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Getting people on board – the elevator pitch

The Management Centre

To be an effective leader you need to get people engaged with your ideas and work – whether it’s a senior manager to agree a new way of working, a colleague to help with your project, or support from a funder or external stakeholder. Whatever the situation, bringing people on board is critical to success at work.

Clearly, it’s much easier for people to say yes to your request if your message really engages them. At =mc we have adapted a tool called the elevator pitch to help you to communicate what you mean to communicate – and the results you need – unambiguously, concisely and, above all, effectively.

What is the elevator pitch?

Imagine this scenario…

You need to convince the Head of Communications to support your new campaign. By chance, as you enter the lift on the top floor of the building, she follows you in. You have the two minutes it takes for the lift to reach the ground floor to make your pitch.

The premise of the elevator pitch is that, if you can’t distil your idea into a two-minute ‘pitch,’ you are probably going to struggle to communicate it generally. The idea is borrowed from Hollywood, where the aspiring director has only seven floors, or two minutes, to pitch their idea to the movie mogul.

The discipline of a good two-minute pitch – whether or not you work in a building with a lift or hang around in Hollywood – is that it enables you to:

  • Communicate what you need concisely and powerfully
  • Get others excited about the possibilities it presents

Preparation: who is this about – you or them?

Often people get anxious about how they will come across. But what’s actually key is to focus on the person you are talking to and their interests. To prepare an elevator pitch, begin by being clear on who your audience is and what their needs and concerns are. Are you pitching to:

  • A group of senior managers?
  • A colleague whose support you need to secure?
  • A team that you need to implement part of your project?
  • A partner organisation that will be affected by a new strategy?

Whoever the audience, it’s essential to put yourself in their shoes and ask what they have to gain, or lose.

Think, Feel, Do…

Now you know the audience and their needs, ask yourself what do you want them to think, to feel and to do? Try answering these questions:


What do you want your audience to think as a result of your pitch? What information or knowledge do they need to have, in order to feel and act?

For example, “I want the Head of Communications to understand about violence against women, and to know what the campaign is aiming to achieve. I also want her to know the type of communications support we need, and why it is vital to success.”


What do you want the audience to feel as a result of your pitch? What might they need to feel in order to take action? Evidence shows that the most effective messages are those that appeal to values and emotion, as well as to understanding.

For example, “I want the Head of Communications to feel excited that this is an opportunity to try different approaches. I want her to feel that this campaign is absolutely necessary and will make a big difference. I want her to feel that I respect and need her team’s expertise.”


What do you want your audience to do as a result of the pitch? What specific action are you asking for?

For example, “I want the Head of Communications to support our campaign to End Violence against Women. We will need the her team to help with producing materials and visuals, and to promote the campaign on social media, with the press and on our website”

Stories, examples and visuals

In two minutes, there is only so much information you can transmit. But you also can’t just tell people how to feel. So there are a number of techniques you can employ to enhance the power and impact of your pitch:

  • Give examples of how the campaign will impact on a person – whether real or imaginary – to help your audience understand the positive end result of taking action. (“Aisha can genuinely live independently rather than having to ring her care worker every time she wants to go out.” “Joley gets to go to school and learn – and play with other children.”)
  • Draw on metaphors to help people understand why your request is necessary. (“We need to break through the glass ceiling.” “Everything might seem rosy now, but there are weeds just beneath the surface. We can’t afford to let them grow.”) And of course the idea of an ‘elevator pitch’ is itself a metaphor.
  • Ask rhetorical questions. (“Are we really making an impact here?” “What’s the likelihood of child abuse ending in our lifetime?”) These encourage people to engage in your subject.
  • When talking to a group, look for ways to involve your audience. You can organise a quiz asking people for their views on a subject before or after your presentation, get people to show hands for their feelings, get them to turn to the person next to them and share ideas.
  • Use visuals – can you draw a picture of the change, or a graph, or even simply a series of numbers, that represent the essence of your request? Is there an image that really carries the key idea? (“We’re here to help Annie [show picture] and the 36,000 Annie’s who are the victims of domestic violence in the UK today.”)
  • Use props to help illustrate your point. They can make an idea concrete, have an emotional impact, and be effective metaphors. For example, James Grant, the former Executive Director of UNICEF would show a small sachet of salt and sugar to explain that a child suffering from dehydration could be saved for the price of a tea bag.
  • Don’t use too many of these ideas – chose one and stick with it.

Beyond the elevator pitch

When you have prepared and rehearsed your elevator pitch, you can adapt it to different audiences and different time frames. With practice, you will find people getting behind your ideas more quickly and with greater enthusiasm. Which at least removes one of your leadership hurdles.


What’s Next?

If you’ve found this article helpful and you would like more information, please call +44 (0)20 7978 1516 and speak to one of our experienced management consultants.

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Charlotte Scott

About Charlie Scott

Charlie specialises in leadership development, team facilitation and strategy development. Charlie worked for over 20 years in the not-for-profit sector. Before joining =mc ten years ago, she created and...