Top 3 Elevator Pitch Fails

You know the scene. You are at the coffee shop or a dinner party and someone who is trying to make small talk or is genuinely curious asks the question. (Cue the horror film music.) “What do you do?” Suddenly, you freeze because you know the importance of making a great first impression.

Blurting out your occupational title (think yoga instructor, financial planner, executive coach) is sometimes confusing and usually limiting. If you press play on the mental recording of your canned 30-second “elevator pitch,” you could blunder a potentially meaningful connection. Or worse, you could come across as salesy, desperate and inauthentic. Yuck. Having done A LOT of networking, I’ve heard some fantastic introductions as well as some epic fails. When I say fail, I don’t necessarily mean that these people embarrassed themselves. I just mean that they missed a great opportunity to connect.

Here are the three most common themes I’ve heard among the failures:

Elevator Pitch Fail #1

Using your occupation title (or discipline specific jargon) to define what you do. When I first met Dr. Heidi Roberts of Motion Therapy, she told me she was a Physical Therapist with a mobile practice. I was intrigued by the mobile part, but it didn’t occur to me that the Physical Therapy was relevant for me personally. 

I mostly thought of Physical Therapists helping people who had been in an accident, had a sports injury or had major surgery to a limb. After some time, I learned that Heidi helps people (all people, not just accident victims and elite athletes) restore and maintain their bodies, so they can get back to the activities that they enjoy. I realized that she could help me with some pain I’d been experiencing in my hips.

While I am happy to say that I have since been treated by Heidi, I suffered with the pain a few months longer than I had to because it took me a while to realize that she could help me. And from Heidi’s perspective, with me as a client, she could have had my money and my referrals sooner.

Similarly, I have regretted most times that I have responded to the “what do you do?” question by saying I was an Executive Coach or Organization Development Consultant. Since you never know what inaccurate or limiting beliefs others may have about your profession, avoid the “easy” response of your occupational title when asked what you do.

Elevator Pitch Fail #2

Focusing on your process instead of its results. The methods that I use to conduct my work include coaching, group facilitation and training. Now that you know that, are you excited, inspired and ready to throw money at me? Probably not. Don’t waste precious connection time explaining your process or methods. Sure, if people are curious about how you go about it, let them know your methods. Just don’t lead with that. Instead, give examples of how you’ve helped others by providing solutions or transformative experiences. Also, when talking about your product or service benefits, be descriptive and inspirational. Provide examples (without naming names) of clients who’ve experienced definitive success thanks to you. Tell their stories, complete with a beginning, middle and happy (aka results-oriented) end. Stories are far more interesting to hear and paint a clearer picture of who and how you help.

For example, sometimes I tell people that I help small business owners address employee performance challenges. If their interest is piqued and they ask how I do that, I explain that for a recent client, I helped her think through changing some people’s job duties, and then helped her terminate someone who had not been a good fit in the organization for a long time. I explain that her staff morale is a lot better now and the work is getting done faster and without the drama.

Elevator Pitch Fail #3

Leaving the channel on the “Me” show.  Part of effectively managing conversations is knowing when to change course—or quit altogether. When talking with others, notice how much airtime you are taking. Don’t ignore cues that the person with whom you are speaking is just not that into you. To avoid sounding desperate, try answering the “what do you do?” question with something short that is curious or interesting.

If that person is truly interested in you, he will ask questions. That will allow you to share more as the conversation unfolds, instead of giving a sales spiel. For example, Dr. Heidi Roberts says she’s a Body Mechanic. When asked what she means, she explains that like a car mechanic, she provides routine maintenance (full body tune-ups) all the way to full restoration.

In addition, meaningful engagement requires you to take the time to learn about others, including their successes, needs and interests. Genuinely taking interest in others often inspires them to do the same for you.