The Elevator Pitch

January 27, 2022


Legend has it that it was elevator pioneer Elisha Otis who gave the first true “elevator pitch.”


Although in 1853 there were many buildings already equipped with elevators, they were generally considered to be dangerous; only as stable as their weakest rope.  Otis had a vision for a better way and a much safer one at that.  Rather than attempting to sell his invention with complicated language and phraseology, however, he decided to demonstrate some ingenuity.  In front of many, at a convention center, he proceeded to set up a display of an open elevator shaft, hoisted himself up three stories, and then cut his supporting rope with an axe.  The crowd gasped, but then breathed a sigh of relief as his stopping mechanism brought his elevator to a safe halt before it hit the ground. 


In just under 30 seconds Elisha Otis had shown the world the value of what he was selling.


We are all in the business of selling whether we choose to be or not.  Those who work in retail or food service environments get it.  Store fronts and displays are configured in such a manner as to attract not only attention but action on the part of the visual customer.  Today’s store fronts are often presented through web sites with success measured through search engine optimization metrics. 


Beyond those who sell for a living, don’t we all try to promote ourselves in some way?  For one, we will dress and present in a manner that brings attraction, causes distraction, or even fades into the oblivion of inaction.  Some of us are vocal and loud, hoping to be heard so as to persuade others.  There are those who are purposely low key and quiet, oftentimes also hoping to influence others through their reserve.


An elevator pitch is basically a distillation of not only a company’s value propositions, but that of the work team, and eventually you yourself.  Most importantly it’s meant to explain what is unique and different. 


There are countless examples.  I knew of one man who was desperate for employment in sales.  Following several failures, he hired a helicopter and equipped it with over 1000 ping pong balls.  When the aircraft reached a comfortable altitude above an area of business and commerce, those balls were released.  With his name, phone number, and “Hire Me” printed on each.  Most found him crazy.  There were also some attractive job offers that came of his scheme, fascinated with his brash ingenuity.


Andy Warhol was eccentric even in a medium that encouraged the avant garde.  Lady Gaga fashioned a dress of raw meat.  Harpo Marx pantomimed his entire act without words, even though he was quite capable of speaking.


So, what would be your elevator pitch?


I find those who work with me often dumbfounded by that question.  After a few stutters and stammers eventually there comes a response, first utterances often reflective of what that person values, especially at that moment. 


I ask clients to consider their answer from a different scenario.  Two people are attending a cocktail party, one who knows you well, the other perhaps hearing your name or about you for the first time.  Consider the person who doesn’t know you asking the other, “What can you tell me about…?”


What would you predict they would say?  What would you want them to say?  Now you have the foundation of your elevator pitch.  It is your unique identifier and differentiator. 


My wife, Cindy, is a certified Kitchen and Bath Designer.  She has an incredible “eye” for not only seeing the current state of a kitchen or bath, but the possibility of what it can become.  There are a variety of design illustration tools that are available to those in her trade, but she has truly applied a God-given talent that personalizes her work.  Hand sketched and drawn, her renderings, not only provide her clients with a keepsake, but connote the heart, spirit, and love that has gone into that product. 


Within each of us there exist similar special gifts.  Some are especially blessed intellectually.  Others discern well.  There are those who are selfless and give of their time and listening for people who need to be heard and understood.  Some have the courage and verbal abilities to speak out; others have the self-control to stand down.


How about you?  What’s your pitch?


The Seed Sower



The Coach's Coach