Shelton Interactive
Be unique with your elevator pitch (image via PSY, Gangnam Style)

I spent last weekend in Washington D.C. speaking at an event organized by The Discovery Channel and Harvard Medical School – “Media Training Boot Camp for Health Professionals.”

It was a great event, full of leading health professionals looking to grow their visibility and share the latest health research with the public. The event was focused on prepping attendees for a new media environment, including headshots, learning how to read from a teleprompter, hearing about the latest in social media strategy and developing a great elevator pitch.

In addition to giving the social media presentation, I gave a workshop on creating an effective elevator pitch. This was a fun group, but distilling 12 years of medical education into a 30 second elevator pitch isn’t easy work.

Although most are up for working on a draft of an elevator pitch, it always amazes me how much this project stresses people out—it has been a source of anxiety, disdain and confusion for authors, experts and entrepreneurs for many years.

Why do we let elevator pitches stress us out?

One reason is most people think of an elevator pitch as something they would give to a Today Show producer or potential employer in a make-it-or-break-it type situation.

While that certainly is a type of elevator pitch, it’s not the only one. In reality, we give elevator pitches all the time—anytime someone asks us, “What do you do?” or “Tell me about your book.”

A good elevator pitch isn’t easy to create, but it’s something everyone can do. Here is a good model for your elevator pitch:

  1. Intriguing opening – Catch my attention with a statistic or counter-intuitive statement that causes me to stop daydreaming or thinking about something else and pay attention to you. Picture a mom getting her kids ready for school – what is going to make her ears perk up as she listens to Good Morning America in the background?
  2. Why are you the expert? – Once you have my attention on a certain topic, it’s time to tell me why there is no one else better in the world to listen to in this area. In short, give me some evidence of your expertise. It should be noted that most elevator pitches start with #2 – which kills the pitch because you haven’t hooked my attention—at that point we zone out because we aren’t intrigued yet.
  3. What do you want me to do? – A great elevator pitch is only as good as the call to action. If you have successfully pulled off #1 and #2, I’m going to be eager to do something with my interest. Do you want me to go to your website for an assessment? Do you want me to fund your company? Do you want me to check out your blog? Give me a clear call to action and a specific value for taking that step. #3 should include “news you can use” in a TV or radio interview environment. For example, if your topic area is heart disease, your #3 is a list of five things I can do today to lower my blood pressure, with a call to action to your website to take an assessment and determine if I’m at risk.

The model above can be adapted for any elevator pitch environment, whether you are trying to get a company funded, connecting with someone at a networking event or talking to Matt Lauer on The Today Show.

Typically an ineffective elevator pitch happens because steps are skipped—people jump right to what they want us to do (step #3) or do a great job with steps #1 & #2, but don’t convert that interest into any action.

Below I am going to give three examples of elevator pitches that I might give, not because I am trying to be promotional, but because I think it’s helpful to see this model in action.

Here is an example of a company-focused elevator pitch for a client development environment:

“Did you know that, according to a joint survey done by George Washington University and Cision, 89% of journalists now depend on social media for story research? With shrinking newsrooms, most PR professionals find themselves in an increasingly competitive pitch environment where journalists are taking a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” approach to PR. In this environment, Google and other social media channels can often be a great route to effective PR. We work with authors, experts and companies to create digital strategies that drive inbound PR, client relationships and speaking opportunities and over the past two years we have headed up digital strategy for 15 New York Times, Wall Street Journal and 800CEOREAD/Inc. Magazine bestsellers, in addition to working with brands like IBM, Amazon and Harvard Medical School. If I am a top journalist looking for you, how easy are you to find online? Learn more about our online brand audits at”

Here is an example of an elevator pitch focused on securing a potential speaking engagement:

“I first spoke at Harvard on the changing world of PR at the age of 23. Since then, the rate of change in the world of marketing and PR has only accelerated and, in recent talks at SXSW Interactive and The Discovery Channel, I have focused on empowering audience members to grow their personal brands by better understanding how to leverage micromedia and inbound PR. In my speech, your audience will learn how to conduct an online brand audit, why Google can be their best publicist and how to begin building a larger personal brand, without living online. I’d love to hear more about your audience and their needs – let’s set up a call.”

Here is an example of an elevator pitch in a media interview environment:

Question from TV host: “So what should people do to begin building a larger personal brand online?”

Elevator pitch: “Most people don’t realize that the first impression most potential employers, journalists and other influencers will have of them won’t be made in person, it will be made online—via their website and social media infrastructure. During my almost ten years of launching bestselling books and working with some of the world’s leading brands, I have learned that the best way to build a personal brand is not to be pushy online—it’s to pull people to you with a great blog and coherent brand message. There are three things those watching this program today can do to begin building their personal brand—1) Conduct an online brand audit – in today’s environment, your brand is what Google says it is 2) Clean up any old photos, videos or other content that doesn’t support the elite brand you’re looking to build 3) Begin creating great content around the topic you want to be known for. This might be through a blog or social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. For those curious about how to do an online brand audit, we have a free guide available on our website,”

Have you ever created a draft of your elevator pitch? If so, I’d love it if you would share it below and I’ll be happy to offer feedback and tips on improving it.

If you haven’t created an elevator pitch, I encourage you to do so—it’s not only great practice at honing your message, but it also gives you a clear, effective message for any situation where you need to motivate action.

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  • Rusty, These are great instructions for creating a compelling elevator pitch. I’ll be sharing it with participants in my Bring Your Book to Life Program this week.

    •  Thanks, Lisa!

      • Lisa Tener

         We used that exercise and everyone loved it –it really helped them get clarity.

  • Thanks for the information, I’m writing an elevator pitch about a short story collection called “Invasion of Privacy and other short stories,” that will be available soon. Here’s what I have so far, I would love your input.
    How far would you go to find your wife’s killer? Would you be willing to invade the privacy of innocent people to find him? I’ve seen the face of the man that murdered my wife and I’m looking for him. I don’t care what it takes, I’m going to find him.
    Read “Invasion of Privacy and other short stories,” available on…


    • Rusty Shelton

      Hi Jim – I think this is a great start to your elevator pitch. The questions that start off the pitch are great, but you might work on the transition from the intro to the call to action. If it is a collection of short stories, you might say something like “This and other gripping short stories are available as part of…”

      • Great idea, thanks!

        I’m trying to incorporate the current discussion about privacy issues into the pitch.

        The main character is remotely accessing people’s web-cams to try and find his wife’s killer. He knows it’s wrong, but tries to justify his actions by helping people he finds in trouble.

        Any further input would be appreciated!