Tips for success from a National Elevator Pitch Champion

The National Elevator Pitch Champion Chris Westfall came to Puget Sound on Nov. 22 to teach students how they could successfully answer “tell me about yourself.” For the students who couldn’t make it to the lecture, here is a crash course on “The NEW Elevator Pitch.”

“The elevator pitch is a short persuasive speech that introduces a person or a product or an idea,” Westfall said.

This applies when a person walks into an interview, wants a letter of recommendation from a professor or would like a grant; anything that requires a professional approach with a limited amount of time to hook and convince the listener.

With that being said, try and avoid sounding too much like a car salesman or Billy Mays. The title “elevator pitch” deceives: you don’t want to “pitch” yourself, you want to start a conversation. In the ideal situation, you should be able to tell a person who you are in a way that makes them say “tell me more” when you are done talking.

“When somebody says ‘tell me a little bit about yourself,’ what they are really saying is ‘tell me a little about what you might be able to do for me,’” Westfall said.

What this means in the context of the elevator pitch is that you always want to turn a story about yourself into something that is applicable to the listener and matters to them.

To start this off, ask yourself why you are attempting to give your elevator pitch in the first place. “That question ‘why’ is getting down to the passion of who you are, so that’s the better question to start with,” Westfall said.

This is also the question that your listener is probably already asking themselves, so answering it allows the listener to engage in what you are saying.

“Your message has to be unexpected,” Westfall said. The best way to go about answering the “why” question is to start with something that isn’t expected, but is applicable to the situation. Keep in mind that this also needs to be the first thing that you say, because you only have about eight seconds to grab the listener’s attention. Why eight seconds? That’s the average attention span of an adult. “The key is to be brief,” Westfall said.

While an unexpected story is great, if it is not relatable it detracts from your purpose rather than helps it.

“If you don’t have a context for the conversation people get lost,” Westfall said.

An easy way to give context is to start your story with a “framer.”

For example: “have you ever noticed”, “you know how”, “I’ll never forget the time when” or “doesn’t it seem like.” If you finish these sentences in a relatable way for your audience, it will easily give context and meaning to your story in a quick and direct way.

Once you have hooked your listener and those precious eight seconds have passed, you can begin to answer more fully the “why” question.

A simple and effective way to do this is to use the word “because.” “Because” qualifies your reasons and helps people understand where you are coming from.

Studies show that when you say “because,” people are more willing to go along with what you say, regardless of the request. However, this word only works in moderation, so make sure that what follows “because” is a request that is within reason.

Nearing the end of your elevator pitch, try to fill what Westfall calls the “empty chair.” “The empty chair […] is a seat at the table for someone who isn’t in the room, but who is going to be directly impacted by the change you propose,” Westfall said. Sometimes this “chair” might seem a little difficult to fill, but some quick research on the person you are talking to should help.

“Close your conversation with the easiest thing to say yes to: an invitation,” Westfall said.

The point of this is to put you in contact again with your listener in a positive format. Offer them a business card, or to take them out to coffee or to watch your YouTube videos.

At the end of composing your elevator pitch, ask yourself the “so what” question. Double check that this question is answered satisfactorily and relates back to the listener; just because you have the skill and education that qualifies you does not necessarily make you the perfect candidate. How can your skills help the person who is listening to you?

If you would like to learn more about Westfall’s approach, try reading his interactive book, The New Elevator Pitch, to help break down the process of composing an elevator pitch. He has also written an example book called Five Great New Elevator Pitches that is now available in e-book format.

You can also check out his website, westfallonline.com, and his YouTube channel.