An effective elevator pitch could be the difference between a new connection and a lost opportunity.

You've heard the questions before: “What do you do for work?" or "What is your business about?" Questions like these could lead to your next job or client, but only if you're prepared to deliver a good elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is similar to a personal selling statement, yet different from a sales pitch because it's more of a conversation starter. A good pitch lasts between 15 and 45 seconds — about the length of an elevator ride (which is partly how it got its name).

Whether you're standing in the elevator, walking down the hall, or meeting someone new at a networking event, you're faced with a limited amount of time to make a connection. Good elevator pitches should be interesting, brief, and memorable. They should also be flexible — given that they're meant to be conversational and informal, be sure to make room for questions and answers. Prior to drafting your pitch, consider your objective. Are you promoting your organization, pitching an idea, or looking for a new job? All of these would require different scripts. You might also want to consider who your target audience is, what problems they have, and how your product or service can fix them. Regardless of your objective, the techniques for drafting a successful elevator pitch are the same. Below are some guidelines.

Capture their attention

Answer the question: Who are you? Introduce yourself and note your credentials, such as your major, degree, or certifications. If possible, reference something that differentiates you from your peers, such as technical training. The start of a conversation is also the perfect time to establish a relationship. So if you happen to know you went to the same college or worked at the same firm as the individual, mention it at the beginning. This will ensure that you capture the person's attention.

Note your career or business goals and experience

Once you've completed initial introductions, draft a short, one-sentence story that answers the question “What do you/your business do?” If your job title is broad or highly specialized, provide a description instead. When the person understands your role and goals, then they are in a better position to help you or possibly connect you to someone who can. Because time is limited during an elevator pitch, it's important to avoid getting bogged down in detail. The key here is to make sure your story highlights what you can do for your listener, the value you can deliver in the role or the problems you can solve. In another sentence, emphasize your interest or experience in the field. Avoid making fluffy statements such as "I'm passionate about working with children.” Instead offer something concrete, along the lines of "I've taken childcare courses and volunteered at the local daycare."

Point to qualifications

To make a successful elevator pitch, you'll also want to point to your qualifications. Now is the time to share information about some combination of your leadership, experience, achievements, expertise, skills, and strengths. Answer the questions: What makes you qualified to do your job/run your business and how long have you been doing it? If you're a new graduate, point to your college major. If not, leave it out. If you're affiliated with industry organizations or have specialized certifications, make a note of it to your listener.

Highlight unique qualities

After establishing your background and goals, you'll want to point to any qualities, experiences, or achievements that make you stand out. That person may already know somebody with 15 years of experience in childcare, so what makes you such a catch? Perhaps you volunteered in overseas schools, learning how to care for impoverished, underprivileged children. Or maybe you have extensive knowledge in child psychology that would allow you to identify and support children with psychological issues. Consider what special niche or extensive knowledge you can share with your contact that will set you apart from the rest.

Ask a question

As you close your elevator pitch, make sure to ask an open-ended question that allows the individual to answer. This can help engage the person in a longer conversation. For example: "If you have some time, I would love to meet with you in person to hear more about your organization and any opportunities." Or, you can say something like, “Would you be able to put me in contact with the person in charge of business development so I can tell them more about what I can offer your company?” And, of course, be sure to ask for a business card so you can follow up.

Practice, practice, practice

Take your time to craft your pitch. Practice it aloud and time it to make sure it's short enough. If you can, practice with friends to gauge their thoughts. Cut out anything that's unnecessary. Remember, your pitch needs to be short and engaging. You don't have to share every unique aspect of your job or every accomplishment, just enough to pique interest from the other person and land you a follow-up meeting. Most people will go through multiple drafts before settling on the words that are just right.

Be enthusiastic and smile when delivering your pitch. You should also sound natural, not rehearsed — people can tell if you really love what you do and believe in what you're saying or if you're just trying to sell them on your idea by delivering a rehearsed pitch. Practice in front of a mirror and practice regularly; your elevator pitch should be committed to memory so you can use it at any time.

As you practice delivering your elevator pitch, monitor your body language. Crossing your arms, fidgeting, or using distracting hand gestures can weaken the impression you make, so take care to ensure that you look as confident as you sound. Good news is, the more you practice, the easier it will become to remember all the elements so you can sound off a stellar elevator pitch at any given moment.

Also, don't forget to be flexible. You may even consider creating different pitches for different audiences. At the very least, be open to making changes depending on the conversation and the person you're speaking with. It's alright to vary your words as long as the message — and end results — are the same.

Below are some fill-in-the-blank elevator pitches to get you started. Modify these as appropriate and incorporate the additional elements discussed above.

Elevator Pitch Example #1

Do you know how many people [the main problem your clients have]? Well, what I do is [briefly explain the solution you provide]. I'm a(n) [__________] with [experience/qualifications], and I specialize in [__________].

Elevator Pitch Example #2

I'm [name] and I provide/help/serve [target audience] with [product or service]. It helps/is a solution for [problem] and allows them to achieve [desire].

Elevator pitches may not be the easiest things, but once you have them down you'll be making connections like a pro.

Not sure if your elevator pitch is powerful enough to make an impact? Our TopInterview coaches can help you out!

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on our sister site, TopResume.

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