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How to give a great elevator pitch

Good first impressions

Small business owners could get just a minute or two to explain to potential customers just what they do and why people should buy from them, so make the most of it, says Kolarele Sonaike.

Once upon a time, a blind boy sat begging for money, next to a sign that read: “Please help me, I’m blind”. Although some people dropped a few coins in his bowl, most simply passed by until, one day, a kind man decided to help. He took the boy’s sign, wrote a few words on the back and then replaced it, with the new text showing.

Immediately, lots of people began dropping coins into the boy’s bowl, and by the end of the day it was overflowing. When, later, the boy recognised the kind man’s footsteps as he walked past, he asked the man what he had written on his sign. “I just said the same thing you did, but in a different way,” he replied, and left. The sign read: “Today is a beautiful day, but I can’t see it.”

The above story may or may not be true, but I always think of it when people ask me how they can stand out when they meet people for the first time.


Brand the problem

Don’t just launch straight into what you do. First set out the problem that your business exists to solve, and emphasise its seriousness by highlighting the impact it has on people’s lives.

The reason is simple: only when your audience cares about the problem will they also care that you have the solution. Better still, if they think that you ‘get the pain’, they will trust that you have the solution, and be far more receptive to hearing about what you do.

Tell them what you do

Once they feel the pain, they’ll be looking to you to cure it, so now is the time to tell them what you do.
Keep it short. You should have a go-to definition of your business that is no more than 20 words. It should be clear and concise, but also broad (covering all of what you do), and precise (specific to your service, not general or vague).

Then list the best features and benefits of your product or service, so that they can see that you really do have the answer.

Explain why they need to use you

Chances are there are lots of other businesses doing what you do. Even if you have a strong unique selling point, that doesn’t mean you don’t have competitors. Your elevator pitch also gives you the chance to explain why you’re the right choice, and what you know that they don’t.

Watch the YouTube video of how Apple’s Steve Jobs explained to potential customers why they should use Apple rather than Blackberry when he first unveiled the iPhone in 2007.

Offer real value

The clincher in any pitch is when you highlight the value that your business brings to people’s lives. This is more than what you do, or even how you do it. It’s about your mission, your purpose, and why you do what you do.

So you’re not just selling greeting cards; you’re helping bring people closer by letting them share their emotions. You’re not just a bookkeeper; you’re giving businesses financial control and security.
Showing your value is how you answer people’s true question: “What’s in it for me?”

Call to action

The final step is your call to action. Know what you want out of your pitch, and ask for that. Make sure it’s one simple action, so you don’t make it too hard for your audience to figure out what you want.
Finally, the real secret to a great pitch is stories. I’ll bet that, despite everything I’ve said, it’s the story about the blind boy that you’ll most remember. Stories work. If you’ve got a great case study that highlights the value of what you do, use it. It’s far more powerful than your traditional elevator pitch.

KOLARELE SONAIKE is a public speaking consultant and an FSB member