You’ve all heard of an Elevator Pitch. You know it’s when someone asks about what you do in the lift to your office. Short and sweet, it should captivate before you exit. It’s often treated with some ribaldry but I would suggest it has a deeper significance for the aspiring leader.

Research into such things reveals that you have about 30 seconds to make a positive impact and about 5 for the listener switch off. This has more implications than interfloor intercourse. It gets to the heart of who and what you are.

When I was interviewing leadership worthies for my book Confidence at Work I spoke to Tom de Puma a global sales expert. For him to hire colleagues, he needed them to verbalise their strengths, understand their unique contribution or as he put it  ‘know the words to their song’. If they lacked that articulation he couldn’t hire them. You only have to take a random look at LinkedIn to read the same old cliched personal descriptions. ‘Senior executive with 15 years experience leading a team to deliver to the highest of standards….’ nice but hardly definitive.

So how should it be, this Elevator Pitch?

It should start with something grabby to get over the 5 second potential tedium watershed. Perhaps something you really love about your job. (If you don’t love anything well that requires a different conversation with yourself and a voyage of discovery). It doesn’t have to be witty or earth shattering just personalised and short to leave the listener asking for more more.

I was asked by the Park Plaza hotel in London to help some aspiring leaders and journalists to help them craft an Elevator Pitch in an Elevator. Cute idea from the hotel manager Rober Flinter.

The first thing I did was to teach the group the skills of Mind Mapping (Tony Buzan BBC books). The concept is essentially a brain dump on paper with the topic at the centre and various strands like the hands on a clock with your main points. The major advantage is that it’s not linear and therefore allows flexibility of thinking. It also helps to formulate the big picture as well as the detail as it’s all on one page. And you remember it. Even in 30 seconds you can give some examples of career highlights.

Clutching their Mind Maps my protégés entered the lift. It was 36 seconds top to bottom and their Elevator Pitches were born. Some had two rides to make an impact but all improved.

A young manager immediately suggested that qualifying as a fashion designer enhanced her ability to find unusual business solutions. A journalist told me he was a grassroots influencer rather than a writer of column inches. They had moved from ho hum to interesting.

The participant feedback after the event wasn’t just about their pitch but about how they felt more confident about their leadership strengths. They were able to communicate their uniqueness without fear of boasting or displays of arrogance. When I interviewed Daniel Goldman for my book Confidence at Work he described confidence as:

‘A high sense of self awareness with a true understanding of what you are good at’. So the Elevator Pitch is well and truly elevated.

So my top coaching tips for Elevator Pitches are:

  • Learn to Mind Map
  • Work on your 5 second opener
  • Talk about what you love about your job
  • Include short success examples
  • Use your Elevator Pitch outside the Elevator; networking events, parties, interviews… anywhere really.
  • Be experimental. If listeners look at their watches after 5 seconds, return to your Mind Map and try again.
  • Practice makes perfect