It is often said that startup founders and entrepreneurs should practice their elevator pitch. For book authors, such as myself, the advice is similar: “Work on your book pitch!”
The experts want entrepreneurs to explain to potential customers and investors their unique value proposition and how this is different from other offerings, within the time span more or less of a 30-second elevator ride.
It sounds reasonable, but my view is slightly different.
I agree that marketing is about discovering the right words, phrases and visuals that get people interested in—and hopefully excited about—a product or service. But I struggle with the traditional view of the elevator pitch as a 30-second script.
It never worked for me.
When I wrote a pitch for my new book, I tried it on a number of people and practiced it in my car, in airport lounges and in the shower until I knew it by heart. But what I found is that in many situations, an elevator pitch comes across as stilted. It’s as if for 30 seconds a casual, messy conversation between two people is interrupted for the broadcast of a well-crafted commercial. My elevator pitch was fine but using it never felt right.
Nobody has ever asked me, “Can you please give me a well-rehearsed 30-second summary of what your new book is about?” Sure, some people whom I meet express interest in what I do and an even smaller number want to know what I can do for them. But none of them ask me for a commercial.
That’s why I don’t pitch my products or services.
What I use instead are a number of hallway starters that I can insert into any conversation that takes place in the hallway of a conference venue. There are small phrases that work well on many people and are small enough not to feel like they disrupt a casual conversation. Instead of losing my audience during a pitch-perfect commercial, a starter might engage people and intensify their emerging interest.
Here are eight examples:
“I believe in better management with fewer managers.”
“Treating employees like adult human beings might be common sense, but it’s not common practice.”
“If the purpose of a business is merely growth, then we could call it a tumor.”
“You won’t have a first-mover advantage for long if somebody else has the fast-learner advantage.”
“Trust is like money. It can take years to earn it and it takes only minutes to lose it.”
“If you want to measure someone else’s performance, please tell me first how you measure your own.”
“There’s nothing wrong with targets, as long as you don’t bother anyone else with them.”
“Making money is great. Making a difference is better. Making money while making a difference is best.”
I’ve used these phrases many times, in my writing, on social networks, in public speeches and in regular conversations because I know that they work. Yes, I test my hallway starters. Not on everyone, of course. If they don’t resonate with some people, they might not belong to my target audience. But they work well enough for me to keep them ready for dinner conversations, online interviews and indeed conference hallways.
When promoting a product or service, don’t bother crafting the perfect pitch. In my experience, the return on investment of elevator pitches is low. It takes a lot of effort and practice to create a perfect 30-second oral commercial. There aren’t enough situations for using one without coming across as a slick salesman.
Instead, grow a collection of hallway starters that can be insert into many different conversations. Test their effect on social networks by measuring the “likes” and retweets. Assume that people already appreciate talking with you and then use your starters at appropriate moments to intensify the interest that’s already emerging.
I’m sure there’s time to show them your commercial later.
Jurgen Appelo is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, and CEO of Happy Melly. This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Copyright © 2014 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.