lucky to work with us.”
Kristen is known for many things: movies, TV, the British royals, the self-help industry, podcasting, and the advocacy of women and people of color in journalism, to name a few.
She uses all these areas of expertise in a variety of ways, including hosting podcasts, serving as a commentator on other podcasts and TV shows, teaching classes, speaking at conferences, writing books, and advising companies and individuals in the podcasting industry.
So she does a lot. Writing a single pitch that encompasses all her work is not really even possible. “Considering the breadth of my work, I don’t think it makes sense to only have one pitch,” she wrote. “And so I don’t. I tailor each pitch to the person I’m talking with.
“When I was pitching By The Book to the big wigs at Panoply, they bit. And why wouldn’t they? The premise was great. Jolenta Greenberg and I would live by the rules of a different self-help book each episode while recording ourselves at home, at work, and in the world to determine which books were actually life-changing. It would be a comedy show! It would be a reality show! It would be like nothing else in the podcasting world.
“Not long after, they gave us a team to help us produce a pilot. And when the public responded well to the pilot, they picked up the show for a full season. Panoply is no longer in existence, but By The Book is.”
Even in a volatile creative industry, knowing how to articulate who you are and how you are unique will help you weather the ups and downs of funding and project-based work. By the Book is now in its fifth season.
Kristen Meinzer’s pitch template: “I’m <expert> with <credentials>. I help <target audience> <solve a problem>. I’m particularly good at contributing <unique thing that people enjoy when working with me>.
“So what does your product do?”
Why is it so damn hard to answer this question and sound like you know what you’re talking about? It’s even more difficult when the pressure’s on. If you’ve ever tried to write copy for your home page — or even your app store description — you know what I’m talking about.
Olo Quesada, Head of Business Development at AppSumo, recommends starting by identifying who you’re talking to and what they’re looking for. Then you can lay out the problem, the solution, and how you do it better.
At networking events, the biggest mistake Olo notices is that founders tend to overgeneralize. When you’re specific, you can ask for what you want.
“It’s like a landing page. When I get to your landing page, I need to know what your product does within the first five seconds. Don’t make me work.”
But on the other side of the pendulum, don’t get lost in the details. “When somebody writes in to tell us about their product, if they start by explaining all these tiny little details—I get lost. Instead, start off with what your product does. And if it’s something that’s hard to understand, begin with a comparison to easily explain what your product does.” (For example, Olo sometimes describes AppSumo as “Groupon + Kickstarter”.)
“If it’s something in a new space, then you should present the problem first and then give the solution to show how your product solves that problem.”
Letting a pitch be a real conversation
“I was a speaker at a conference in Ukraine, and there were a bunch of product owners who came up to me and most of them were like, ‘Hey, here’s my product. Here’s my business card.’ And I forgot about them.
“But there were three companies that came up to me with a really good elevator pitch. They told me what their product did and I was interested. Then it turned into an actual conversation. We talked for the next 30-40 minutes about their product. Those three products that talked to me actually ended up launching on AppSumo. One of them, ActiveChat, became the #2 product of all time.”
Olo’s product pitch template: My team built a product that fixes <problem> with <solution>. Our product is <differentiator> unlike anyone else in this space. Last month we had <sales/engagement numbers (# of downloads, users, social proof, etc.)>.
As you sit down to write your pitch, don’t pigeonhole yourself. You can segment pitches by the type of person you’re speaking to (potential investor, customer, partner, etc.) or by the kind of problem you can help them with (time, money, stress, etc.)
Once you’re at a networking event, test your pitches around the room to see how people respond. Most importantly, let your pitch lead you into a real conversation. Good entrepreneurs don’t pitch and run.
The key to a successful pitch? Shut up and listen to the person you’re speaking with after you deliver it.
Noah Kagan’s pitch template (via Adeo Ressi): “My Company <name> is developing <offering> to help <target audience> <solve a problem> with <a secret sauce>.
Once you’ve written your elevator pitch, feel free to try it on us in the comments below to practice. No pressure 😉