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The ups and downs of making an elevator pitch

Marina Mentzel, founder of Huntington's urSwim, at a

Marina Mentzel, founder of Huntington's urSwim, at a client's indoor pool in Bellport Wednesday. Mentzel says her in-person elevator pitch takes approximately 45-60 seconds. Credit: Barry Sloan

For decades, the elevator pitch has been the go-to for entrepreneurs to pique the interest of investors, partners and other key stakeholders.

Its delivery is meant to be quick — done in the time it would take someone to ride an elevator from the top of a building to the bottom, traditionally varying anywhere from 30 seconds up to two minutes — for a skyscraper.

As people do more of their pitching digitally these days, the elevator pitch is far from dead, but its delivery has changed depending on the platform, say experts.

“The elevator pitch is alive and well, but its transformed,” says Chris Westfall, a Houston-based speaker and entrepreneur and author of "The New Elevator Pitch: The Definitive Guide to Persuasive Communication in the Digital Age" (Marie Street Press; $19.95).

He defines an elevator pitch as a short, persuasive introduction to a person, product or idea.

When it comes to these pitches, the digital world has both opened and closed doors, he says. In one respect, it’s opened up and amplified opportunities to reach investors and decision makers, but on the other hand they’re now flooded with many more solicitations.

 And given the average attention span of an adult is roughly eight seconds, that vastly limits the amount of time you have to “capture people’s attention and imagination,” says Westfall.

The success of any pitch is based on your ability to evoke three words from your listener, “Tell me more,” he says.

For example, a statistician might say, "I study statistics so I could defy them," says Westfall, noting you must focus in on what you can share that the recipient hasn’t heard before.

Often that can come from asking the right questions rather than having a rehearsed pitch, says Adrian Miller, president of Adrian Miller Sales Training in Port Washington.

“When you’re in front of a client or potential client, it’s more about asking the right questions than delivering a canned pitch,” she says. “If you’re not addressing their unique situation you’ve lost them already.”

Still, Miller has an elevator pitch handy for certain circumstances, such as when she’s at a networking meeting where people are making public introductions around the room. Digitally she doesn’t deliver that same pitch.

In that format, it’s more like a digital handshake, she says. Almost like sending a message like ‘hi, thanks for connecting,’ and then building the relationship from there.

Marina Mentzel, founder of Huntington-based urSwim, which provides at-home swim instruction, lifeguards for parties and aquatic management services for commercial pools, says her elevator pitch isn’t one size fits all. She tweaks it based on the audience.

“I review it all the time,” she says, noting she uses it often both digitally and in-person at local investor pitch nights. Mentzel plans to raise capital in the next six months in order to franchise her business.

Her in-person elevator pitch takes approximately 45-60 seconds.

She says you have less time to capture people’s attention on a digital platform, so if she’s pitching digitally or via email she’ll typically write a brief intro and attach either an executive summary or pitch deck (brief visual presentation) depending upon the recipient. She’ll use it as a way to open up a conversation.

For Jericho-based entrepreneur/investor Andrew Hazen, whether pitched in-person or digitally, he likes to see “someone solving a real problem with a scalable market opportunity” in areas he’s interested in, such as media and consumer products.

Digital platforms have amplified the number of pitches he gets.

“Every other day I get an email or tweet from someone looking to raise money,” says Hazen, who is also CEO of LaunchPad, an incubator/accelerator for startups with three Long Island locations including Huntington, which holds quarterly pitch nights.  

He says there’s still a place for traditional elevator pitches at these pitch nights.

But regardless of whether delivered digitally or in-person, the elevator pitch “has to resonate with the investor,” says Hazen.

Also consider investors will do their due diligence if your pitch piques their interest, including conducting online searches, says Andrew Catalano, chief digital officer at Austin Williams, a Hauppauge-based ad and marketing agency.

With that said, make sure your social media profiles and website are cleaned up and up-to-date, he says, and make sure you’re providing content that’s relevant and relays what makes you different.

Also check your online reputation to see what’s being said about you, he says.

“Once you decide to reach out to a prospect, you’ll have to expect they’ll do some research on you,” says Catalano.   

Fast Fact:

The average investor evaluates 200 companies a year and invests in just 4.


Source: “How Do Venture Capitalists Make Decisions,” by Paul Gompers, Will Gornall, Steven N. Kaplan and Ilya A. Strebulaev

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