Tell an Elevator Story, Not an Elevator Pitch

You begin by stepping away from the elevator. Because the term elevator pitch, originally the name for the act of quick-selling an executive before reaching the top floor, is outdated.

Will your pitch get you what you need?

You’ve got more than three seconds!

Don’t get me wrong, it has a purpose as a sales tool. My grandpa Bernie, the quintessential nice guy, had to have a good pitch in the 30’s and 40’s, first selling ice cream in Brooklyn, then Fuller Brushes in East LA. Times were tough, and he made a living the hard way: going floor to floor and door to door, with three seconds to make an impression, risking having a door slammed in his face…or worse.

But the meaning of elevator pitch has expanded since the forties – nowadays it is more often fancy language for “What I do.” Of course, it’s essential to make an impression… but how often do you have to close a deal in three seconds, or in an elevator? And will repeating “What we do” actually close that deal?

The modern elevator pitch, when standing alone, can sound robotic, “I work for a leading-edge company that…” or seem defined by tax status: “I work for a 501c3 that…” What was meant to wake people up now puts them to sleep.

But in reality, you don’t need to pitch: you need to connect, with something that feels authentic, rather than memorized.  So whether it’s an elevator, a cocktail party, or a conference, here are some steps to get there:

Will Your Elevator Pitch be Memorable?

Foster curiosity!

1. Foster curiosity. If someone asks you “What do you do?” imagine they’re saying: “tell me something that you’ve done recently that reminds you why you do what you do.” Consider these prompts: “Well, last week, I…” “Well last month, I…” One way to foster curiosity is to ask a question: Think of your work as the answer, and figure out the question that will get there.

2. Avoid opening with terms that separate: Your goal is to build an authentic connection with your audience. But if you stop with “I work for…” or “we are” or “the company,” it’s like building a wall, instead of a bridge.

3. Focus on what you love. We all get swept up in the challenges we’re facing. Notice the good parts, the things you love, and talk about that.

Finally, make use of this opportunity to build out to your story. A pitch, after all, is  a boiled down version of your story, without the memorable parts.


  1. Computer Repair on June 6, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Loved the concept… elevator pitch is a rather out of date term. I think you hit it right, in that it is that moment when someone asks you about your product/service and you have that brief moment to tell them about it. Can’t tell you how many have no clue, or it takes them forever to catch my attention, that by the time they finish, many times I have lost track of what they are selling or wanting me to get involved in. Sum it up in a few sentences, and make it personal to them… how will this affect them or the ones they love… Good article

  2. JayGolden on July 18, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Nicely said! Glad you liked it.

  3. Great piece, Jay! I really like the notion of asking a question, with the “what I do” as the answer… keeping it compelling and focused on what you love. Good food for thought!

    • JayGolden on August 21, 2013 at 6:50 am

      Thanks very much Rachel let me know how it goes!

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