It’s called an elevator speech, your pitch to others in which you promote your professional services or a product you’re offering. The idea is to make that pitch in less than a minute, about the time you might spend riding in an elevator.

Yet, have you ever delivered your pitch in an actual elevator? Presenting an elevator speech in an operating elevator is more than a challenge – it’s the ultimate test of precision for your message in terms of timing and efficacy. And, if anything, it’s a good way for you to sharpen your delivery for more routine situations, like when you’re not in an elevator.

Let’s start with the structure of an elevator pitch. First, state your name: “Hi, I’m Jack Baxter.” This seems obvious but you’d be surprised at how often people skip this step. When you say your name, speak distinctly. Use a slower pace. Think how James Bond would introduce himself. His delivery was smooth, crisp – assertive but not aggressive. It’s probably best, though, to slightly modify Bond’s approach of opening with his last name. Besides, “Baxter, Jack Baxter” may be a touch pretentious.

Presenting yourself with a memorable twist to your name can also be effective. Say you’re running a charter fishing boat business. You might provide a more lasting impression by presenting yourself as Captain Fat Daddy, rather than Arthur Miller. Which name would you remember a week from now? Remember, be judicious in opting for a calling card name. Captain Fat Daddy is a suitable name for a fishing boat captain, but not so much for a financial planner.

Another obvious, yet sometimes omitted element: Say “hello,” “good morning,” or something along those lines, prior to giving your name. And by all means, avoid that nasty habit of clearing your throat to indicate you’re ready to speak. People in an elevator will tune you out as they move as far as possible away from you, then stare at the floor while holding their breath.

What’s their problem?

You’ve now arrived at the thrust of your elevator speech. Here’s where you present a problem that your target audience – whether you’re talking to one person or a group – is likely to have. The point is to identify a specific issue that you – with your special expertise – can alleviate. Maybe, you are targeting small law offices that struggle with sending out timely invoices to their clients. You, it just so happens, run a specialized service that automates the billing process for law offices. Remember, the key here is to hone in on something particular. (Asking people if they need more business is a question with little impact. Who doesn’t want to expand their customer base?)

“Ever think how advantageous it would be,” you say, “if your law office had a more efficient system for billing clients?” You’re not looking to be contentious; you want to express your willingness to help. Follow up with: “My company, Baxter, Inc., specializes in automating the invoice cycle for small law offices like yours. We speed up your billing cycle, which accelerates your cash flow.”

Congratulations. You’re at the crescendo of your pitch. You go on to mention what sets your company apart from the competition – how you blend the latest office technology with 15 years of legal billing experience, for instance. You might also add a tagline: “We process each bill, and you get cash in your till.” Then it’s time to wrap up. Repeat your name, present your business card and toss out a call to action. “Again, I’m Jack Baxter,” you say. “Let’s arrange a free consultation this week so you can start seeing more cash coming through your door.”

Putting it all together

Here’s a tip to keep in mind as you prepare your elevator speech ahead of time: Identify their pain, assist from your lane, and mention what they’ll gain.

And, a few last notes: If you do indeed make your elevator pitch in an elevator, you have to be aware of elevator protocol. First and most importantly, do not stand facing whomever you’re talking to with your back to the elevator door. Most people would consider this to be weird. Your two best bets are to either stand against one of the elevator’s side walls, facing the person you’re addressing at a forty-five-degree angle or stand next to that person and every so often turn your head in their direction. In a perfect situation – if the elevator doors have a polished metallic or mirrored surface – just look at the person’s reflection straight ahead. Make sure you’re standing with good posture. It’s part of looking professional.

Words of caution

Finally, avoid giving your pitch from behind the person you want to talk to. Listening to someone talking to your back is not only disconcerting, but it’s also a waste of time for everyone.

What if the person you want to speak to appears ready to exit the elevator before you’re finished? Simple. Short-circuit your pitch, and end it.

Or – and this requires an ability to read the situation – follow that person off the elevator and finish up quickly as you hand over your business card. This second option is preferable. Once your pitch is done, say something like “I look forward to meeting you again,” and then walk away as if it were just a coincidence that both of you got off on the same floor. Though it may be tempting to keep the conversation going, don’t do it. Leave before things get awkward. You don’t want to inadvertently follow anyone into an office meeting, or worse, into the restroom.

Gerald H. Levin, a freelance writer and editor, specializes in content development for business. He is a member of the chamber. Reach him at or through