Anatomy of an Elevator Pitch

You always have moments where you have to sell.  Yourself, your abilities, your company.  Unfortunately, a lot of people are mortified if they only have a moment to sell.  It's hard to compress all your visions and ideas, let alone when that moment could be unexpected.  When I was running Adult Swim promo events for SJI, Inc, they taught us a lot of golden rules about direct marketing.  When you're looking someone in the eye and trying to quickly persuade them to buy your product, or in my case tune in to Adult Swim at 11PM for hilariously mature cartoons, the key components are: succinctly pointing out a valid need, swifly promising a legitimate solution, and ensuring you make a momentary connection.  The technique is often called the Elevator Pitch.  The Adult Swim events were like a giant elevator with a bunch of inebriated college students confused by what a "meatwad" could possibly be.

My Objective

The AS events were usually held in a noisy setting, most typically bars (even though I was only 20 at the time, sorry Washington), filled with WSU students unwinding on a Friday or Saturday night.  The goal was to interact with as many patrons as possible while dispersing promotional items - keychains, playing cards, coasters, etc - so that they would start watching 3 hours of cartoons for 18-24 year olds.  The reasoning for targeting college students, aside from them assurednly falling into the target age group, was the idea that they go home from time-to-time, where they could then encourage their friends to watch.  The hopeful outcome being viral rebroadcast of the message, amplifying its effect.

My Pitch

The basic interaction was about 60 seconds.  It was a hybrid of Jehova's witness encounter and reverse-mugging in that I needed to deposit an idea in the patron's head and an item in their hand to get them to watch TV.  The refined steps, when I was lucky, went something like this:

1) Step up to the person, close enough that they can't ignore me, but respecting their personal bubble

2) "Have you heard of Adult Swim? ..." - While delivering the question, one had to imply that ignorance of AS was a major deprivation of pop culture, on par with never having never been kissed.  Gauge how much they already know about the programming.  Perhaps ironically, if they were already fans, I was commanded to be less giving to them.  While I certainly expressed gratitude on behalf of AS, we were after NEW viewers.

3) Take a step closer and pull out a promo item.  Hold onto the promo item for a minute to keep their attention during the description.  If they squared shoulders with you, you had their full attention, if not you had to keep trying.

4a) "It's late night TV on Cartoon Network..." - Succintly describe that it's crass cartoons on TV at night.  I had to clarify the channel, time of day, and days it was on (at the time, I would say "on Cartoon Network at 11PM every night except Friday").

4b) Move to hand them the branded knicknack after getting a ways into the description.  I preferred to have a very definite moment where we were both holding the item.  Women seemed particularly sensitve to anything that could be interpreted as being thrown at them, so it was key to have a moment where the item was physically bridging proximity.  If they did not immediately take the item, then I would hold it in my hand on the table.  If they never at any point tried to take the item from me, I would never just leave it.  It was emblematic of their acceptance of my pitch and I had to economize on items.  It also made it possible to mark people I've already talked to with the items, enabling me to easily identify candidates for a second pass if time allowed.

5) Listen & Answer -  At this point, the prime payload of physical and informational mementos had been delivered, so I was searching for a graceful exit.  Positive respondents almost universally had a question about the programming or item I handed to them, so focusing on them to deliver High Quality Listening over the din of the setting was often a challenge.  The promo items usually made it easy to segue into describing a specific show or character that would help familiarize them with the programming, something I often equated with test-driving.

6) Tie Back To Them - I did not want them to think that staying up late to watch cartoons universally improve the human condition, but rather that it would make them laugh, give them something unique to share with their friends, and how I valued their willingness to listen to me.  The two key routes I most often took were: relating my own tastes and personality to theirs, opening the door to the idea that we are similar and therefore would like similar things OR reaffirm how a strong opinion they express about television relates to the content of AS.  It was easy to convince people who disliked Jay Leno to try something new in Adult Swim, since absurd animation is about the fursthest thing from late night talk.

7) Say Goodbye - It was important to keep the interaction discrete and slip away before they got bored with someone interrupting their night.  Once I successfully tied it back, or realized I was failing and had to abort, I would put my weight back on one leg to start stepping away.  I would repeat the key channel and time information again, along with gratitude for giving me the time to talk to them.

Establishing need occurs in step #2 and delivering the solution in #4.  It's important to style the whole interaction using the core 3 tenets of public speaking: brevity, levity, and sincerity.  I would analyze, formulate, and practice key phrases, such as the channel and time line, different questions to prime the conversation, common responses, and graceful exit lines.  No single conversation ever went to plan, but it certainly made chance favor my desired outcome.

I really emphasized body language to overcome the fact that people couldn't hear me clearly.  I also delivered these pitches most often to groups, often seated at tables, thus I had to divide my attention during step #5.  I tried to address larger groups according to how they had divided their conversations, usually into groups of 2-4.  If you didn't broadcast to each feed of information seated at the table, you didn't get the whole table.  Smoothly dispersing 5 tchotchkes to a group at once, while adhering to my policy about handing items, is as close as I've come to being a street magician.

My Challenges

It was hard to stick to the script in all situations.  Challenges varied from people who spoke English as a second language to people who had too much to drink.  Noise was my constant nemesis.  Evaluating the topography of a situation usually boiled down to the number of empty glasses on the table and gender mixture of people sitting around it.  Fewer glasses was better; more glasses inspired crazy activities from the patrons - like that one time I got licked on the cheek.  Couples tables were easiest to approach, but hardest to sell to - no one wanted to be uncool, but establishing similarity and tying back was hard.  Man-only tables required one to be a bit more boisterous, but selling was easy. Women-only tables immediately thought I would open with "Do You Come Here Often?" not, "Don't You Just Love Futurama Reruns?!".  Mixed groups had the disadvantages of couples with none of the advantages.  My approach was to identify the ringleader if possible and get their attention.  That person was commonly the one garnering the most eye contact and using the most arm movement.

Your Pitch & Your Challenges

Often times, the biggest challenge for pitch artists is that you don't always get to gauge the situation.  You might stumble upon a prospective client or be suddenly asked a critical question by your boss, putting you into pitch mode without preparation.  Obsessive preparation isn't necessary, but practice is your only real countermeasure.  If you codify introspection and pitch construction into your thought process for how you operate, you'll be better prepared to communicate to others in the general case.  When you see something you like, try formulating a pitch to redistribute your connection.  If you're a high quality word-of-mouth advertiser for others, you'll be a great one for yourself.

You have something that needs a pitch.  It could be an idea, organization, or you and your skills.  If you haven't had that insight, you stopped reading long ago.  Before you start to make a plan, you need to thoroughly understand the nature of what you're hoping to sell.  Formulating a means to help others understand is not the same as you understanding.  Systematic introspection is beyond the immediate scope, but I would recommend Starting With Why, since it comes back into the pitch.  Assuming you have that understanding, starting by filling in the blanks: What need are you fulfilling?  How do you fulfill that need?  What do you want the person to remember? There pillars are the necessary substance of your pitch; however, it's not all you need.  A lot of people also like takeaway items like business cards, which is a good idea, but the most powerful impression you can make is neither intellectual nor physical.

You need to create connection.  The substance can be solutions, but the style has to be connection.  Ask yourself: How can I communicate the emotion of my idea?  You will pitch to a lot of people.  Some of the people buy because the benefit is obvious.  A lot will not buy because they just don't need it.  You can sell your pitch to people in the middle, likely the vast majority of customers, by selling them on you.  On your passion, on your dedication, on your similarity to them, and how good it seems to make you feel, because everyone wants something that will make them feel good.