7 Tips on How to Deliver a Compelling 'Elevator Pitch'

Investor and businessman, Charles Von Thun of Denver, discusses professional credentialing with U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Ayers of Leesburg, Va., after a meeting of the Guard and Reserve Network, (U.S. Air Force photo / Scot Talcott)
Investor and businessman Charles Von Thun discusses professional credentialing with U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Ayers after a meeting of the Guard and Reserve Network, (Scot Talcott/U.S. Air Force photo)

When you meet someone new at a career fair, job interview, networking meeting or even standing in line for groceries, it's not uncommon for them to ask you, "What do you do?" This question is designed to elicit a response called an "elevator pitch."

Their question is asked with the hope that a productive, fruitful or at least enjoyable conversation ensues about you and your goals as it relates to something that interests them, too. When they ask, "Tell me about yourself," they aren't looking to hear your life story, but rather are interested in a short, concise and interesting response that will optimistically start a conversation.

During that conversation, they will decide (as will you) whether to continue the discussion and explore mutually beneficial business opportunities.

The elevator pitch is a 60- to 90-second speech. Half the impact of an elevator pitch is what you say; the other half is how you say it. The outline for what you say in an elevator pitch is:

  1. State who you are and what you do in a concise way, avoiding military jargon. Odds are that you're speaking to a civilian who has no understanding of your military occupational specialty (MOS).
  2. What makes you interesting/unique? This part of the pitch is your "why." Why are you passionate about your work or goals? Why should someone be interested in you?
  3. Finally, share a quick example to illustrate the work you do and what you're interested in finding (goals).

Delivery Is Key

How you deliver your message is very important. If you recite your elevator pitch like you're reading a script, with no enthusiasm or passion, it's likely the other person will end the conversation. To ensure you deliver your message in a way that's interesting and compelling, follow these guidelines:

  1. Be Honest. When meeting someone for the first time, stay true to what you know. Embellishing or exaggerating is never a good idea, especially when initiating a potential business relationship.
  2. Be Enthusiastic. You never know who you are speaking to. This person could be the interviewer you're meeting later that day, or the contact you've been dying to connect with, or someone you'll start a business with one day. Share enthusiasm, and you'll come across as confident and interesting.
  3. Stay Authentic. If you are a naturally shy person, don't try to be a clown when meeting people for the first time. Stay true to yourself and let the best of you come forward when meeting someone new.
  4. Remember to Reciprocate. Ask the other person about himself or herself: What do they do? How do they like that work? Show interest in their answers and follow up with additional questions and comments.
  5. Listen. When someone is speaking to you, pay attention to the words they use, but also the tone in which they speak. Are they reluctant or confident? Are they hiding information or sharing freely? Nod your head in agreement to help build rapport, and if you don't understand what they are saying, ask for clarification. Being a good listener is key.
  6. Watch your body language. Avoid crossing your arms (sometimes seen as a defensive posture) and instead hold your hands in front of you or to your side. Maintain good eye contact and smile if the conversation is pleasant. Give the other person a comfortable amount of space (don't stand or sit too close), and when shaking hands at the greeting or departure, offer a firm, but not bone-crushing handshake.
  7. Follow Up. Did the conversation go well? Did you exchange business cards? Consider following up by connecting online or by email. Think about what a natural next step could be: Meet for coffee, an introduction to someone you know, a phone call or maybe plan to meet at the next event you'll both be attending.

As you transition out of uniform, an elevator pitch will feel unnatural. You didn't introduce yourself this way in your military career. If you practice, observe others and keep calm when meeting new people, your elevator pitch will become second nature to you.

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