Got your elevator pitch? Good for you. But it means nothing if you never get on the elevator.
These days, you need a Lobby Pitch, too.
The Lobby Pitch isn’t a tagline (though it could be). It’s two simple things:
1. What you are.
2. What you do.
“I’m a __________ that__________.”
“We’re a __________ that __________.”
That’s it. That’s all you get. And If it’s well done, it’ll get you to the elevator.
Here’s a tip: as soon as you say, “Well, it’s complicated,” or, “It’s hard to explain,” you’re lost. If you can’t explain it, I guarantee they won’t try to understand it. And if you can’t explain it, you likely don’t actually know the answers to those questions.
But the lobby pitch is your God Particle, the thing that gives rise to all other things. It’s the “irreducible core,” that thing that, if you strip everything else away, is what’s left of who you are. It’s what would be lost if you weren’t here to do it.
What is that? Do you know?
You don’t get 30 seconds anymore. You get five. Or fewer. And most people have made up their minds about you before you ever open your mouth.
I like Seth Godin’s approach: think of describing your core purpose as you would a superpower. Yes, people can see your superhero outfit (whether that’s your brand’s visual identity or your personal style…or lack thereof), but that only gives them hints. What you say confirms (or doesn’t) what they already think.
To craft an effective Lobby Pitch, you have to be willing to categorize yourself—at least for the purpose of those five seconds. I’m not a big fan of putting people in buckets generally, but in those critical five seconds, people need a frame of reference to figure out whether to listen further, to discern whether what you are is something they need or want to learn more about.
That means your Lobby Pitch has to make sense, no matter the audience or the context. How would you describe yourself or your company to a five-year-old? Or your grandmother?
You want what you say to create a curiosity gap, that gap between “what one knows and what one wants to know.” It’s that gap that makes people ask the questions that’ll get you on the elevator. But that gap has steep edges, and it’s easy to fall in.
Your Lobby Pitch is not the time to invent new words.
New concepts, yes. New words, no.
So use words people understand, but use them in unexpected ways.
If you can’t come up with something truly clever, don’t try. Really. Sometimes people will want to know more simply because they need what you have to offer. If you need a print vendor, who are you going to pay more attention to: someone who introduces themselves as a print vendor, or a “pulp-based collateral production specialist”?
Unique is not necessarily the goal of a Lobby Pitch—matching what you do with what someone needs is. So don’t make it harder than it needs to be.
You are what you are. Saying something that’s not true may get people to listen a bit longer, but most people’s BS meters are pretty sharp. Nonverbal communication is important, even if it’s not always as important as everyone thinks.
So, if everything about you says one thing, and your words say another, the word people will take away from your pitch isn’t one you likely included:
Think about it: you don’t respond to every pitch you hear. You don’t like every person you meet. Why would the rules be different in reverse?
You’re not going to win them all, no matter how great your pitch is, because not everyone needs or wants what you have to offer. Think about it like a casting call. If the person you’re talking to needs to cast Porgy for Porgy and Bess (a part typically played by an African-American bass-baritone), and you’re Julie Andrews, you’re not going to get cast, no matter how beautifully you sing or how wonderfully you can act.
You can’t make them love you. Let it go. Find your part. Find your audience.
If you make a good first impression, if you offer what someone wants, if you can explain that in a way that creates (or takes advantage of) a curiosity gap, then you better be prepared to get on the elevator. Make sure you know:
3. Why you do it.
4. How you do it.
Because that’s what’ll take you to the top.
So what’s your Lobby Pitch?