Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Getting Your Pitch On

I want to share with you an experience I had recently. In my ongoing efforts to promote my CD, “One United Generation”, I got hooked up with a distributor, WindRiver. As a part of that alliance, they invited me to a very exciting event. It’s called the LDS Booksellers’ Association Conference. It’s a chance for all of the authors and artists, distributors, producers, and end retailers to all gather and meet. The subtext, of course, for the whole event is for the buyers hired by retail shops to find all the latest and greatest in books, videos, audio and music CD’s, games, and other products all aimed at the market for Mormons. It happened here in the Salt Lake City metro area. I'm not meaning to preach, I just mention that because it's the context for the whole story.

It was a fascinating study in niche marketing.

But I’ll save that article for another day.

They set me up at a table, with copies of my CD’s. I would chat it up with people as they walked by, sign a freebie CD, and show them the order forms and hope they would place a wholesale order with one of the other staff there at the booth. It was a lot of fun, and a great opportunity to meet lots of cool people.

It was also a great chance for me to learn how to get my pitch on.

Let me clarify:

As I got started in the morning, I noticed something. Everyone that came up to me asked me what my music was like. I hadn’t thought of anything to answer that. "What IS my music like?" I wondered… Well, it’s kind of all over the map, stylistically, but it’s all sort of centered in classic rock. The lyrics are all uplifting and positive, not slimy or sleazy at all. It’s varied, but it rocks. It’ll really appeal to teenagers, but it also has some grown up fans, as well…

I started to explain this to people, and I could almost hear them start to fade and yawn inside within a few sentences. I could see the “That’s nice, thanks” in their expressions as they wandered off.

Then, in the late morning (fortunately, before the lunch rush), I remembered something I’d heard from both business speakers and music industry types. If you can’t sum up your sound in an identifiable catch phrase that will grab someone’s interest and make it clear exactly what you’re doing, you’re in trouble.

The business types call it the “elevator speech”. You imagine you’ve just stepped on to an elevator in an office building or in a hotel at a convention, and someone asks you what you do. You have 15 seconds, 20 at the most, to tell them before the doors open and they step out onto their floor. What will you say? How will they react? How can you grab their attention so they ask for your card?

Well, there I was, without my elevator speech, and I was in trouble. I wasn’t signing very many CD’s, and the few people I was giving them away to didn’t seem to be that impressed. My pitch was falling flat.

So, in a lull before the lunch storm, I took a minute and I came up with a catch phrase that I thought would draw them in, and make them go “Really? That’s interesting!”

And I tried it on some people. One by one, as they came up and asked, “What’s this like?” I said, “It’s Mormon rock! It’s kinda like Aerosmith meets the missionaries!”

And before I knew it, I was signing CD’s. By the end of the afternoon, I had completely run out. My elevator speech was working!

Here’s some things to think about while you’re making your own elevator speech:

  1. It’s gotta be short – Remember, you’ve got a matter of seconds to deliver it. The fewer words, the better. When I’m writing (as all who read my articles will attest), I tend to get wordy. I think there are lots of others who have the same tendencies. That’s OK, the trick is to edit down afterward. Start with all the things you want to say, and keep trimming and trimming.
  2. It’s got to sum up what you’re all about – The big challenge that I found with this was that I had to actually decide what I was all about. How can I sum it up when I don’t know? If your business is so scattered and diverse that you can’t make a clear summation, then that might well indicate some troubles in your business.
  3. It’s got to give them something familiar to connect with – By using the name of the band Aerosmith in my speech, I gave them an identifier. It’s something they already know and understand. From that they know that I’m not playing soft pop, but rather harder classic rock. It’s also not an obscure indie band that only a few people will know.
  4. It’s got to show how you’re unique – Part of what grabs people’s attention is something different, unique. At the same time that I’m connecting with something they’re familiar with (see above), I’m also taking them somewhere they’ve never been before. In the Mormon market, there’s really not a lot of rock music, especially that sounds like Aerosmith. And the concept of hardened rockers opening their front door and meeting missionaries from any church is a surprising image, isn’t it?
  5. Not too vague or all-encompassing – “I create long-term technology-based business solutions to enhance corporate effectiveness and profitability” might cover all your bases, but it’s to vague for anyone to grasp. It also uses too many meaningless buzzwords and sounds like a rejected corporate mission statement. You’ll have them yawning and hoping their floor arrives soon. Clearer, more specific, and with more punch. “I use computers to fix companies” is a step in the right direction. It’s punchier, but it’s still a little vague.
  6. Prepare it in advance – One of the biggest mistakes I made that day was that I threw myself into a situation where I needed a pitch, an elevator speech, and I didn’t have one. Making it up on the fly is tough.
  7. Practice it – Say it over and over in your mind until it becomes automatic. So it flows off your tongue while you’re shaking a hand, or being introduced. It helps to come across with confidence, not hesitance.

Some more good advice about your elevator speech can be found at

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