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How to nail a 1-minute elevator pitch

brand credibility from branding expertsI try to make it to the Bend Venture Conference every year. My favorite part is the wildcard round, where each presenter has exactly 60 seconds to do their elevator pitch. The best short pitch wins a chance to do a 10-minute presentation later in the day.

The ultimate prize: Hundreds of thousands of dollars in venture capital. It’s the biggest venture conference in the Pacific Northwest.

Nothing tests an entrepreneur like a 1-minute limit, and conference organizers are right there enforcing the 60-second rule with a wind-up kitchen timer. Low tech, but highly effective.

“Time’s up!”

tips for one-minute elevator pitch - Brand Insight BlogIt’s fun to watch. Presenters really have to hone their pitches down to the bare essence. Plus, they don’t have PowerPoint slides to use as a crutch. It’s just one person, on stage, with a microphone.

Clearly, some are out of their element. Every presenter is seriously challenged by the brevity of it, and a couple people always blow it completely.

Others demonstrate great leadership by telling a succinct and polished story. 

In his Lettres Provinciales, the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal famously wrote: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

Shorter pitches are harder to write than long pitches. You don’t have time to explain things and rattle on.

It takes a lot of strategic thinking and fine-tooth-comb editing to get an elevator pitch down to 30 or 60 seconds. Chances are, you’ll be agonizing over what you have to leave out.

But that’s the definition of an elevator pitch… it has to be short enough to fit into an elevator ride to the 15th floor.

So here are a few tips for for anyone who’s trying to write a one-minute elevator pitch or convey a big idea in a really small amount of time.


• What you say in a 1-minute elevator pitch is not as important as what you choose NOT to say.


The objective of the one-minute pitch isn’t to close the sale, it’s to connect with your audience and leave them wanting more.

Don’t educate them, just tease them and trigger their curiosity. Withhold some really important bombshells for the next meeting or the longer pitch deck.

The real objective is to get them to ask the right questions… the easy ones that lead right into your most dramatic selling points. If the sharks on Shark Tank are interested, they immediately jump right in with questions about revenues and sales volume.


how to come up with a good 1-minute elevator pitch for investors - Brand Insight Blog


• Don’t try to condense your 20-minute deck into a 1-minute elevator pitch.


About half of the wildcard presenters at the Bend Venture Conference did this… they just cherry-picked what they thought were the most important bullet points from their full-length PowerPoint presentations. So their one-minute pitch seemed disjointed and out of context.

A one-minute elevator pitch is a completely different animal. You need a script that’s conceived, written and honed down specifically for the purpose or dramatizing your big idea in 60 seconds or less. It’s important. Don’t take shortcuts.



• Tell your story, starting with the problem and solution.


In advertising 60 seconds is enough time to establish a plot, develop memorable characters and establish an emotional connection with the audience. So you should be able to convey the gist of your business idea in that amount of time.

Great print ads work on a 3 second level, a 30-second level, and a 3-minute level. Your pitch should work the same way. In any case, you’ll have to get to the value proposition immediately.


• Whatever you do, don’t start with numbers!


It doesn’t matter that your market size is 39 zillion dollars, launching into your pitch with a big number will not differentiate you from all the other presenters.

Stats just don’t resonate with 90% of the people in the audience. It’s a big red flag for most investors because those numbers are nothing but conjecture.

Instead, dramatize how your product will solve one person’s problem. That’s way more powerful than talking about theoretical numbers and mass market reach.


the 1-minute elevator pitch - Brand Insight Blog


• Get the right person up on stage.


For a 1-minute elevator pitch a tightly edited script is crucial, but you also need an articulate, credible pitcher.

The best presenters engage the audience with some charisma and deliver the message with passion and clarity. They have just the right balance of bravado and business sense, so they don’t come off sounding like a used car salesman, on one hand, or an engineering geek on the other.

It’s not always the CEO or the person with the most experience who should be doing the 1-minute pitch. One of the presenters at the BVC had a good script, but his demeanor was just too laid back to get people’s attention. Another, who had an impressive track record of start-ups, bumbled it completely.



• Forget about introducing yourself.


If you’re doing a 1-minute pitch you don’t have time to be cordial. “Hi, my name’s John” is never a good hook.

In his book, The Art Of The Start, Guy Kawasaki puts it this way: “ Unfortunately, entrepreneurs still believe a pitch must always be autobiographical. Don’t talk about yourself or the management team. That can come later. Instead, get to the gist of your idea right away.”


• Anchor your idea in something that’s familiar to everyone.


Metaphors and similes are your friend. Hollywood writers use catchy one-liners all the time when they’re pitching movie ideas. They have to condense their screenplay’s concept, genre, story, characters, and plot to into just one or two sentences.

“It’s like a slasher flick meets Moby Dick” – for Jaws.   “It’s War of the Worlds meets Hush” for A Quiet Place.

Anchoring is a proven psychological technique in persuasion, and it’s especially important when there’s new technology involved in your business pitch. Attach your idea to something the audience can relate to.  Like “the Facebook of business networking” for LinkedIn.


• Remember, investors are judging the presentation as well as the idea.


Some ideas have such a huge WOW factor,  the quality of the pitch doesn’t really matter. But those cases are very rare.

For most 1-minute pitches you have to impress with the execution as well as the idea. In the back of their minds, investors are thinking, “if they can’t execute one little presentation how are they going to execute this entire business?

For instance, there was a company at the Bend Venture Conference that has potential to cure Malaria. Seriously. Unfortunately, the presenter bored the audience to death and that big idea got completely forgotten.  They may have had the biggest big idea of all, but they got beat out on execution.

• Step out of the businessman mode for a minute, and think like an advertising guy.


60 seconds is an eternity in advertising. How would a classic pitchman dramatize your idea in a 60-second spot? Can you demonstrate it? Everyone remembers the “Will it Blend” series for Blendtec. Entrepreneurs can learn a thing or two from those old-school direct response pitchmen!

Showing is always more powerful than just telling. Facts tell, but stories sell.

• Don’t underestimate the power of a good, old-fashioned product demonstration.


Guess who won the wildcard round at the Bend Venture Conference… The one guy who could demonstrate his product right then and there. He showed the audience what his product does, and didn’t waste one second explaining how it does it.

Clarity and drama won the day.

Writing your one-minute pitch is one of the hardest things you’ll do. You have to put aside your businessman hat, and think like an entertainer. It’s not for everyone.

If you want to learn more about how to polish your pitch for venture capital, click here.

If you want to save yourself a lot of pain and agony trying to nail your 1-minute pitch, contact me here. Help doesn’t cost much, and it can pay off big time.


2 thoughts on “How to nail a 1-minute elevator pitch”

  1. Dear Mr Furgurson, Thanks for sharing your suggestions for more impactful 60 second presentations. I was curious what you had thought of the 60 second presentation done by Hydra Cool the refrigeration company? Any insights would be appreciated. Gery at

  2. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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