The story behind the elevator pitch is that if you catch your prospect in an elevator, you can make your pitch before they get out, generally reckoned to be about 30 seconds. The actual time you have though is even shorter, the first few seconds are crucial. If you don’t get their attention in the first few seconds, you’ll be lucky to give the rest of your elevator pitch, or at least for it to achieve impact.

Your opener then needs to get your prospect’s attention. You are in effect seeking permission to tell them more so, to construct a good elevator pitch, separate what you want to say into a sentence and a paragraph structure. The sentence being the first thing you say, should get you permission to say the paragraph. In this construction the sentence should cover what you and why, whereas the paragraph should cover more the problem and solution you address. Let’s look at this by way of an example:

Southwest Airlines

Southwest, founded by Herb Kelleher and Rollin King, was one of the original low-cost air carriers. It was founded in 1967 and at that time only 20% of US citizens travelled by air, the rest used cars, trains or Greyhound buses. In a county where people are spread over vast distances, Herb thought this was a ridiculous situation and set out to do something about it.

Southwest’s one sentence is very well crafted to express Herb’s desire:

“We connect people with what’s important in their lives, through friendly, reliable, low-cost air travel”

In one sentence we have why they do what they do, connecting people with what’s important, and what they do: friendly, reliable, low-cost air travel. The response we want to get from this is “that’s interesting, tell me more”. Now we have permission to provide more detail so, “well, here’s the problem”.

In Southwest’s case the problem was threefold. First air travel was expensive, second it was very elitist and third was quite complex to book, so if Herb was to be successful, he needed to overcome these things. The paragraph then would look something like this:

“Well, here’s the problem. The average American is put off air travel by the cost, it’s very expensive, and for most people it’s seen as elitist, they feel uncomfortable, they must dress up in order to fly and booking tickets is seen as complicated”.

“What makes air travel expensive is when the aircraft is on the ground it’s not making money, only when it’s in the air. We’re going to create a business model that focuses on a point-to-point network and fast aircraft turnaround designed to maximises time in the air and that will dramatically reduce costs. We’re also going to create a culture where air travel is fun, and we’ll recruit people that can do that. Finally, we’ll simplify ticketing by only offering two options: “weekdays” and “evenings and weekends””.

This is how Southwest did it and they are now the world’s largest low-cost carrier

Following this structure will help you create an effective elevator pitch such as this, getting your prospects attention and permission to elaborate and greatly increasing your chances of success.