Pitching for cut-through
An elevator pitch is a pretty straightforward proposition: it’s the ability to quickly and concisely explain a concept, an idea or even what you do for a living, to a complete stranger with no context, in the time it takes you to ride an elevator. That’s not long! Maybe 30 seconds or so.
Sam Snedden manages to fit his elevator pitch into less than 30 seconds, which is no mean feat - the man’s done basically everything, from software design to running The Basement Theatre, to working as a gardener, to acting in, directing and producing plays.
He’s also successfully pitched for funding for loads of projects and organisations, including The Big Idea.
In other words, he’s an expert at this, so I thought I’d catch up with him to see what makes a great elevator pitch. Sam explained that there are two main kinds of elevator pitches: a pitch for a person and a pitch for a project. You use the former to describe what you do, and you use the latter to describe a project you’re working on. Here’s how they both work, and how you can create your own:
Your personal elevator pitch
This is useful for all kinds of situations - from social interactions like barbecues, straight through to job interviews.
It’s exactly what it sounds like: the 30-second overview of who you are and what you’re all about.
The key thing with your personal elevator pitch is to go a bit deeper to convey who you are beyond what you actually do for a job. You want to communicate your underlying passions and skills. Once you start thinking deeper like this, you’ll be surprised at how many skills you have to offer.
You want to communicate your underlying passions and skills. Once you start thinking deeper like this, you’ll be surprised at how many skills you have to offer.
“If you’ve done independent arts,” Sam said, “your ability to solve problems is huge.” That’s because independent arts projects constantly have less money available than they’d like to spend. So you’re constantly trying to prioritise, figure out what’s essential, and cut out what isn’t. This is a massively transferable skill!
So your personal elevator pitch isn’t just about what you do for a job. Rather, it’s about who you are underneath all that - what you’re good at and what you love doing.
Pitching a project idea
There’s another kind of elevator pitch: when you’re pitching a piece of work. For Sam, this has been most relevant when he’s been producing and promoting a show - but the elevator pitch is just as relevant to exhibitions, poetry readings, a book or any other kind of creative project you might be promoting. Or you might be pitching for funding. The underlying principles are all the same.
This is similar to pitching yourself in that you need to get the essence of your work down to a very short statement. This isn’t just summarising it. Rather, you need to get deeper angle than that. “You need to drill down and find what really excites you about it,” Sam said.
To get to this point, you need to really interrogate the thing you’re trying to get people interested in. What is it that excites you about it? It’s probably not just that you’ll get to show people your work, or practise your craft. There’s probably something deeper, more fundamental than that.
The heart of a good pitch is one sentence
Work with other people who are involved to find an angle for your pitch. Sam recommends writing it down, reading and re-reading your script as if it’s a play; I’m sure there’s a similar approach you can take to other art. “No amount of preparation is too much,” Sam told me.
Eventually, you will get to roll out that one sentence that describes the true essence of your project. Now, you can start building out from that sentence. You can apply it to all the marketing material you create, like posters and Facebook posts. You can make it the lead sentence in a funding document. In fact, you should align everything with this sentence.
Your one-sentence essence is the seed of your pitch. Flesh it out a bit, but make sure what you have is aligned with that one sentence.
Which brings us to the pitch. Your one-sentence essence is the seed of your pitch. Flesh it out a bit, but make sure what you have is aligned with that one sentence. Now you have a solid pitch that you can roll out to anyone who wants to know what you’re working on. Since you did the work to create a truly accurate one-sentence essence, the pitch you give will be more compelling and accurate than just a short summary.
So get to work! Clearly describing what you do takes some hard yards - but it’s so important, not just for your work, but for understanding your identity as an artist.
Sam Snedden - Silo's Blind Date Project. Photographer: Andi Crown.