brand storytelling, storytelling technique — November 11, 2013 at 12:33 pm

How To Deliver A Bad Elevator Pitch


elevator pitch


I recently attended a networking event in New York City billed as a forum for entrepreneurs to meet potential investors. As someone who helps companies tell their stories—from their elevator pitch through full-up advertising campaigns—I figured I’d check it out to see if I could drum up any business from NYC’s start-up community.

The MeetUp was filled with quite a few interesting, intelligent and energetic people.

But many of the had poor or inadequate elevator pitches.

Here are a few examples:

The Dazed and Confused Elevator Pitch.

One young entrepreneur told me he was in the business of “revolutionizing education through a revolutionary new online educational platform.”

When I asked him to explain further, I couldn’t get a coherent answer. At times it seemed like he was offering educational content. At other times he was not in the content business at all, but solely in the distribution business. Then there was the unique “social” nature of his platform, the benefit of which was unintelligible.

The business model was also confusing: he’d make money through contributions from educational institutions like Harvard; later I learned it was consumers who would foot the bill.

The more questions I asked, the more mind-boggling it all became.

Now, I don’t doubt this young man’s sincerity. Perhaps his platform is truly revolutionary. And perhaps it’s all clear in his own mind.

But I couldn’t make head or tail of it, and I can’t imagine any rational businessman investing in an offering so dazed and confused.

The Bait and Switch Elevator Pitch.

An older gentleman in a well-tailored suit informed me that he was in the business of “connecting investors with opportunities in Peru.”

As far as elevator pitches go, not bad, if in need of a little clarification.

When I asked him to clarify the nature of the opportunities, I learned that they involved Peruvian real estate. OK—a clear, simple pitch. Bravo.

But then the conversation took a weird turn.

Our Peruvian real estate connector suddenly took a brochure out of his pocket advertising a networking event in the chemical industry. He was sponsoring the event and invited me to attend. There would be a nominal fee, of course.

When I later checked out his website, I learned he was indeed connected to the Chemical Marketing and Economics Group. No mention was made of any connection with Peru, or real estate.


The “Why didn’t You Just Say So?” Elevator Pitch.

A sophisticated-looking gentlemen explained his business in financial terms that were unintelligible to me. When I let him know that I was simply too ignorant to understand a word of what he was saying, he explained himself differently: “I’m like a talent scout for VCs.”

Well, why didn’t you just say that in the first place? Perhaps Wall Street types enjoy the arcane language of finance, but if you want to reach those outside your immediate professional circle, just keep it simple.

The Big Yawn Elevator Pitch.

One gentleman told me he was in the business of “helping companies grow.”

Nothing wrong with that, except that it is so bland and generic, it was difficult for me to hold back a yawn.

When I asked how, in fact, he helped companies grow, he rambled on about “efficiencies.” When I pressed him on what kind of efficiencies, he handed me his card, excused himself and moved on to pitch another attendee.

The Missed Opportunity Elevator Pitch.

One articulate and vivacious woman told me she offered “a unique crowdfunding platform for books only.”

“Why is that a good thing?” I asked. She explained that it helped up-and-coming authors get published. One of her authors, in fact, had recently raised $1700.

“So what does the author do with the $1700?,” I continued.

She explained that raising money with initial sales shows traditional publishers that an author is marketable.

What this told me was that she wan’t in the crowdfunding business, or even in the publishing business. Rather she was in the credibility business, providing new authors with the market credibility to take the next step with big-time publishers.

In my view, that is the more interesting and compelling position for her business, and should be at the heart of her elevator pitch.

Her problem was not so much a poorly communicated pitch, but rather a pitch that missed a marketing opportunity.

The Right Elevator Pitch Is Hard To Craft.

It’s easy to poke holes in inadequate elevator pitches.

But the truth of the matter is they are damn hard to craft.

There are so many ways to describe what it is you do and the value you offer. It’s both an intellectual and emotional challenge to make the choices required to communicate your offering simply, clearly and distinctively.

But it’s worth the effort.

As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

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