Whether you are pitching your business to venture capitalists, introducing yourself at a networking event or even trying to land a job, the elevator pitch has become a must-have professional skill.  Individuals are more overwhelmed with information than ever, which shrinks attention spans.  This means that you have less time than ever to make that critical first impression.

I recently appeared in an elevator pitch segment with Bowlsole on MSNBC’s Your Business Show (Sunday Mornings on MSNBC at 7:30 am ET/6:30 am CT) and wanted to use their pitch as an example to help you to improve your own elevator pitch.

Watch the segment here:

The breakdown:

Purpose: You have to remember that the elevator pitch (whose name is taken from the notion of getting into an elevator with a big-wig and having only that short ride to impress him or her) is about creating a fantastic, sexy and engaging introduction that makes the other party want to learn more.  You don’t have time to convey everything, but you do have to hit enough of the key points to engage the other party and show you know what you are doing.

Confidence is key: You can see that the pitchers in the video are very nervous (and I give them a bit of a break, since being in front of the tv cameras adds an extra dimension of pressure).  However, the #1 thing that an investor, vendor or even employer is banking on is you.  You have to instill the confidence that you are someone who can execute and if you come across as anything less than fully confident, your chances of having a successful elevator pitch are slim-to-none.  Also, know the difference between confident and arrogant. Being secure is one thing; being a know-it-all is not a good thing.

Highlight and overcome the key objections: When you discuss your business idea or practice a business interview, there are going to be key objections- the major stumbling blocks that will come up over and over again by any savvy investor or interviewer.  Know what those are and address them upfront.  You can see in the video that I identified that the company’s major issue isn’t getting end consumers to want to use this product; it’s getting the bowling centers on board, particularly because they make a good portion of revenue from shoe rentals.  That should have been a key element of the pitch and more importantly, having some of those customers on board would have made the pitch exponentially stronger.  Take the negatives, address them head on and turn them into positives.

Stats, numbers and figures: People love concrete numbers to add scale or a benchmark to an opportunity or to accomplishments.  Bowlsole did a nice job of talking about the number of potential users, but even more numbers (such as the number of bowling centers, number of rental shoes and amount of income produced, growth in bowling over the last few years) always enhances a pitch.  This is the same for resumes or other pitches; which is more powerful, the fact that someone managed a division budget or that they managed a $20 million budget?  Numbers create context, whether perceived or real.

What’s the secret sauce?:  What are you doing that is different than everyone else and how is that protected?  Bowlsole explained the problem and their solution effectively and mentioned that it was patented.  This was probably the strongest part of their pitch.  In follow-up meetings, the protection would be delved into further, but in the limited amount of time they had, they did a nice job.  Make sure that you are articulating what the customer issue is and how you are solving it better and differently than anyone else, as well as how you are creating barriers from a competitive standpoint.

How are you making money?: What’s your business model?  Bowlsole didn’t really address this in the pitch.  They have to sell to the bowling centers that ultimately have to sell to the end-consumer (the bowlers).  How much do the products sell for (at retail and wholesale)?  What kind of profit margins are there?  How do you make money?  This is a critical focus for any business and needs to be addressed clearly and concisely.

How are you the best person/company to execute?: Ideas are a dime a dozen, if that, but what counts in today’s market is execution.  Confidence is one element, but what else do you bring to the table that makes an investor want to be in business with you (or even an employer wanting you on their team)? What previous experience, qualifications, resources, etc. do you bring to the table to make you the absolute best person or best team to be involved?  Remember that investors invest in management teams above any other element.

Milestones: What have you accomplished that lessens the risks for the other party?  Already having paying customers for a new business certainly does.  Bowlsole had a prototype and a patent, according to the pitch, but customer orders would have upped the ante significantly.

WIIFM-the deal: If you are pitching investors, you have to be able to explain to them how they are going to make money (the “WIIFM” or “What’s In It For Me?”).  Even if you have gym shoes that can fly, if the investor can’t make a good return off of it, it makes no difference to him. Bowlsole couldn’t explain the investment deal, which is a huge stumble in the pitch.

I know this is a lot of information for a short pitch, so make sure to prepare and practice to create a killer elevator pitch on yourself or your business.

Also make sure to catch MSNBC’s Your Business as well and if you want to review other clips from the show, you can view them at Amex’s Open Forum (and if you want to see some of the other clips I have been in, put my name into the search box there).

These tips can be applied to getting a job in any industry, even in the government contractor job market, so work on that pitch and get the kind of job you deserve.