Elevator Pitches Are Pointless: What's Your Hook?

Guest article from Erik Deckers, president of Pro Blog Service.

Photo from Flickr by  Steve Snodgrass

Photo from Flickr by Steve Snodgrass

I hate elevator pitches. I hate that they're taught to new business owners as useful networking tools. The name comes from the idea that you should give a speech about your product or service in the duration of an elevator ride, anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds.

"If you can master your elevator pitch, you'll gain a person's interest."

The only place I see elevator pitches working are in elevator pitch competitions. Otherwise, 30 seconds is too long, and most people don't have the patience to listen to someone go on about themselves at the start of a conversation.

So business experts recommended we make vague-but-interesting one-sentence pitches that "intrigue the other person and make them ask questions."

"I help companies increase their online sales."

"I put people in their dream home."

"I help people achieve their financial dreams."

"You mean like a lottery consultant?" I asked a "financial dreams" person once. They didn't think that was funny. That's the risk you take when you network with a humor writer.

This business nugget always reminded me of that early scene from A Christmas Story. Ralphie slipped a Red Ryder BB Gun ad into his mother's Look Magazine, so she "would find herself cleverly trapped into reading a Red Ryder sales pitch."

A one-sentence pitch will not trap people into asking you questions. They won't be mesmerized by your vague-but-interesting sentence, and accidentally ask you a series of questions that leads to a business relationship. They'll ask questions if they're interested, and they won't if they're not.

So you need to be interesting enough in the first place to get them to ask the right questions.

"I Embroidered a Roll of Toilet Paper Once." 

Ten years ago, I was in a small business networking seminar with a couple friends. We had split into small groups and were told to come up with our "one sentence pitch."

My friend, Kristie, who owned a custom embroidery business, said, "I help make your company more memorable."

"We all do that," I said. I sold direct mail services at the time, and my other friend was in the social media marketing business.

"Fine, what would you say?!" she said. She was annoyed because we had laughed at her.

"What's the weirdest thing you've ever embroidered?" I asked.

"Well, I embroidered a roll of toilet paper once to show it could be done." That was pretty cool. I'd never needed embroidered toilet paper, but just knowing it could be done made me want some more than anything.

"Then I would say, 'we can embroider anything. I even embroidered a roll of toilet paper once.'"

She tried it out on the class, and the instructor was so intrigued, she actually paused the exercise and asked a few questions of her own.

For months afterward, whenever Kristie went to networking events, she used her toilet paper line, and it nearly always elicited the same intrigue. She became known as the woman who could embroider anything, and she got several interesting clients as a result.

If she had opened with "I make your company more memorable," that would have led to a lot of pointless questions.

"How?" (Embroidery.)

"What, like with a sewing machine?" (Yes, a specialized sewing machine.)

"Like the kind I see in the mall kiosks?" (Yes, sort of.)

And you can imagine how that would have ended up — she would have been lumped in with all the other embroiderers in the area. But when she said "I embroidered a roll of toilet paper once," the other person was a lot more interested.

"Seriously? How do you do that?" (I use a very special precision sewing machine.)

"Who would want embroidered toilet paper?" (It was just an exercise to show that I can embroider anything a customer might want.)

"So if I wanted a hat or running shoes embroidered, you could do that?" (You name it, and I can embroider it. Do you have anything you need embroidered?)

And this sometimes turned into a conversation that led to a new project, or an introduction to someone who might need some embroidery.

Forget the Tricks. What's Your Hook?

As a constant networker over the last ten years, I can't tell you the number of accountants, real estate agents, insurance professionals, web designers, graphic designers, financial professionals, and marketing/PR pros I've met. The number is literally in the thousands.

And I certainly can't remember them all.

But the ones who stand out are the ones who had some kind of hook, something that made them memorable, and made me want to learn more about them.

  • The real estate agent who specializes in mid-century modern homes.
  • The real estate agent who used to be a Hollywood sitcom writer.
  • The PR person who helped Carl Reiner promote his books.
  • The accountant who specialized in fast food franchises.

They all specialized in something, and had an amazing story to tell in order to help me remember them. Those were the people I got to know better, have coffee with, and become friends with. The accountant became my bookkeeper, and the real estate agent writer sold my house and became a writing partner. The PR person and other real estate agent are good friends of mine. All because they hooked me right off the bat with something interesting and unique.

When you walk into a room and can't swing a dead cat without hitting three people who have the same job, you start to realize how important it is to stand out from the crowd. (You also realize people hate being hit with dead cats. No one is unique in that sense.)

And hopefully you realize that while the 57 other people in the room were coached to give vague-but-interesting pitches, you'll stand out if you come up with that one memorable hook.

Pick a story that is unusual, unique to you, and is sure to astonish and intrigue. That's the story that will get people to ask more questions, because they'll be truly interested in you. You can forget your elevator pitches and vague-but-interesting one-sentence pitches. That hook is all you need.


Erik Deckers is the president of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing agency with clients throughout the United States. He is also the co-author of Branding Yourself, No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine. Erik has been blogging since 1997, and a newspaper humor columnist since 1994. He has written several radio and stage plays, and numerous business articles. Erik was the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL, and now serves on their board of directors.

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