n 1994, Barnett Helzberg, Jr. waswalking by The Plaza Hotel in New
York City when he heard a woman hailWarren Buffett. Helzberg approachedthe legendary investor and said, Hi,Mr. Buffett. Im a shareholder in Berk-shire Hathaway and a great admirer ofyours. I believe that my companymatches your criteria for investment.
Send me more details, Buffett replied.A year later, Helzberg sold his chain of143 diamond stores to Buffett.
Helzbergs story is a classic example ofa powerful elevator pitch. An elevatorpitch gets its name from the 30-secondopportunity to telland sellyourstory during a three- or four-story eleva-tor ride. The 30-second parameter isbased on the typical attention span,according to the book How to Get YourPoint Across in 30 Seconds or Less byMilo O. Frank. Its one reason why thestandard commercial or televisionsound bite lasts 30 seconds.
While elevator pitches are often associ-ated with funding requests, they can bevaluable every day. Job interviews, net-working events, public relations oppor-tunities, presentations to executives,and sales all demand the ability to suc-cessfully deliver a quick and conciseexplanation of your case.
A 30-second elevator speech quicklydemonstrates that you know your busi-ness and can communicate it effec-tively. Yes, a lot of important facts maybe left out, but today everyone isskilled at judging relevancy and mak-ing decisions with incomplete data. Infact, 15 seconds can be more powerfulthan 30 seconds. The more succinctyou are, the more successful you willbe, says Dr. Alan Weiss, president of
I Summit Consulting Group in EastGreenwich, R.I.The secret of strong elevator pitchesconsists of grabbing the attention of lis-teners, convincing them with thepromise of mutual benefit, and settingthe stage for follow-up. Speak in termsyour audience can relate to. And com-municate with the passion that comesfrom knowing that this opportunity maynever come again. How often do yousee Warren Buffett on the street?
Key tips include:
Know the goal. The goal of an elevatorpitch is not to get funding, a job, or pro-ject sign-off. Its to get approval to pro-ceed to the next step, whether itsaccepting a phone call, a referral to theright person, or a chance to send addi-tional information. Says Ken Yancey, theCEO of SCORE, an SBA resource part-ner made up of retired and active volun-teers who help small businesses: Rarelyare you closing a sale. Instead, you areopening the door to the next step. What-ever the goal is, follow through.
Know the subject. Do you know yourtopic well enough to describe it in a
single sentence? Its harder than itsounds. As Mark Twain pointed out, Ididnt have time to write you a shortletter, so I wrote you a long one.Knowing your subject well also givesyou the ability to stand out from otherswho might be doing something similar.The issue, as always, is less what youdo, and more what you can do forsomebody. Im a real estate agent isnot as powerful as saying I am a realestate agent who specializes in helpingfirst-time buyers like you buy greathomes in this town.
Know the audience. The worstpitches come from those who dontknow my organization or how we oper-ate. Pitching me on something that justisnt possible wastes both my time andtheirs, says Yancey. Before going to aconference, he identifies and doesresearch on the individuals he wants tomeet. Then he tailors his elevator pitchto match his audiences requirements.If people dont hear a benefit for them,they wont listen to you, says Yancey.
Organize the pitch. Some people areblessed with charisma and persuasive-ness, says Dave Power, a marketingpartner at Charles River Ventures, aventure capital firm in Waltham, Mass.We all arent that lucky. But you canstill be very effective by focusing onwhat is meaningful. You have to orga-nize the flow of information to make it aseasy as possible for the brain to digest.Typically, elevator pitches start with anintroduction, move into a description ofthe problem, outline potential benefits
Copyright 2002 by Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.
How to Make Your Casein 30 Seconds or Less
An elevator pitch can help capture an investors attention, open the door to a job, or win vital support for a new project.
Have Twoor TenMinutes?Elevator pitches can also form the building blocks of longer presentations.Milo O. Frank, author of How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds orLess, suggests looking at each of the points in an extended presentation asindividual 30-second messages. During the two, three, five, or ten minutesthat your speech lasts, youll have an opportunity to askand answersev-eral provocative questions, paint more than one picture, use more than onepersonal anecdote or experience. The strategies that kept your listener alertand interested in your 30-second message will achieve the same effect in alonger speech, says Frank.
PRESENTATIONS BY NICK WREDEN
H A R VA R D M A N A G E M E N T C O M M U N I C AT I O N L E T T E R J A N U A R Y 2 0 0 2
for the listener, and conclude with arequest for permission to proceed to thenext step in the relationship.
Hook them from the opening. Youhave to make an immediate connectionwith the audience. This connection sig-nals that its worth investing valuabletime to hear what you have to say. Weisssuggests starting with a provocative,contrarian, or counterintuitive state-ment that will rev pulses. One example:Quality doesnt matter.
Plug into the connection. Once youhave the attention of your audience,deliver your message. Clarity is morepowerful than jargon. Use analogies theaudience can relate to. Power once hadto explain a new technology calledstrong authentication. He held up anATM card. Every time you use thiscard with a PIN code, you are usingstrong authentication, he said. Theaudience instantly understood thatstrong authentication involved multiplelevels of security. Personalize yourmessage by relating your solution toaudience needs. Emotional appeals arealso powerful.
Presentation matters. Its natural towant to speak at an auctioneers tempo.But rapid-fire delivery rarely conveysconfidence and command. In fact, atimely pause is an effective attention-getter. It gives emphasis to what youresaying. It gives you time to think. Itgives your listener an opportunity tohear, absorb, and retain what youresaying, writes Frank.
Incorporate feedback. Use videotapeto evaluate your own performance.Give the pitch to someone unfamiliarwith your project. If she gets lost in jar-gon or fails to see the potential benefit,chances are that your target audiencewill stumble, too.
The benefits of elevator pitches extendbeyond persuading your audience. Theycan help focus your thinking and writ-ing. They can ultimately increase your
productivity, allowing you to communi-cate your message to more people.
Employees shouldnt stumble whenasked, what does your company do?or how can we help? An effective ele-vator pitch can outline win-win objec-tives, and establish a launch pad for adeeper relationshipconverting achance meeting into an opportunity.
Nick Wreden is the author of theforthcoming book, Fusion Branding:Strategic Branding for the CustomerEconomy. He can be reached email@example.com
Make Your Case in 30 seconds, continued
Should You Use a Teleprompter?eleprompters used to be out of reach for all except national politiciansand CEOs. Now theyre virtually standard equipment in business meetings
of any size or importance. Should you use one?
An accurate answer requires that you be honest about your abilities behind apodium. If youre a nervous speaker for whom presenting is a continuousnightmare from the moment the date is set to the moment you say thank youand step down from the stage, then a teleprompter can be a highly usefulcrutch. It almost always makes weak speakers a little better. It brings youreyes up from off the page, and forces you to move your head from left to rightwith some regularity as you scan the two text images in front of you. Since theteleprompter screens are transparent, the audience gets the impression thatyoure looking at the crowd.
The downside of using a teleprompter, however, is that reading text creates a barrier between speaker and audience. Few people can read with all the life and passion that they converse. And a teleprompter traps you behind the podium. Unless youre a politician at a rally, with supporters looking forreasons to leap to their feet and scream their enthusiasm, its very difficult to connect with an audience in a visceral way when you read from behind the podium.
So its your call. If youre a confident speaker, youre better off without oneunless youre accepting your partys nomination for president. If you decide touse one, here are a few tips to make the experience better:
1 Rehearse. Reading a teleprompter is not a natural human activity. Giveyourself some time before the day itself to practice and get used to it.
2 Learn from President Reagan. Reagan varied the pace with which herotated his head, thus giving the impression that he was looking at the audi-ence spontaneously.
3 Vary your pace and pitch. Dont fall into a monotone, unvarying rhythmas you read. Speed up. Slow down.
4 Be ready with a backup. Occasionally the teleprompter breaks downithappened to President Clinton during a State of the Union address. Keep aprinted text on the podium and keep your place in it.
BY NICK MORGANFROM THE EDITORS DESK
How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Lessby Milo O. Frank
1990 Pocket Books