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  • Why I Hate Elevator Pitches

    Fellow PBB writer, Scott Bradley, nearly had me rolling my eyes when he wrote about why your personal brand needs an elevator pitch. But he saved me from serious eye strain when he avoided making the cardinal sin most elevator pitch writers make.

    The sin of being too clever.

    Scott’s strategy is a good one. A good elevator pitch is an “effective value proposition.” It tells people what you do. And it has to be “simple and memorable.” That is, it needs to take much less than the 30 seconds we’re usually told it should take — your elevator pitch should be no more than 2 sentences — and it needs to be something people will remember.

    But memorable is not clever. Memorable is short, punchy, and to the point.

    The Goal is to Get People to Talk to You

    The whole point of an elevator pitch is to get people to talk to you about what you do. To want to learn more. To ask questions.

    And their first question should not be a puppyish tilting of the head followed by a quizzical “Huh?”

    Several years ago, one friend’s elevator pitch was “We make your company more memorable.”

    She changed it after Kyle Lacy, my Branding Yourself co-author, and I made fun of her.

    “That could be anything,” we said. “Sky writers, a guy wearing a sandwich board, or someone who will punch people in the mouth while shouting your company name.”

    The problem was, she had been told to use her elevator pitch because it would get people’s interest and get them to talk to her.

    It’s not a bad strategy if you’re stuck on a transcontinental flight with someone and you both forgot your headphones. But in every other elevator pitch situation, you don’t have that long to gain someone’s attention, so you don’t want to waste the first 10 seconds of that interaction — not to mention that chance to make a good first impression — by saying something that makes you have to explain what it is you do anyway.

    Just tell me what you do, and we can skip the unnecessary stuff. If I like what you have to say, and I need it at that particular moment, I’ll ask for more. If I don’t, we’ll make polite conversation until I can figure out a way to leave without appearing rude.

    It’s About Timing

    In a recent blog post on Linda Formichelli’s Renegade Writer, Melissa Breau talked about how it’s important to have perfect timing when you’re pitching.

    Case in point: Melissa landed a copywriting client because she started Twitter-following a well-known entrepreneur and she mentioned that she was a writer in her bio. It wasn’t overly clever — “we put your dreams down on paper” — and it wasn’t overly boring either — “#Writer. #GrammarNerd. These opinions are my own.” Instead, it explained that she was a copywriter, which is what her client needed at exactly that moment.

    (By the way, let me break away for a minute and talk about how much I loathe: 1) #Hashtags in Twitter bios. They make you seem desperate; and, 2) Statements that tell me your tweets are your own. If your company lawyers make you say that, fine. If they don’t, don’t. I already figured that the personal account with your own name and photo was a dead giveaway that these were your opinions.)

    Melissa’s bio, her Twitter elevator pitch — her “Twitch?” — describes what she does: “Copywriter and book editor.”

    And what did her new client need? A copywriter.

    It is, as Scott Bradley said, simple and memorable.

    It was, as Melissa Breau said, perfect timing.

    She wrote the right pitch, and it reached her new client at the right time.

    KISS — Keep It Short and Simple

    The point is this: it doesn’t matter what you say, how clever your pitch is, or whether it’s 5 seconds or 8 seconds long. What matters is the person you’re talking to needs exactly what you offer at that very time. If they don’t, no amount of clever patter, no matter how much effort you put into it, no usage of the latest corporate jargony bullshit will save you.

    Make your elevator pitch simple, clear, and direct.

    “I’m a copywriter.”
    “I’m a forensic accountant who investigates corporate embezzlement cases.”
    “I’m a personal injury attorney specializing in bicycle versus construction equipment accidents.”

    Don’t fluff it up, don’t be clever, and don’t try to come up with something that will “make them ask questions.”

    Either the other person is interested in what you do because they need it, or they’re not. And no amount of verbal trickery is going to make them interested. So be simple, be direct, be as self-explanatory as you can.

    Remember, you only have 15 seconds to impress someone. Don’t spend that time explaining your elevator pitch. Just say what you should have said all along.


    Erik Deckers is a writer. That’s it. Just a writer. Nothing more. Oh, and he’s a business owner. He’s the co-owner of Professional Blog Service. He’s also the co-author of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself. His new book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing. Also, his opinions are his own, but they should be embraced by the general populace.

    is the owner of Professional Blog Service, a newspaper humor columnist, and the co-author of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing, and The Owned Media Doctrine.

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