Remember when people thought that you had the time of an entire skyscraper elevator trip in which to pitch your new business concept?
The phrase “elevator pitch” stemmed from an artificial time limit, the length of an elevator trip, when the founder would allegedly have a captive audience for a full minute or even longer. Quaint, but totally out of touch with the realities of where pitches really occur today and out of touch with today’s attention spans.
Pitches occur in hallways, sidewalks, or waiting lines
When you run across someone who you want to pitch in real life, it is likely to be in a public place like a hallway, a sidewalk, or a coffeeshop line.
The last thing you can expect is for them to stop what they are doing and listen to you drone on for a minute or even longer. If you don’t believe me, try this experiment. Stop yourself in the middle of walking to your next appointment, put on your headphones, and just stand there while you listen to a full 60 seconds from an audiobook or a song you don’t particularly like. You probably felt anxious to move on - that what you were hearing was an intrusion. If you weren’t thinking about the intrusion (rather than listening), you likely started letting your mind wander. My favorite line is, “If you don’t get my attention in the first few seconds, I’ll just start thinking about what I’m going to have for dinner that night.”
Attention spans are very short
Recent studies cite much shorter attention spans than that old school minute. In particular, they note that people begin to lose interest after 8 to 10 seconds. Most of this research is pointed toward your online presence (videos, etc.). But it is equally true of in person interactions. It is no longer a joke that our attention spans can be less than that of a goldfish (9 seconds). It is a fact.
Worse - a rambling pitch can kill the relationship immediately
I recently attended a networking event where a dozen entrepreneurs had tables set up and were there to pitch their business ideas to visitors like me. The central idea was that I was only there because I was interested in hearing what they had to say. I would initiate the conversation by saying, “Tell me about your business.” You may think that invitation gave them more latitude to talk longer.
Nope. After ten or so seconds of listening to someone ramble on without getting to the point, I would not only lose interest, but I would also start to form a negative opinion about that entrepreneur. I would start to see them as disorganized, unfocused, and not knowledgeable about their business or market.
Less than an elevator pitch, but more than a high concept pitch
For years, I coached founders to create a high concept pitch (ala Nivi and Naval’s Venture Hacks for those of you who are interested) followed by a slightly longer elevator pitch version for those who didn’t leave right after the high concept pitch. I still like that approach, but I see a need today to begin with a bit more than a high concept pitch. Too many founders misinterpret a high concept pitch as a clever vague hype saying which doesn’t really get to the point (and often invites the question,”Huh, what does THAT mean?”). Crafting a solid high concept pitch requires poetic talent - botching it is much easier and can form a negative opinion just like disorganized rambling does.
Today I see using just one pitch - a pitch structured between a high concept pitch and an elevator pitch. Period. Get right to the point, without the vague hype of a corny high concept pitch and with the sharp clarity of a spot-on elevator pitch.
A ten-second pitch.
Just lead with it.
Shortened attention spans work to our advantage
There’s some good news! You can deliver a very focused, but complete, pitch in ten seconds. The world was moving in this direction anyway - your old elevator pitch was going to have to be shortened.
Ten-second pitch structure
“We are creating <product or service> for <your target customer> because <the customer need>.
You may, if you have time, add in some credentials, “Our team has <cite startup or market experience> or some traction, “We are growing <cite the rate in easy-to-understand numbers>.
If I hear this from you, I know in a matter of seconds …
What you are making.
Maybe why your team is a good bet.
Maybe proof of market acceptance.
Not bad for ten seconds, eh?
Where will that pitch lead?
Your listener’s response will likely be one of three.
Like the expected response to a high concept pitch, they may be totally not interested to hear more, excuse themselves, and move on. That’s fine! You’ve invested only ten seconds, but you now know they are not a prospective investor or customer (depending on why you were pitching them). Time for you to move on.
You may get a specific question (or a few). If they ask for a simple clarification, that may help you refine your pitch for the future. If they ask for more depth that could be a sign of interest leading to a longer conversation.
You may see genuine excitement and hear that they want to learn a lot more. The hallway, street, or the line at the food truck is not the time or place for that longer conversation. Schedule a time to meet privately so you can give them full attention.