Business man and woman waiting for an elevator; elevator speech conceptAn elevator speech is a 30- to 60-second answer to the question, “So, what do you do?” It’s a quick summary of your business and its value proposition. A great elevator speech will spark interest in your business and hopefully lead to a deeper conversation.

Elevator speeches are a great opportunity for entrepreneurs. Whether you’re at a party, at a networking event for startups, giving a quick overview to a potential investor, or just meeting new people, a solid elevator speech is your chance to introduce your company to potential customers, investors, and referrals. After all, you never know if you’re talking to that one person who might be able to help take your company to the next level.

What’s the difference between an elevator pitch and an elevator speech?

An elevator speech and an elevator pitch are very similar, but a pitch is frequently delivered to investors in a more formal setting and it’s likely that you’ll have a presentation slide deck (also called a pitch deck) to help you out.

A pitch can also be delivered over email or even as a stand-alone slide deck that investors can view on their own time. You can learn more about elevator pitches by reading our guide and get started on a pitch deck with our free presentation templates.

An elevator speech is always delivered verbally—it is a speech, after all. You can use your speech in a variety of situations, but it’s often more suited to social situations or during a very early introductory meeting where you have less time and just need to give an off-the-cuff description of what you do.

The name really describes what it’s all about: Imagine that you step on an elevator with someone and they ask you what you do. Can you quickly describe what you do before you reach your floor?

What to include in your elevator speech

Elevator speeches are tricky because you have to communicate a lot of information in a short amount of time. And, no, speaking faster does not solve this problem! Instead, you need to craft an interesting and compelling narrative that leaves your audience asking to learn more about your business.

Here’s a quick overview of what your speech should cover.

The problem your company solves

Your company exists to solve a problem. If you can’t make customers lives better, they won’t buy from you.

Describe the problem your company solves by using phrases like, “Did you know that…?” or “You know how people have trouble with…?” Your goal is to connect with your audience and get them nodding along in agreement. Hopefully, the problem you are solving is something they can relate to.

Your target market

All successful companies target specific types of customers. While it’s tempting to say that your products and services are for “everyone,” you’re much more likely to be successful if you are trying to market to a specific set of potential customers.

For example, it would be easy to say that a new hair salon is for anyone that needs a haircut. But, that salon will have a much better time marketing and attracting potential customers if it knows what kinds of customers it would like to serve.

Your solution

This is probably the easiest part of any pitch—describing what your company actually makes or sells. Your solution needs to solve the problem you’ve described and be the right choice for your target customer.

The value you offer

The value that you provide to your target market is the glue that makes your solution right for your customer. It’s the reason why your customer is going to want your product or service.

Your traction and progress so far

Anyone who wants to learn more about your company is going to want to know what you’ve done so far. Do you already have customers? Are you still in the early stages of development? Maybe you’ve recently received an award that’s worth talking about.

Your experience

A great idea is nothing without the right people to turn it into a business. Your elevator speech needs to explain why you (and your team) are the right people to build the business.

Your goal

If you’re talking to a potential investor or someone who might know investors, mentioning a fundraising goal can be a good idea. Even if you’re not looking to raise money, you might have other goals such as your first sale, or closing a big account. You never know if the person you are talking to might be able to help you out.

An elevator speech formula

You can structure an elevator speech in many different ways, but there are a few formulas you can use to help you figure out what you want to say. We’ll start by looking at a very short version that you can use to quickly answer the “what do you do?” question, and then look at what you might say if have a little more time on your hands.

The one-sentence formula for an elevator speech:

We make [solution] for [target market] so that [value].

That looks really short without the blanks filled in, but it should be plenty for a quick introduction once you add the specifics.

Here’s an example from Palo Alto Software so you can get a better sense of what the one-sentence pitch might look like:

We make business planning and performance tracking tools for small business owners so they can more easily raise startup funds, develop budgets, and track performance on an easy-to-use financial dashboard.

The longer version of the elevator speech:

Do you know that [target market] have [problem]? I’ve created [solution] that [value]. So far, we’ve [traction]. Now, we’re hoping to [goal]. My team and I have [experience].

With this formula, you want to entice listeners with a compelling story or set of facts that illuminates the problem that your company is trying to solve. This is a great way to connect with your audience and get them interested in your business from your opening lines. This is your hook that will prime people to want to understand how you’ve solved the problem.

Here’s a quick example for a fictitious technology company:

Did you know that nearly 30 percent of trucks in the U.K. aren’t carrying any cargo because they can’t find a load to carry on return trips? This leads to more than $500 million in wasted fuel costs alone.

We’ve created a technology company that matches empty trucks to companies looking to move cargo, so trucking companies can generate business from previously empty trips. So far, we’ve landed contracts with two of the largest trucking firms.

Now, we’re hoping to raise additional capital so we can expand our operations and grow into countries outside of the U.K. My team and I have more than 30 years experience in the trucking industry and are well positioned to grow this business significantly.

Elevator speech tips

  • Keep it short: It’s easy to go on and on about a topic that you’re passionate about, but you need to respect the people you’re talking to and give them enough information to spark interest. Hopefully they’ll start asking you questions and you can elaborate through further conversation. Remember, you don’t want to be that person who’s holding the “close door” button on the elevator to keep your audience captive so you can tell them more!
  • Know the goal: The goal of your elevator speech is not to convey every last bit of information about your business. The goal is to spark interest. You want what you say to be memorable and interesting so that your audience is asking you to tell them more. The end goal is to make connections, get a meeting, and get permission to explain your business in more detail.
  • Practice, but don’t memorize: Yes, rehearsing is a good idea. But, you don’t want to come off too scripted and robotic. Word-for-word memorization isn’t a good idea. Instead, you want your speech to feel conversational and natural so you can more easily connect with your audience. Also, you’ll want to slightly customize your speech depending on the situation and audience (see the next tip).
  • Know your audience: Depending on whom you are giving your speech to, you’ll want to  tweak the details so you’re providing information that matches your audience’s knowledge. For example, if you’re pitching a medical device to a bunch of doctors, using more medical terminology is probably a good idea. But, if you’re explaining what you do to people that don’t have medical backgrounds, you may want use more everyday language that everyone can understand.
  • Be persuasive: Especially if you’re giving a slightly longer speech, tell a story or interesting anecdote that makes the problem your company solves real. You want your audience to be nodding along, thinking, “Yes, that is a real problem. I hope someone’s finally come up with a good solution for that.” Then, when you present your solution, you’ll be that much more persuasive and have your audience’s full attention.
  • Have a takeaway: Your audience might not be able to ask additional questions right away but is (hopefully) interested in following up with you. In that case, make sure you have a business card or something similar so you can share your contact information. Your business card should essentially be a mini-pitch and have a memorable tagline or value statement on it so people remember you, and what you talked about.

Elevator speech examples

Here are a few examples, both short and long, to help you get started with your own elevator speech.

Elevator pitch example #1:

Did you know that demand for high-end Mexican food in the U.S. has grown by over 100 percent in the past two years? Foodies are looking for more than just the generic, Americanized tacos and burritos in record numbers.

I plan on opening a modern, Latin-themed restaurant that elevates Mexican and other Latin American dishes. I’ll use classic ingredients and modern techniques that will help demonstrate how Mexican food is much more than what most people think.

We’ve tested the market by catering several high-end events, and are ready to move to a full-service restaurant. I’ve opened several other successful restaurants and food trucks, so I expect the launch to go very smoothly.

Elevator pitch example #2:

I’m opening a new gift and specialty shop downtown that helps young, urban trendsetters find unique and creative gifts and housewares that will impress friends and coworkers.

Elevator pitch example #3:

Has this ever happened to you? You’re rushing to get the kids out the door in the morning so you can get them to school on time and not be late for an important meeting—and then you realize that you can’t find your car keys.

This happens all the time to me. In fact, did you know that the average suburban professional misplaces their keys more than five times per month? That’s more than 600 million times per year! Using bluetooth technology, I’ve created a low cost key fob that helps people find their keys and other lost items in record time, making it easier to get out the door on busy mornings.

We’ve got a working prototype and now we’re looking to raise funds to go into large-scale production. We’ve got some new team members on board with extensive manufacturing experience and supply chain expertise, so we’re hoping to get to market in the next six months.

Elevator pitch example #4:

My company is developing a new kind of affordable surfboard for beginner surfers so that they can learn to surf without having to invest the $1,000 plus that traditional surfboards cost.

Hopefully this article has inspired you to work on your elevator speech and refine it to a short, information-filled presentation. If you want to test drive yours, feel free to connect with me on Twitter. You can also download a free pitch deck template if you need to make a pitch presentation.

Noah Parsons is the COO of Palo Alto Software, makers of LivePlan, the award-winning online business planning software. Follow him on Twitter.

AvatarNoah Parsons

Noah is currently the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of the online business plan app LivePlan. You can follow Noah on Twitter.