The elevator doors open and the one person who can make or break your business gets in and punches in a floor number that’s a just a quick ride away. Short of pressing the emergency stop button, how quickly can you get your pitch across? Can you identify the most compelling element to get their attention and then sum it up concisely and memorably? Would it take you a minute? Thirty seconds? If so, that’s a luxury.
In real life, we rarely get the luxury of a thirty second pitch. We need our communications to grab people’s attention and to do so when they’re doing something more interesting, not trapped in a small lift cubicle. We need to make them stand out, but at the same time be relevant. And we need to do it at the same time as thousands of other businesses who are doing the same thing. In truth, we usually get a fraction of a second of people’s attention. We have to earn that fraction and use it well.
When I worked in advertising agencies, we’d sometimes develop a poster idea, even if we were planning a TV campaign. The theory was that if you can’t get the idea across in the format of a simple poster, then the idea was too complex to work in other media. It’s a useful test for all sorts of commercial communications. You may be putting your message across in a leisurely YouTube video or long sales letter, but what would it look like if it was a bus shelter poster, hoping to catch the interest of passing drivers whizzing by?
Brevity is hard. Churchill once said, “‘I’m going to make a long speech because I’ve not had the time to prepare a short one”. Of course, social media has evolved into the fine art of split second pitches, with click-bait and 140 characters dedicated to catching the attention of casual scrollers. But easy come, easy go. Once you’ve got people’s attention you have to hold on to it, to make them want to ride up a few extra floors with you, just to find out more.
The principles are relevant even if you never step into the fabled elevator in your life. No one will buy if they can’t see or hear you. No one will buy if they don’t understand what you do. No one will buy if they don’t see why they should care. These barriers exist before you get into other issues such as competitive noise or brand trust.
So the next time you are working on an elevator pitch (or flyer or website or app or talk or ad or email or video….. ), think how it would sound if those lift doors automatically open and then almost immediately start to close. What would you say then?