Government relations professionals must have the ability to sell. From the moment you apply for a job to the moment you decide to leave, and almost every moment in between, you are selling something: whether it’s your issues, your position — or often your ability to succeed in your job. The ability to make a strong case for what you believe in as directly as possible is essential to being a successful lobbyist.
The term “elevator pitch” means that you should be able to make your case for something in the time it takes to ride an elevator. Specifically, you should be able to make your case in less than two minutes. Although you may find the thought of distilling a complex or nuanced argument into such a short time distasteful, with so little time in the day – and so many ideas competing for attention – the perfect elevator pitch is critical.
Where do you use an elevator pitch? Here are just a few examples:
Interviewing for a job, especially at the end of the interview.
Lobbying a member of Congress or staffer on an issue.
Pitching an ad or campaign idea to a boss.
Interviewing with print, television or Internet media.
Persuading a colleague to go to lunch at the restaurant you prefer, instead of the one they like.
Getting out of doing the dishes.
You get the point: good elevator pitches are essential in life. So how can you hone your elevator pitch?
Practice: The most important thing is practice. If you have an idea or concept you need to pitch, spend time before the actual conversation working on your two-minute pitch. If you are a visual learner, I recommend sketching out your argument on a legal pad or note cards, so you can organize your argument.
Find the Core: Spell out the entire argument. Identify the core and most influential reasons, then practice distilling them into two-minute sound bites. Note cards allow you to arrange and rearrange one- to two-sentence thoughts in a coherent order, then group them to find the essential takeaways.
Use a Live Studio Audience: The key to a successful elevator pitch is involving colleagues or friends. Running it by other people has a twofold benefit: (1) You can hear your talking points out loud; and (2) you can get feedback on which arguments are the most persuasive.
Workshop It: For a lobbying campaign, supervisors should work with their lobbyists to ensure that the elevator pitch is on-message, and spend time in meetings going over what will be said when the lobbyists are discussing top priorities.
Listen to Yourself: Technology is a friend in becoming “pitch perfect.” Your mobile phone is a simple recording device – use it to record and review your pitch before trying it out in public.
Then Watch Yourself: If body language will be an important part of your pitch, or you need to present ideas nonverbally, record practice sessions using video to see how they look and sound. If your feedback person is in a different location, FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts or other apps can simulate live meetings and allow you to get instantaneous feedback. If you do record any of these sessions, make sure they are safely stored and not available for public consumption.
And Remember, One Size Does NOT Fit All: Keep in mind you should not have a universal elevator pitch. As any experienced lobbyist will tell you, your talking points should vary by audience. Keep your core talking points, but emphasize different aspects based on whether you’re speaking to a Senate Democrat raised in New York City or a Republican House member from Nebraska. Make sure you have an elevator pitch ready for different possible audiences – keep the core, but have a few different points of emphasis.
Finally, be receptive to negative feedback. This may seem obvious, but one of the toughest things to do is make major changes to something you’ve spent time and energy creating. Even after all the recording, feedback, and refining, your pitch could fall flat in front of the audience that matters.
Take the time to think through whether it was the right pitch for the wrong audience, or simply the wrong elevator pitch. Then take the time to revise it or figure out how you can better research your audience in advance.
When all else fails, think back to a time you were most persuasive and draw lessons from that. Even if it’s something from your personal life (persuading a future significant other to go out with you, negotiating the price of a car, or convincing friends to try the less-popular restaurant) reflect on what elements of those pitches made them successful, then go from there.