This article was originally published on Forbes.com.
Who hasn’t dreamed of pitching their business idea to the moguls of Shark Tank? While you’ve probably already written your elevator pitch to get yourself in front of the Sharks on national television, you may be surprised to find out that the elevator pitch is far from the right tool to land you a spot in The Tank.
Take a cue from the business people who have earned a slice of the nearly $100 million of deals offered on this entrepreneurial reality show and level up from the classic elevator pitch.
What Is An Elevator Pitch?
An elevator pitch is a brief statement about your brand, product or service. Lasting about 30 to 60 seconds, this tightly crafted statement is meant to entice important prospects and leave a lasting impression.
Elevator pitches have long been touted as a concise way to gain the interest of busy executives and business people. Still, much has changed about the business world since its inception.
Origins Of The Elevator Pitch
The origin is allegedly the story of Elisha Otis, the founder of the Otis Elevator Company. During the 19th century, Elisha had invented an elevator brake system to keep a malfunctioning elevator from free-falling to the bottom of the shaft. Though the automatic brake invention was a great idea, Elisha was struggling to gain positive attention for his much-needed system.
To generate buzz, he staged a live demonstration in New York City in which he stood on top of an elevator that was exposed to the audience outside. From several floors up, the elevator cord was cut to send the elevator into a free fall. Just before the elevator crashed at the bottom of the shaft, Elisha’s automatic brake system stopped him safely. This presentation would surely have landed Otis a spot on Shark Tank.
While this may have been the first literal elevator pitch, the term “elevator pitch” comes from a film-pitching practice that was popular in Hollywood’s early days. Young screenwriters would wait for producers to enter the elevator at a major studio in Hollywood to tell them about their latest movie idea.
The Impracticality Of The Elevator Pitch
While there are some monumental business deals that may have started with an elevator pitch, such a pitch is impractical for several reasons.
Elevators are conversation killers. Most people behave awkwardly in elevators, which contributes to the uncomfortable silence of an elevator ride. You also never know how long the other person will be in the elevator. Even if Mark Cuban does step onto your elevator, he might step out just as you scrounge up the courage to start your well-rehearsed spiel.
The impracticality doesn’t end with the confines of a literal elevator. Pitching where people have limited time is unlikely to land you the business deal you’ve been dreaming about.
If The Elevator Pitch Isn’t The Right Tool, What Is?
Let’s park the elevator pitch where it belongs — on the parking level — and focus on the elements that will make you the Billy Mays of pitching:
Discover Your Target Audience
Entrepreneurs often get swept up in the inspiration phase of their ideas. It can be easy to assume that everyone else will find your idea is as good as you think.
Before sharing your idea, you have to figure out the audience who will benefit most from your invention.
Meet Your Customers Where They Are
“Ambulance chaser” is a term that refers to an attorney who goes to the scene of an accident and solicits clients. This practice is unethical and, because it is so effective, it is also illegal. Robert Herjavec, the famous Shark, said it best: “You got to really understand where your customers are … Go where your customers are.”
Consider the lifestyle of your target audience. Meeting customers on the right social media platform is the modern-day equivalent of stepping into the elevator with the perfect version of your customer.
Appeal To Their Needs
When American writer and lecturer Dale Carnegie wrote, “People are not interested in you. They are not interested in me. They are interested in themselves,” he exposed an important cornerstone of marketing.
When pitching your business, service or latest startup idea, it’s important to be relevant to them and their life as they see it.
Three Seconds, Or They’re Gone
To make matters worse, people have a very short attention span.
A tool Facebook uses could give us more insight on how long you have to grab someone’s attention. Facebook uses a “3-Second Video Play” rule, by which they measure the number of times a video has played for at least 3 seconds.
Facebook already realized that people are simply scrolling through the feed (and life). As an entrepreneur, you should too.
So, the next important step is creating your proposition as a three-second, one-sentence ad that stops your audience in their tracks and instills a desire to hear more from you.
Use A Call To Action
Pitching comes down to intention. Assuming you are speaking to the right person, and that this person is, in fact, intrigued, what would you like to achieve as a result?
The part where you tell them what they should be doing next is the call to action. It’s the equivalent of the online “buy now” button.
Remember, nobody will do a better job at pitching your idea than you. In the early stages of an idea, you are inspired, impassioned and motivated to push your design forward. And passion is the key to connecting with others. By taking the time to learn how to pitch your business idea, you will unlock limitless results and the satisfaction reserved for truly entrepreneurial spirits.
However, if you don’t become good at pitching — and fast — you will waste a lot of time and money, and your idea will fade into oblivion. You will also ride a lot of elevators.
Ironically, Shark Tank is filmed in a studio that is open to the street. No elevator. I guess even the Sharks got tired of being pitched on the way to work.