Making a big pitch in short order

Sometimes you only have the blink of an eye to tell your story.

Sometimes you only have the blink of an eye to tell your story.

Once called a "cocktail party speech," the elevator pitch is a term that Tom Gable, founder and CEO of Gable PR, says spawned in Silicon Valley when it was nearly impossible for tech startups to meet with venture capitalists. People looking for funding started hanging around places frequented by VCs, hoping to get 30 seconds to sell their story.

Occasions will arise when you must summarize your offer, or company, in short order. Whether an off-the-cuff elevator pitch or a standard boilerplate, time is of the essence. Fred Whiting, director of the strategic communications office of the president at the Points of Light Foundation (PLF), says ideal boilerplates and elevator speeches answer the following: Who are you? What do you do? Why should I care?

"Phrase the answer as you would to your grandmother," he adds.

"Always gear information toward the audience," says John Metzger, CEO of tech specialist Metzger Associates. "Talking to a [VC] is very different from talking to a local newspaper reporter."

Gable has developed template spreadsheets to help guide clients. He recommends leading with vision - a one-sentence statement of positioning - and closing with questions that can help elicit further action.

"The point is to get people to see your vision," he says. "[Communicate] what you have, why it's needed, the historical context, and how you'll bring it into the future. Brilliant PhDs and MDs are [often] so involved in intricacies that they can't see beyond the features to the benefits to those in the world. The benefits [will] get people excited and sell it. The best people practice. Read every sentence aloud. If it doesn't sound like anything a human being would say, dump it."

The PLF aims to engage more and better volunteers across various means and programs - from coaching kids to disaster relief.

"Many nonprofits are general [and] broad in scope," Whiting says. "What you do that affects people is what will resonate in a brief encounter. Telling a story goes back to what communications people are all about. We're storytellers. People can relate. It's a much more effective way to get your point across. Help employees talk about [the company] in a way that many people can relate to. We tend to talk to ourselves too much."

Differentiation is critical, but all claims must be justified. A common error is claiming "leadership" without proof. "Don't [just] say you're a leader,'" advises Metzger. "If you're not, think about not putting it in."

Gable's firm researched newswire releases and boilerplates over a one-week period and found more than half claimed to be leaders in their field. "Hype doesn't work - you must give proof," he says. "Think of [how others] might challenge your claim. Don't put anything in that you can't support."

Eric Becker, executive director of corporate communications at Starz Entertainment, believes PR pros often overlook boilerplates. He sends drafts to all departments for consensus and ideas. He notes that having one paragraph common to all releases is good, but he tailors boilerplate information to underscore points for various stakeholders.

"Marry content to audiences," he says. "A quick release about a James Bond marathon may go to subscribers [and] lifestyle TV reporters. It may not be best to clutter the [boilerplate] with [a paragraph about] business rights. Have an expanded boilerplate, sometimes for a category or service. If information is specific and germane to the category, a reporter will understand and appreciate it if you have more."

Metzger recommends sticking to the  who, what, when, where, why, and how. "A lot of companies we work with are so focused on sales and customers," he says. "We have to break them out of that to speak in a journalistic or investor environment."

Developing good, clear mission and vision statements are elements that can help both elevator pitches and boilerplates. "Vision is where you want to be someday; mission is what gets you there," Metzger says.

Gable suggests reevaluating content every six months. "The core won't change, but the evidence will," he says. "As a product evolves, or if a company gets an award, that could be used in differentiation or to further support position."

DO

Communicate how your company can benefit your audience

Get to the point quickly and differentiate your company

Practice elevator speeches and adapt them to your audience

Making a big pitch in short order

Sometimes you only have the blink of an eye to tell your story.

DON'T

Use jargon, acronyms, and buzzwords

Allow content to become outdated or static - always update

Include information you can't prove or claim leadership unless you are a leader in the field

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