You get into the elevator, and — omigosh — the company president steps in with you. It’s just the two of you, and he can’t walk away until those elevator doors open on the 12th floor. What a perfect opportunity to pitch your great idea for a new project. But you don’t have much time. You have to get to the point fast so he’ll be interested enough to invite you to his office and learn more.
In the world of business, it’s called an elevator pitch. In Hollywood, it’s called a log line. In your high school composition class, it was called a thesis statement. Whatever name you like, it’s one sentence that sums up the point you are trying to make.
If you can’t boil it down to a sentence or two, you’ll have a tough time writing the rest of your report, white paper, business book, or whatever piece you are working on. You’ll be more likely to leave out important information, get sidetracked with material that doesn’t matter, and end up wondering why you can’t get the different parts to mesh.
The longer and more complex your project, the more you need to memorize your elevator pitch. It will help keep you on track. Guess how I know.
It’s humbling to sit down with all my interview notes and other research, stare at a blank screen and ask myself, “So what exactly is the point of this article?” Even when I’m sure I know the answer, writing it out sometimes ends up being a lot harder than I expected. “Oh, it’s about how the … I mean, why everybody needs to … well, it’s about the new way of … hmm.”
An elevator pitch is worth the effort. Once you can narrow it down to a sentence or two, even if those exact words never appear in the finished product, the rest will be easier to write.
You have to be honest with yourself, though. Remember, that’s the company president in the elevator with you. She isn’t going to be easily impressed. But since this is only a mental exercise, you get to hit the reset button and improve the scene until you get it right.
YOU: My division sold a whole lot of dingbats this year.
BOSS: So? Isn’t that your job?
YOU: Um … yes … well …
YOU: My division sold 3 percent more dingbats this year than we did last year.
BOSS: That doesn’t sound like much growth. Is that really the best you can do?
YOU: Well … err … I mean ….
YOU: Thanks to this new distribution app that I wrote, my division sold 3 percent more dingbats this year while our competitor’s sales went down.
BOSS: Oh yeah? I’d like to see that app. Would it work for the other divisions?
YOU: I’m sure it would. I’ve been working on this proposal…
Now you have a pitch worth pitching.