That’s Intriguing #15: How to Hone Your Elevator Pitch

“When you can do a common thing in an uncommon way; you will command the attention of the world.” George Washington Carver

If you’re looking for a job right now, you may not want to command the attention of the world, you may just want to command the attention of a potential employer.

Or, if you’re an entrepreneur, consultant or business owner, you may just want to command the attention of potential clients.

In my next 3 blogs, I’ll show how to capture attention for who you are and what you do . . . in 30 seconds or less.

These techniques have won raves at the Inc. 500/5000 conference and have been featured on MSNBC and BusinessWeek . . . and I know from the hundreds of thrilled testimonials I’ve received that they can work for you.

First, a story to set things up.

A popular Washington Post feature used to be something called Life is Short - in which readers summed up their life or an important epiphany in 100 words or less.

My all-time favorite was from James Boeringer (who looked to be in his 80’s in his photo).

He said, “I’m getting on, but I still find ways to be useful. This morning I noticed our salt was in the shaker with the little holes and our pepper was in the shaker with the big holes. I got two pieces of clean paper and eptied the salt into one and the pepper onto the other. Then I funneled the condiments into the appropriate containers without spilling any.

My wife was watching and when I finished, she asked, ‘Why didn’t you just switch the caps?'”

Argghh. That’s one of those ‘clap your hand to your forehead’ moments when you realize you’ve wasted time doing something wrong.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of us are doing our elevator speeches wrong.

How so? We’re TELLING people what we do, which is boring. Or confusing. And it gets our all-important introduction off to a bad start.

Imagine you’re at a networking event, conference, or business luncheon and someone asks, “What do you do?”

Do you explain what you do?


That means people will instantly judge whether you’re “worth knowing” on your response. If you’re out of work, you may get instantly labeled as unemployed and some people may move on.

Or if you have a multi-faceted job that’s difficult to describe, it may take a long time to get across what you do, and the longer you talk, the more uninterested people become.

That’s why, from now on, you’re NOT going to explain what you do. (“I work for the government.” “I work for a bank.” “I’m an accountant.”) Explanations end conversations.

You’re going to ask a strategic question that gets FI (Free Information).

Once people tell you a little about themselves, you are going to relate what you do (or what you’re looking for) to what they just said.

For example, I was presenting “POP! Your Elevator Pitch” for a professional association and asked one young man what he did. He said, “I work for a software company.”

Now, I ask you, would you be compelled to continue the conversation? Are you intrigued? Do you want to know more?

From now on, remember that the purpose of an elevator pitch is NOT to tell people what you do — it’s to create an intriguing connection that leads to a meaningful conversation.

I asked some more specific questions about the nature of his work and then suggested that from then on, he ASK some variation of this question, “Do you, a friend or a family member ever buy anything online?”

People will give you FI (Free Information).

“Yeah, my wife’s on eBay all the time” or “I buy a lot of books from Amazon.”

Then, BRIDGE what they just said to what you do. “Well, our company makes the software that makes it safe for you to buy things online.”

“Ooohhh” they’ll probably say, with their eyebrows arched.

That “oohh” of recognition is your goal. It means people “get” what you do, will relate to what you do, will remember what you do and may even recommend you to someone else. All in less than 30 seconds.

Want more examples? Check out the BusinessWeek podcast I did with Karen E. Klein at

And subscribe to this blog to get the next 3 installments of this series on How to Hone Your Elevator Pitch.

In the next 3 blogs, you’ll discover how to answer the “What do you do?” question when you’re between jobs, just out of college or don’t like what you do or who you work for.

You’ll also discover how to clearly and compelling describe a job that’s complicated or controversial (military, IRS, etc.)

And you’ll learn a surefire way to see if your current elevator intro is helping or hurting your first impression.

Most importantly, you’ll learn how to turn an elevator speech (boring) into an elevator intro (intriguing) that wins friends, closes deals and opens doors to mutually-rewarding personal and professional relationships.

  • Francie Dalton

    Think you’ve got the optimal tag line? The most captivating product or service description? Convinced that your speech, article, or book title will produce the desired result?
    Here’s a free yet priceless piece of advice: Nothing involving the spoken or written word will ever be optimal unless and until Sam Horn has been consulted.
    Initially I retained her for one isolated project, but in a matter of minutes it was clear that the scope and depth of her expertise would be of measurable value in all facets of my business.
    Having access to Sam Horn’s brain is essential – right up there with the internet and oxygen.

  • Peg Duchesne – Duchess Enterprise, LLC

    Sam Horn always provides such terrific insight. The Washington Post was right in suggesting her blog was a great online resource in their Sunday 3/21/10 issue. I highly recommend her advice – check it out!

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