The Elevator Challenge
by Rob Self-Pierson
If you’re struggling to put into words who your organisation is, what it does and why anybody should care, try this exercise inspired by the Hollywood elevator pitch.
Away from Covid, back in a world we all recognise, imagined you’ve stepped into the elevator ('lift', if you’re in the UK) after a coffee break at work. You’re excited. Business is picking up, and that flat white was delicious.
Your office is on the 99th floor, and the elevator is shiny, new and fast. Before you know it, you’ll be back at your desk, among your team, discussing all those technical things you and they know so well.
But what’s this? As the elevator doors start to close, in steps that person from the floor below. You’ve always thought how professional she and her organisation seem: smart, assured, confident, but with a warmth to them. Exactly the sort of person and business you’d like to know more about, and possibly work alongside.
The doors close, you choose your floors—you 99, she 98–you say hello, smile, and whoosh, you’re off, like Charlie in the Great Glass Elevator.
The woman introduces herself as Felicity, and before you’ve had a chance to ask her about her company, she says:
‘It’s funny: I’ve been meaning to ask you about your company for a while. This seems the perfect time. Tell me...’
You freeze. ‘Well...’
You’re already at the 15th floor.
This is tough. Because what you do is complex. How do you say it in a way that this person—who you’ve only just met—finds interesting, engaging and memorable? You really want her to go back to her team and share the story of the inspirational chat she's just had. A lot of language dashes through your mind:
An Expert Consultancy Specialising In... no... Change Impactors Advising On... no... Skilled Contractual Experts Proficient In...
No no no. She won’t have a clue what you’re talking about. That’s your language, not hers.
You quickly think about what you might have in common. Where you might be able to make a connection. Well, the only thing you can be absolutely sure of is that you’re both human. And that doesn’t help at all. Or does it?
40th floor. Time’s running out. Speaking naturally, with everyday language, using metaphor to make your industry's ideas feel familiar, explaining the complex, thinking clearly then making one point per sentence. Speaking human to human, concrete ideas, nothing confusing and abstract. Surely it’s worth a go?
You try it.
‘We’re a team...’ you say.
‘A really close, smart team...’
You say exactly who you are as a company. From your heart, with feeling. You watch how Felicity responds to every word. How she leans in when she wants to know more. How she asks you questions—not because she’s confused, but because she’s interested in what you're saying, and impressed by your clarity.
‘Fascinating,’ she says, ‘I love the sound of what you do. Sounds like you get a lot out of it personally?’ She looks at the display. ‘Oop. Nearly there.’
Is she asking about Purpose? Why you do what you do? Eek. You’ve tried to answer this so many times before and never found the words. But this time—face to face, human to human, and with no time to overthink—the words find you. You say it in one simple sentence.
‘Brilliant,’ says Felicity. ‘It's exactly the same for me and my business. Hey, here’s a card. Email me back at your desk and we should grab a coffee.’
‘Absolutely,' you say. 'I know the perfect place.’
So, have a go. Picture the scene, or roleplay it over a videocall with your colleagues. The clearer you can imagine it from Felicity's point of view, the better your chances of finding language that connects. And if you can't turn your thinking into clear and compelling writing? Give us a call. We'd be delighted to help.