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Why the Elevator Pitch Makes you Sound like a Cheesy Salesman

What is the Elevator Pitch?
The elevator pitch has been preached to job seekers for many years. The basic premise is that if you ever found yourself in an elevator ride with someone you admire like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you would be able to convince them to hire you by the time the ride was over. Thus, the elevator pitch is a brief, persuasive summary of your strengths and the value you can add to an organization all summed up in roughly 30 seconds.

Be Memorable, Not Obnoxious
The idea of being able to sell yourself with minimal words is a good practice. It prepares job seekers to focus on what differentiates them from the rest of the world and communicate it in a concise manner. For an elevator pitch to be useful, you have to meet people but the problem is that elevator pitches can sound like…pitches.  This can be extremely awkward and isn’t the ideal way to connect with people. If you went to a mixer, don’t you think it would be odd if someone interupted your conversation to give you their 30 second commercial? It is important to understand how you stand out and to be able to persuasively communicate your qualities in a concise and focused manner but you aren’t ever likely to actually use a “pitch.” If you do, you’ll sound like a cheesy salesman and that’s not memorable, it’s just obnoxious.  It’s good to rehearse a way to introduce yourself by stating who you are, what you do, and what your special expertise is but a pitch can be overkill, particularly because it can be difficult to execute properly.   

Practice your Pitch but don’t “Pitch” when Networking
When you network with people and you actually get a precious moment of someone’s time, even if it’s in an elevator, the best thing to do is to try and make a real connection.  The best way to engage is to ask questions, not sell, sell, sell.  Talk to people and get to know them, not necessarily what they do. Discover peoples’ passions, current projects, and similar interests. Listen for their goals and if you identify how you might be able to help, offer it. Being helpful and friendly is the best way to “pitch” someone on being interested in you. People may not remember your pitch, but they’ll remember that they liked you, that you made them laugh, or that they had things in common with you. After leaving someone with a great first impression, give them your business card with your personal website, LinkedIn URL, VisualCV url, or QR code so they can find you online. Connect with people on LinkedIn and add them to your digital rolodex after you meet them in person and continue nurturing a relationship. Don’t be a high pressured salesman using a rehearsed “pitch;” just be real. Don’t ignore practicing your elevator pitch…just don’t ever use it when networking.  Use your pitch when the context of a conversation is about how you can help an organization using your expertise.  Instead of sounding like a cheesy salesman, ask specific questions to learn about needs and how your expertise can meet those needs.  This is more of a strategic conversation than a pitch.  Rather than diving into a pitch, elicit goal talk and then describe how your expertise can help achieve those goals.  The difference in this approach is that you’ve engaged the person first, learned how your expertise may be helpful, and now you’re helping, not pitching.  This is exactly what you can do in online groups and social networks.  In fact, it is more likely you’ll be able to interact with people at the companies you admire online than in an elevator.  Maybe it shouldn’t be called the “Elevator Pitch” anymore and should be re-labled………..

What do you think?


  • The best elevator pitches are the ones that are the most authentic. I think that the best way to avoid being cheesy is to focus on your listener – concentrate on what matters to them. Getting to know you is obviously a key component of networking, interviews, or just making a personal connection. Better than starting with who you are and what you do (kind boring, don’t you think?) why not concentrate on the solution you can provide? How about how you can make a difference …for your listener? Here’s what I’m talking about:

    • Chris,

      The entire process of marketing one’s self to an audience should be audience focused. Thus, yes, so to should the “elevator pitch.” Although I can’t say I am a fan of jumping into a pitch when meeting someone unless the context is specifically designed for that which is rare. Typically, when we interface with people, we develop rapport first, we don’t just dive into a sell. What you suggest in your blog is great….for pitching. I think the best “pitches” are the ones that don’t seem like pitches – they are natural conversations. A pitch is one-way focused….what you can sell to another person regardless of your technique. What I’m saying is rather than trying to sell people on what you do, “Sell” them on you and a relationship. I am not fond of people who immediatley try to pitch me but I do enjoy a conversation with someone personable who, after taking time to discover my challenges/goals/needs, might be able to help….not sell. The pitch is an ‘in your face” concept” and I think a more subtle, strategic relationship focus is more effective. In short, I think the very idea of an elevator pitch is obnoxious and disingenuous and I find it to be less effective.

  • I manage career services at a college, working with adult working students. I’ve found that teaching them about elevator pitches, especially as they have been described by other experts, has always been a little uncomfortable for me, because it does seem cheesy or phony. I agree with Chris in that people should strive to be be authentic and natural, and should custimize the pitch for each situation. I don’t think it should be the lead-off to a conversation, but rather a cogent reply to a question such as “what do you do”? If nothing else, at least preparing an elevator pitch helps people develop a focused way to describe their value and their most relevant attributes for the situation at hand, rather than being rambling or off-base. And of course, being able to follow up with good questions to see if determine how one can be of service is always a good strategy!

    • Tricia,

      I think many people find a pitch uncomfortable like you said. I think they way you characterized it was perfect – a “pitch” would definitely be more useful as a response to a specific question rather than a way to open conversation. One would think that listening is the most essential skill when trying to pitch anything yet so many people preach the elevator pitch as a way to begin conversations when “selling” yourself. Shouldn’t we take the time to discover and listen first?

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