An effective elevator pitch could mean the difference between a new connection and a lost opportunity. [TWEET]

You’ve heard these questions before: “What do you do for work?" and "What is your business about?" Questions like these could lead to that next job – or client. But do you know what to say? This is your chance to make a lasting impression with the perfect elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is similar to a personal selling statement, yet different from a sales pitch, because it’s more of a conversation starter. A good pitch lasts between 15 and  60 seconds – about the length of an elevator ride – which is partly how it got its name.

Whether you’re standing in the elevator, walking down the hall, or meeting someone new at a networking function, you have a limited amount of time to make a connection. Elevator pitches should be interesting, brief, and memorable. It should also be flexible, given that it’s meant to be conversational and informal, so make room for questions and answers. Prior to drafting your pitch, consider your objective. Are you promoting your organization, pitching an idea, or looking for a new job? All of these would require different scripts. You might also want to consider who your target audience is, what problems they have, and how your product or service can fix that. Regardless of your objective, the techniques for drafting a successful elevator pitch are the same. Below are some guidelines.

Capture their attention.

Answer the question: Who are you? Introduce yourself and note your credentials such as your major or degree. If possible, make reference to something that differentiates you from your peers such as technical training. The start of a conversation is also the perfect time to establish a relationship. So, if you happen to know you went to the same college or worked at the same firm as the individual, mention it at the beginning. This will ensure you capture the person’s attention.

Note your career or business goals and experience.

Once you’ve completed initial introductions, draft a short, one-sentence story that answers the question: What do you/your business do? If your job title is broad or highly specialized, provide a description instead. This will allow that person to help you or possibly connect you to someone who can. Because time is limited, don’t get bogged down in detail. The key here is to make sure your story highlights what you can do for them, and the value you can deliver in the role – or the problems you can solve. In another sentence, emphasize your interest or experience in the field. Avoid making a statement such as "I’m passionate about working with children.” Instead, say something along the lines of, "I've taken childcare courses and volunteered at the local day care."

Point to qualifications.

You’ll also want to point to your qualifications by sharing leadership, experience, achievements, expertise, skills, and strengths. Answer the questions: What makes you qualified to do your job/run your business and how long have you been doing it? If you’re a new graduate, point to your college major. If not, leave it out. If you’re affiliated with industry organizations or have specialized certifications, make a note of it.

Highlight unique qualities.

After establishing your background and goals, you’ll want to point to any qualities, experiences, or achievements that make you stand out. That person might already know somebody with 15 years of experience in childcare, so what makes you such a catch? Perhaps you volunteered in overseas schools, learning how to care for impoverished, underprivileged children. Or maybe you have extensive knowledge in child psychology that would allow you to identify and support children with psychological issues. Consider what special niche or extensive knowledge you can share with your contact that will set you apart from the rest.

Ask a question.

As you close, make sure to ask an open-ended question that allows the individual to answer. This can help engage them in a longer conversation. For example, "If you have some time, I would love to meet with you in person to hear more about your organization and any opportunities." Or, you can say something like, “Would you be able to put me in contact with the person in charge of business development so I can tell them more about what I can offer your company?” And, of course, be sure to ask for their business card so you can follow up.

Take your time to craft your pitch. And practice it aloud. Time it to make sure it’s short enough. If you can, practice with a friend to gauge their thoughts. Cut out anything that’s unnecessary. Remember, it needs to be short and engaging. You don’t have to share every unique aspect of your job or every accomplishment, just enough to pique interest in the other person and land you a follow-up meeting. Most people will go through multiple drafts before settling on the words that are just right.

When delivering your pitch, be enthusiastic and smile. It should also sound natural, not rehearsed. People can tell if you really love what you do and believe in what you’re saying, or whether you’re just trying to sell them on your idea or background by delivering a rehearsed pitch, so practice in front of a mirror and practice it regularly. Your elevator pitch should be committed to memory so you can use it at any time.

As you practice, monitor your body language. Don’t cross your arms, fidget, or use distracting hand gestures. Make sure to look as confident as you sound. Good news is, the more you practice, the easier it will get to remember all the elements so you can sound it off at any time. Also, don’t forget to be flexible. You may even consider creating different pitches for different audiences. At the very least, be open to making changes depending on the conversation – and the person you’re speaking with. It’s alright, and quite natural, to vary your words, as long as the message – and end results – are the same.

Below are some fill-in-the-blank elevator pitches to get you started. Modify these as appropriate and incorporate the additional elements discussed above.

Elevator Pitch #1

Do you know how many people [the main problem your clients have]? Well, what I do is [briefly explain the solution you provide]. I’m a(n) [__________] with [experience/qualifications], and I specialize in [__________].

Elevator Pitch #2

I’m [name] and I provide/help/serve [target audience] with [product or service]. It helps/is a solution for [problem] and allows them to achieve [desire].

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