The Art of the Elevator Pitch

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By Carmine Gallo

When asked what their movie is about, successful screenwriters have a ready answer that is clear, concise and engaging.

Business leaders are asked a version of this same question throughout their careers: What is your presentation about? What does your start-up or product do? What’s your idea?

If you can answer in one compelling sentence, you can hook your audience. According to molecular biologist John Medina of the University of Washington School of Medicine, the human brain craves meaning before details. When a listener doesn’t understand the overarching idea being presented in a pitch, they have a hard time digesting the information. A logline will help you paint the big picture for your audience.

“A police chief, with a phobia for open water, battles a gigantic shark with an appetite for swimmers and boat captains, in spite of a greedy town council who demands that the beach stay open.” What makes it work? The logline for “Jaws”identifies the key elements of the story: the hero, his weakness, his conflict and the hurdles he must overcome—all in one sentence.

Though mastering the logline is challenging, there are steps you can take to do so.

Keep it short

A logline should be easy to say and easy to remember. As an exercise, challenge yourself to keep it under 140 characters, short enough to post on the old version of Twitter (before the platform allowed 280 characters per tweet).

Identify one thing you want your audience to remember

The “one thing” should cater to the needs of your audience. With one sentence, customers want to know more because his logline solves a specific problem and will make them look like heroes to their bosses. Above all, the logline is easy to remember and gives people a story they can take to other decision-makers in their organizations.

Make sure your team is on the same page

Every person who speaks on behalf of your company or sells your product should deliver the same logline. Loglines attract attention; consistent loglines are memorable and repeatable.

Sometimes the language will come to you immediately, other times it might take more practice. Be patient. Once you master the logline, you will be able to easily clarify your ideas and help the audience retain, remember and act on them.

Carmine Gallo is a Harvard University instructor at the Graduate School of Design.