How to Create a Clever and Creative Elevator Pitch That Demands Attention
Written by Lisa Montanaro | July 2, 2012

If you are a business owner, you probably have experienced the dreaded question that people ask at networking events, cocktail parties and the like, many many times: “So, what do you do?”.  And if you found yourself stumbling over your words to deliver the answer, you are not alone! Talking about your business is one of those areas that a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with. Many business owners suffer from performance anxiety each time someone asks them what they do for a living.

Recently, I presented my Kick Butt Business Bootcamp for a group of entrepreneurs in Baltimore (if you are interested in having me present it in your area or to your group, let’s chat!). I started them off with an “elevator pitch” ice breaker exercise. They had to choose someone in the room that they did not know well, introduce themselves to each other, and then share their 30-second elevator pitch. The catch? They were not allowed to use their formal job title in their pitch!

Why? Because your title doesn’t tell people what you do, the benefits you provide, or the results clients get from working with you. Also, the title may also conjure up images in the person’s mind that are far from what you actually do. Let’s face it, not every “web designer,” “lawyer,” “professional organizer,” and “business coach” is the same. You have to paint the picture of what you provide, and what the experience of working with you is like.

A few years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a workshop presented by Brian Walter at the annual National Speakers Association (NSA) Convention in NYC. Brian demonstrated a technique for creating a clever and catchy elevator pitch that I absolutely love. He calls it the “How, Now, Wow” Technique. (Side note: Ideas can’t be copyrighted, only words in fixed form, so sharing Brian’s ideas with proper credit is not only okay, but the highest form of flattery!).

The “How” elevator pitch is your ‘core’ or ‘home’ elevator pitch that you use in formal situations, or when you are unsure if the person you are speaking with can handle anything more clever or creative. It is the basic formula of what you do without mentioning your title. For example, a productivity consultant may say for his or her How message: “I help busy professionals and business owners be more productive so that they can focus on the things they enjoy more in life.” The focus is on what you do, who you do it for, and the benefits provided or results received.

Next, you move onto the “Now” stage. Use this when the person seems genuinely interested ( in other words, their eyes are not glazed over!) and/or asks for more information. This is your opportunity to provide him or her with examples of your work, the benefits you have provided, and the results that you have brought to clients. You should have about 4 examples at your disposal at any one time, so that you are prepared. “Now, for example, I just finished a time management project with a client that has not been able to attend his son’s soccer game in the last 2 seasons. Due to our intense work together to revamp his thinking and habits around time management, he has been able to attend 75% of his son’s soccer games this season.” You should try to tailor your Now examples to the person you are speaking with or the situation, so that they are relevant. If you are speaking to a busy CEO who is time-starved, this would be a perfect example. But maybe not the best example for someone that is a business owner and wants to become more productive in order to impact her bottom line and make more money.

The last stage is the “Wow” one. This is the one you pull out only for people you think can handle it, for those you really want to impress with your creativity and cleverness. Don’t waste it on someone that seems bored, is interrupting in order to tell you what he or she does, or you can tell is giving you their attention in a perfunctory manner. (For that person, let them talk, listen, ask a few questions to engage him or her, and then if all else fails, politely excuse yourself and walk away!) The Wow line is that extra factor that sets you apart. It makes people interested because it makes you look cool, is memorable, and maybe a little punchy. Brevity is key in the Wow line. If it is too lengthy, you will lose the person’s attention.

Some ways to deliver a Wow elevator pitch:

  • Think of similes when people ask what you do. For example, “I’m like a personal trainer for the disorganized brain.”
  • Describe what you do like a movie trailer with the client as the star. Tell a short interesting snippet of the work, and then end with the results.
  • Compare yourself to someone recognizable in popular culture, or even a cross between two people. For example, one I’ve used is: “I am like a cross between Rachael Ray and Sandra Day O’Connor.” Rachael Ray is warm, funny and sassy, and Sandra Day O’Connor is an extremely intelligent woman, having served as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Yes, I am trying to convey that as a coach, consultant and speaker, I have spunk and smarts!

Coaching Challenge: Craft an elevator pitch using the How, Now, Wow technique. Pick an elevator pitch buddy and practice together. Record yourself using audio or video. Then, start practicing at real events and see what type of response you get. Remember, no using your job title! Be creative and clever and you will get people’s attention.

Meet the Author

Helping others be the best versions of themselves gets me jazzed!

I’ve worn many hats in my lifetime—often at the same time—while enjoying fulfilling careers. I’ve been a performer, teacher, sign language instructor, lawyer, career counselor, law professor, coach, consultant, mediator, entrepreneur, speaker, trainer, writer, and author. 

I’m an eternal optimist and life-long learner, constantly researching ways to improve personal and professional effectiveness. And it brings me great joy to then pass on the results of that persistent curiosity to my clients and audiences. 

Of all the career hats I’ve been privileged to wear, my favorite is owner of this business since 2002. Why? Because it provides me the opportunity to work with wonderful organizational and individual clients. On any given day, I get to connect deeply with audiences, work with dedicated teams, improve workplaces, watch clients have a-ha moments, and know I’ve made a difference in their lives and careers. And that is very satisfying.