How to come up with a pitch that doesn’t suck when asked “what do you do?”


Everyone’s heard of an elevator pitch, where you get in with a total stranger at the bottom of an elevator and during the ride up deliver a pitch that gets them to fall in love with you and give you lots of money.

Except that never happens.

What I’d do is ride up in silence and try not to let my breathing get too loud while avoiding all eye contact, which is the right and proper way to do things.


Let’s assume we’ve actually had this ridiculous conversation up the elevator – what do people suggest you say.

Well.. here are a few examples. And some more here

Now, there’s nothing wrong with them, except that few people could actually deliver most of those sentences and not come across as a bit OTT.

There are two things to think about really in these situations.

1. Who is asking the question?

Is it a new acquaintance? A possible customer? A friend trying to understand more about you?

What we say in the first few seconds creates an impression – and what we often want to do is come across in a particular way.

The context in which we’re asked the question matters.

2. What do we want the listener to take away from the pitch?

Many of us find it hard to reduce our lives to a few sentences. We identify with work, with hobbies, with families and with communities.

So, to a new acquaintance we might want to talk about how we fit into the community, while to a customer, we want to talk about our business. When joining a sports team we might want to stress our passion for the game.

We should think in headlines rather than pitches

Say we’ve gone up the elevator in silence. And (for no really good reason) we both decide that we’re going to take a dip in the outdoor pool and bump into each other. And, in the embarrassed period that follows, we end up introducing ourselves.

So, what would you say if you were asked that question just as you were about to jump off the diving board into the pool?

There isn’t time for the big build up to the paragraph you were planning on saying. You need to describe what you do in a sentence.

What we should do is borrow from John Carlton’s playbook. His formula says:

We help [group of people] do [benefit] even if [believable worst case scenario].

For example, we help small businesses file their accounts on time even if we have to spend all night sorting receipts in a shoebox.

Could you say that?

Might need some work – but it’s still easier than some of the longer ones out there.

Now, I need a few of these…

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