Elevator pitches are an invaluable element of the business lifecycle. They offer a simple and effective way to capture investors’ attention with a nuts-and-bolts explanation of why your idea is worth their time and money.

But there’s a reason they’re called “elevator” pitches — VCs hear several pitches each day, and they’ll pass on any idea that fails to grab their attention quickly. Your pitch needs to be memorable, engaging, and snappy.

Your pitch — like an elevator — needs to be easy to get into and out of at a moment’s notice. That might sound simple, but a lot of effort goes into creating a truly effective elevator pitch.

Making the Most of Your Time

For businesses that rely on investor support, a pitch can mean the difference between future success and future bankruptcy. While we’d all like to be like Apple and spend a few hours promoting our products to a captive audience, most of us don’t have that kind of time — we get a fraction of it. For all the time we might sink into crafting the perfect elevator pitch, we only get about four minutes to grab an investor’s attention, sell him or her on the idea, and get buy-in.

Every moment counts. There’s a lot of strategy and planning that needs to go into those precious minutes. Ideally, an elevator pitch should include context, motive, purpose, and vision while maintaining clarity, brevity, and a persuasive tone.

It’s a tall order, but it’s a necessary one if you want your few minutes to stand out from the rest. To do that, however, you need a method for figuring out what works and what doesn’t before you ever step foot in a meeting.

Get the Doors Open

When you’re trying to figure out whether your pitch will be effective with investors, you can’t crowdsource ideas. Instead, live by these three elevator pitch tips to ensure people buy what you’re selling:

1. Trust the process.

A good pitch is a journey. It starts with a problem, explains the solution, and then concludes by inspiring its audience to take action. In this case, that inspiration is to invest in your company. To make sure each portion packs a punch, take it all one step at a time.

When I’m working through a pitch, I make an effort to include relevant numbers at each point. How much the current problem costs people, for instance, and how much would be saved by our solution. Numbers shouldn’t overshadow the journey of the pitch, but try to pepper them in at significant moments to drive the story home, provide context, and support any claims that might ring iffy.

2. Don’t pigeonhole the message.

All great pitches share one essential quality: mass appeal. Anyone who listens should understand what you’re talking about and want to buy what you’re selling. As a result, you shouldn’t stop at just testing it out on your colleagues. Your test audience should include children, retirees, industry experts, investor-types, and people who have never heard of you before. The more universal the pitch, the more likely it is your finished product will land.

I’ve found that the more I expand my test audience, the better I can adapt a specific audience pitch. Regardless of who I’m speaking to, my goal isn’t to explain the product — I want to excite people into wanting to know more. To deliver the right pitch, it’s crucial to understand what every audience member wants.

3. Look for inspiration.

If you’re still stuck trying to figure out the right spin on your pitch, don’t be afraid to look at others’ work. Look up your favorite companies or your competitors and see how their founders got their start. What was the pitch that finally landed the big fish? How many times did they have to modify that pitch before it worked?

Maybe you’ll find inspiration from the chart ReCheck Docs used to compare its products with more conventional solutions. Perhaps Richter’s more conventional slides can help you structure your own. Whatever might be tripping you up about a pitch, someone else has probably been there and found a solution — let them guide you.

Considering it only takes a small amount of time of an investor’s day, an elevator pitch has outsize importance. Its success or failure can change the entire trajectory of your business, so you shouldn’t skimp on the time and effort you take in preparing one. By sticking to the process and trying to make your message as universal as possible, you can create a pitch that wows anybody willing to listen.

Now that you’ve learned how to deliver a high-level elevator pitch, it’s time to turn your attention to delivering a great product. Click here to read my company’s “Shipping for Dummies 101” e-book to learn how to get your product to those who need it.

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