Elevator pitches for engineers

Anthony Haynes writes: By now, the concept of an ‘elevator pitch’ is widely understood: as you get into an elevator with a stakeholder — classically, a potential investor — asks you what you do; by the time you get out, a couple of floors up, you’ve explained both what you, or your project or business, do and the value proposition that make sit worthwhile — in other words, how you add value.

Everyone needs an elevator pitch, right?

Yes, this is a commonplace of marketing. Unfortunately, it’s wrong.

Elevator pitches

The problem with the proposition, ‘everyone needs an elevator pitch’, is that it’s in the singular. ‘Pitch’: in other words, just the one.

To see how this is problematic, consider the following assertion on Wikipedia (accessed 24 January 2019):

An ‘elevator pitch’, ‘elevator speech’, or ‘elevator statement’ is a short description of an idea, product or company that explains the concept in a way such that any listener can understand it in a short period of time (20 to 30 seconds).

If your pitch really is accessible to ‘any listener’, the chances of it being optimised for the specific listener you’re talking to will be small. A potential investor, for example, is likely to have a different set of concerns, and think in a different language, from, say a potential client or employee.

So, rather than spend time to developing an all-purpose pitch, seek to develop a series of such pitches, one for each stakeholder group.

Start by considering which of the following groups you are likely to need a pitch for:

  • (potential) investors/owners
  • managers
  • colleagues
  • (potential) clients/customers
  • the media
  • the (local) community

— and act accordingly.

Worked example

Say I’m talking to a potential client that sells products or services to a client where the chief decision-maker is not well versed technically. In that case, my pitch will run along the lines of:

‘I help engineers to simplify what they have to communicate’.

But supposing I’m talking to a technical expert who’s having problems with communications within engineering companies — for example, getting departments such as HR, IT, or finance to understand the requirements of a project: then I might say something like:

‘I help to different tribes to interpret each other’s communications’.

The point is not just to say whatever the other party wishes to hear: each elevator pitch has to be genuine.

The point is rather to optimise the way you communicate whatever it is you have to offer.



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