Why Your Elevator Pitch Isn't Working

You know you need an elevator pitch. Perhaps you’ve even practiced and gotten “why choose me” down to a perfect pitch. But somehow you never seem to get the chance to use it. Sadly, the biggest mistake I see aspiring networkers make is that they don’t recognize an “elevator” when they’re in one.

Invisible Elevators

I had my entire leadership team in for a Summit– 2 1/2 days of strategy, development, growing and fun. The shuttles from the hotel to our headquarters-based meeting left at 7 am. A few of us had cars and were driving over. As I walked into the parking lot, there was a cluster of folks who had clearly missed the bus.

“No worries, I’ve got room,” I said, cheerfully. Everyone looked at their feet. One of my Directors who also had a car offered, “or you can come with me…” They all followed her. I looked at them and smiled, “really?” You are on the way to a leadership summit, where the first thing on the agenda is how to network through elevator pitches and no one’s getting in my car? One brave soul came forward and we put her suitcase in my trunk. “Don’t worry, I said, no elevator pitch necessary.”

I then proceeded to share all the crazy stuff that had happened when I was in cars with executives. The time I was so busy “elevator pitching” my team’s results to our CEO that I drove past the exit (with an 8 mile recovery). The day I took a sales rep out to lunch for a “wager” we’d made on an “impossible” accomplishment, and got pulled over for an illegal turn. She warmed up. And bingo a BEAUTIFUL elevator pitch. I learned a bit about her and what she was up to. She asked about my career, and then shared more. We both left enriched by the time together.

Fast Pitch Exercise

Fast forward to 8 am. Summit.

A few leaders on my team created a “fast pitch” exercise. I recommend it if you ever have a large team together who are eager to advance.

A bit like speed dating, and speed mentoring, We had 120 people join us in fast pitch stations. My senior team and I were the “catchers” and everyone else brought their “elevator speeches” or joined us in a “mock interview” question in one-on-one sessions. Each session lasted only a few minutes, but we offered immediate feedback, and a chance to fine-tune. I was astounded by the progress made in such a short time.

Improve your elevator pitch

In the debrief, the team said they learned to…

  • Start with genuine connection
  • Understand what’s important to “them” and build on that
  • Don’t assume they get your world
  • Speak in understandable language
  • Don’t minimize who you are
  • Share your passion and energy
  • Speak from your heart (show up genuine)

Most importantly. Get in the car. Leverage that walk to the meeting. Chat while working together on volunteer day.  Get past the small talk at the recognition dinner.

Elevator speeches don’t need elevators.

Know your worth, hone your message, and share it.

Posted in Career & Learning, Communication and tagged , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of several books: Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates (Harper Collins Summer 2020), Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. This is the most powerful point for me:

    Don’t assume they get your world

    Once I realized that, I changed my pitch…and I used a reference point for them that there was a 99% chance they would get. The 1% who don’t aren’t viable clients anyway 🙂

  2. Thank you, Karin!! I’m going to revamp my message- and I have been on 2 “Information Inverviews”. Much appreciated- Leah

  3. Karin,
    In response to your question about what may be keeping others from sharing their elevator pitches, I would say generational differences would be one. I did a thesis on Effective Leadership and Generational Differences and one of my findings was a high percentage of Baby Boomers and Traditionalists who reported little or no interaction with Generation Y. In regards to Generation X, something like 67% said they rarely interacted with traditionalists. I think a lot has to do with trust and with that said, I love the idea of the Elevator Pitch exercise. I cannot think of a better way to get to know someone and create a feeling of trust.

  4. I really chuckled when I read about no one getting into your car….and the story about driving past your exit with the 8 mile turnaround! Great insights, Karin. I think you hit it on the head with the part about building a connection via being genuine. Good advice….

  5. LaRae, so wonderful to see you here. Thanks for joining the LGL conversation. It was amazing how much better the pitches were when they started with real connection. BTW… I am really enjoying our connection. Namaste.

  6. Karin- your statement ‘Each session lasted only a few minutes, but we offered immediate feedback, and a chance to fine-tune. I was astounded by the progress made in such a short time triggered many ideas in my head. Notably, that we need bursts of good ideas. These bursts are short-lived and they need to be ignited in short times. So, short, but emotional and focused meetings do that. I think this is an extremely igniting post.

  7. Oh wow I thought, Karin is talking planes! Elevator and pitch controls. Woo hoo I thought, because I’d just spent last night engrossed in blogs, videos and my pics of several great aircraft museums I visited during my trip to the US last month.

    What,, Ohhh, THAT elevator pitch. How funny.

    Yes, isn’t it funny (strange, scary) when you find out the world isn’t seeing things the same way as you 😉

    I can’t add to Karin’s list however I would passionately echo ‘Start with genuine connection’.

    Many leaders I’ve coached thought getting to the end of the pitch was the goal. Not much point if the listener has already tuned out, or never even tuned in.

    • Dallas, ohhhhh…. you want a plane analogy… will work on that 😉 Yes, I did find some with a strong sense of wanting to “get through it” Being REAL is so important in elevators.

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