Elevator pitches: 10 words to change the world

How’s your elevator pitch? Is it working well for you? Does it need freshening up? Do you even have one? Maybe it’s time to take a lesson from how your favourite movies and TV series get launched.

It’s long been said that Hollywood screenwriters only get three to five minutes to propose an idea. But the producers who sit in judgement on those pitches don’t even wait that long before they give the thumbs up or the thumbs down. If those producers haven’t heard what they want to hear in the first 45 seconds, chances are an idea that’s been worked on for weeks or months will be rejected.

The screenwriters understand how the system works, so before making a pitch they work hard on the two or three sentences that will clearly explain what the movie is all about.

What’s all this got to do with your next presentation or speech? Well, if you are a business leader or entrepreneur you are constantly running up against people who want to know:

  • What is your presentation about?
  • What does your product or service or start-up do?
  • Why do I need to know about this?

If you can answer those questions in one or two bold, compelling sentences you are well on the path to success. But often, especially in business presentations, we add clutter rather than removing it. We complicate rather than simplify. We add detail and talk about process before we’ve actually got our audience hooked… before we’ve answered their unspoken ‘so what?’.

The human brain craves meaning before details.

Science is on the side of those who can master the art of the elevator (or movie) pitch. Research at the University of Washington School of Medicine shows that the human brain craves meaning before details. 

Carmine Gallo, a communication expert and instructor at Harvard University, explained it like this: “When listeners don’t understand the overarching idea being presented in a pitch, they have a hard time digesting the information.”

Here’s a test for you: if you had come up with the idea of Google, how would you pitch it to potential investors? Could you deliver a compelling pitch in one sentence, of less than 20 words?

When Google creators Sergey Brin and Larry Page went before potential investors, they had their pitch ready to go:

“Google organizes the world’s information and makes it universally accessible.”

Just ten words.

When you are creating, or reviewing, your elevator pitch make sure you identify the one thing you want the audience to remember. That was the Apple strategy under Steve Jobs, and the company still uses it today.

When Apple launched the original iPod, the big thought was ‘1000 songs in your pocket’. When they lunched the MacBook Air, the line was ‘the world’s thinnest notebook’.

So take a look at how you pitch your big ideas in presentations and speeches. 

  • Are you helping your audience see purpose and benefit before your launch into details and process? 
  • Are you putting the what and the why before the how?
  • Are you able to express it clearly in one short sentence?

This is not easy. It takes time. So don’t settle for your first version. Or even the second or third. Let it stew a while in your brain. Try it out on friends. Put some time and effort in.

It’ll be worth it if, like the Google team, you can get the go-ahead for a project that will change the world… in just ten words.