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Writing Blockbuster Elevator Pitches

by Guest Writter

Sandra Zimmer

Summer is the time for blockbuster movies, or at least blockbuster movie trailers. You know, those two minute clips that filmmakers use to promote their movies? Stephen Garrett wrote an article in Filmmaker Magazine entitled “The Art of First Impressions; How to Cut a Movie Trailer”. He said, “It’s only two minutes long. But it’s the way a film greets the world.” According to Mr. Garrett, the film trailer is arguably the most important marketing tool available to a filmmaker.

In business, we also need trailers for marketing our companies. Business trailers are our one-minute introductions, otherwise known as elevator pitches. While everyone knows they should have one, many professionals struggle with what to say when they get that precious 60 seconds to introduce themselves at a networking event. They often resign themselves to sharing a generic description of their job title, like “I’m a civil trial attorney with the A, B and C Law Firm.”

For years, I was guilty of bad elevator pitches. I told people I was a public speaking coach, expecting listeners to be interested and curious to find out more about my service.  Instead of showing interest, many people reacted by saying, “Oh I don’t need that!” And that was the end of discussion. Clearly, my one-minute intro was not working.  So, I started looking for a new way to introduce myself. I needed an introduction that would intrigue people rather than turn them off.

Being a movie buff, I turned to trailers. Stephen Garrett said trailers should have a three-act structure like a movie, but they should leave questions unanswered. According to Garrett, Act I introduces the characters and the environment. Act II complicates their world with obstacles to overcome. Act III intensifies the conflict, ratchets up the tension and creates excitement, leaving people to ask, “How will it all come out?”

It seemed to me that an elevator pitch should do something similar. So I set out to make my elevator pitch more like a trailer. Using a trailer structure, I put the three acts into my one-minute introduction format. In Act I, I introduce the characters: me or my company and the people I serve. Act II shows the struggles my clients encounter and need help in overcoming. In Act III, I create possibilities and excitement for what clients can experience when they work with me. To top it off, I sometimes end with an example of the story of a current or recent client to make it real for listeners. What I do not do is tell them how I do what I do. My introduction leaves them asking, “How do you do that?”

Below is the template that I worked out to make it easy to craft an elevator pitch.

[I/we/company] work with [what kind of people] who are struggling with [issue]. I help them do [what] so that [some wonderful thing] happens. For example, I recently worked with [person or company] who was struggling with [issue] to do [something valuable].

I ended up with a trailer-crafted elevator pitch that seems to work to engage people I meet in networking situations. I change it up depending on the people with whom I am interacting.

I work with professionals who are brilliant at what they do… but who struggle with speaking in groups. I help them be comfortable in their skin and speak authentically so they shine when they share their ideas and expertise. For example, I am currently coaching a team of engineers to interview for a project at the Texas Department of Transportation. They are super qualified for the project, but TXDOT does not know them, so our goal is to help them be authentic and connect with the TXDOT people so they build a relationship and hopefully win this project.

When I started using this kind of one-minute introduction, people responded by asking me, “How do you do that?” That question opens the opportunity to engage in a deeper conversation about what I do and how I do it. In the process, the listener will inevitably reveal if he is a good prospect for me. And that is the real purpose of a great one-minute introduction – to intrigue people to ask questions and find out more.

Try my elevator pitch template for yourself and see how it works in your next networking situation. You can craft one of these on the way to an event and tailor it to the kind of people you expect to meet. And, let me know what happens.


About Sandra Zimmer

Sandra Zimmer’s journey from one who was terrified to speak up in groups to one who loves to speak to large audiences makes her the perfect guide for people with fear of public speaking. Sandra has translated her struggles into a holistic mind/body/emotion method that has helped thousands of people learn how to convert their public speaking fear and anxiety into presence and passion so they feel free to share their ideas and expertise comfortably and confidently in front of groups. She is the author of It’s Your Time to Shine: How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking, Develop Authentic Presence and Speak from Your Heart which is available through amazon.com, Kindle and at her website www.self-expression.com.

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