How to Perfect Your Elevator Pitch

Although you'll probably never make a sale in an actual elevator, in the Digital Age -- when time and attention spans are as limited as they've ever been -- every business owner needs an elevator pitch.

"It never hurts to master the art of describing your company in 40 seconds or less," says contributor Jeff Bercovici, who recently interviewed eight entrepreneurs who competed in Salesforce Ventures' Dreampitch contest, each of which took turns riding the elevator in the company's new Salesforce Tower with Salesforce President and Chief Product Officer Bret Taylor. During their rides, Bercovici says, each had 40 seconds - the approximate time it takes to rise from street level to the 61st floor -- to pitch Taylor. The three best pitches earned a chance to win a $250,000 investment, to be awarded as part of Salesforce's upcoming Dreamforce conference.

So what did Bercovici learn? First of all, he says: Be focused.

"The biggest difference between an elevator pitch and any other kind of pitch, I heard from almost everyone, lies in what you don't say," he explains. "A conventional pitch is expected to include information about the founders' backgrounds, the addressable market size, the competition and so on. In an elevator pitch, you have time only to explain one thing: the nature of the problem you're solving and how you're solving it."

Next, be conversational. "Another thing that makes elevator pitches different is the intimacy factor. If you're trying to blow your audience's hair back with your dynamism and charisma, as you would onstage, it will come across as shouting," continues Bercovici, who says one entrepreneur practiced restraint by rehearsing his pitch while facing into a corner of the room.

Finally, focus on communicating your message, not making a sale. "Don't ask too much of your audience," Bercovici concludes. "If you've only just met them, the best you can ask for is a sympathetic hearing, not a commitment."

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