The Art of the Personal Elevator Pitch at The H(ult) Factor

I was delighted to give a keynote talk yesterday evening at The H(ult) Factor—a personal elevator pitch competition. My associate (not my assistant!) Anna Weiss and I went along to the Boston campus of the Hult International Business School, which is housed in a stylish building at 1 Education Street. Its techy, office-like teaching and seminar rooms look out over North Point Park, across the Charles, to Beacon Hill and the expanse of Boston.

Personal Elevator Pitch at Hult International Business School, Boston Campus

This was the inaugural H(ult) Factor event, and it was designed with a singular purpose: to give its students the chance to present themselves and their capabilities to a panel of judges brought in from the "real world" of business, as a kind of intense warm-up for the job interviews and self-presentations they will soon be making in earnest. Since Hult’s establishment in 1964 (its roots are as the Arthur D. Little School of Management) the school has grown to become the largest graduate business school in the world, with over 2,000 students. (Harvard has about 900.) The school confers a one-year MBA as well as other business-focused masters, and about eighty percent of the students hail from outside the United States.

Participation in the event was optional and forty-five of the three hundred Boston students opted in. There were three tracks (sales and marketing, operations management, and finance and accounting) and each student had three minutes to make their personal elevator pitch to the judges. This is who I am, what I have to offer, what I have done, what I want to do. After the initial round, four students in each track were chosen to advance to a round of "cross-examination" by the jury. Then the entire group gathered for wine and cheese and listened as Dean Henrik Tötterman announced the winners, as well as an audience favorite, in each track.

Listening to the students, it struck me how useful the exercise was for them and how tough it is for anyone to present themselves, especially in three minutes. I certainly struggle with it. It is perhaps the most difficult presentation to make and the one that people come up against in all kinds of endeavors, in organizations and communities, when they want to advance an idea, start an initiative, get a job, further a cause. Who am I, what do I want, what do I offer, what is the essence of my message, why should anybody care?

Before the cross-examinations got under way, I was asked to give general feedback to the students on their personal elevator pitches:

Suggestions for Creating a Personal Elevator Pitch

  1. Find and express your fascination. What genuinely engages, excites, and animates you about your idea? People are attracted to attraction. If you’re not truly, personally intrigued by your idea or what you do, why would anybody else be? Make a connection between your fascination and your idea and your goals for yourself. If you demonstrate that you care, other people will, too.
  2. Support your general points with personal stories and examples. A general claim about your skills or fine qualities doesn’t really carry any weight until it is illuminated with a story. You need not create an heroic narrative, just relate an incident or even a moment in which you accomplished something, learned something, or had some kind of realization that is relevant to your pitch.
  3. Try to generate “respiration.” This simply means that you want the idea to breathe. You want people talking about it to each other, engaging with you to try to understand it more completely and in their own way. That’s why, at the H(ult) event, the personal elevator pitches were followed by a cross-examination of the finalists. Do not think you have to defend yourself or convince the questioner that you are right. Listen and try to incorporate their thinking into your own.
  4. Don’t think you have to be something you are not. It’s tough to deliver a succinct pitch, without notes or slide support, to a group of experienced judges, especially when you want to connect with them and have them take your ideas onboard. You can easily lose track of your pitch if it deviates from who you really are. Don’t make assumptions about what your listeners are looking for or what they expect you to be. Put your best foot forward, but make sure you’re wearing your own shoes.
  5. Present with “calm assertiveness.” Take a tip from Cesar Millan, the “dog whisperer”, and deal with your human listeners as he recommends people interact with their dogs: calmly and assertively.

If you can really nail a three-minute personal elevator pitch, excellent, you will surely get response. Make sure to listen carefully to the reactions you hear, because they will help you boil your message down even further. One minute is great. Fifteen seconds is even better.


Kudos to John!

John Butman recently spoke at The H(ult) FACTOR career development event at Hult International Business School's Boston campus. His keynote address to students and industry experts set the tone for the evening, during which our students would compete against each other in pitching themselves to our industry panelists. John encouraged our students to find an idea--a vocation, in our context--that they were passionate about. Then he urged our students to find a way to put their thoughts into practice, to find steps that would implement the career paths they envisioned. Finally, John emphasized that our students must allow their visions to adapt and respond to others' perspectives. His address embodied the insights in his forthcoming book, Breaking Out. He connected the view of a career as a personal story to the activity that the students were about to undertake, and then took part in a thoughtful dialog with our students and guests. We all look forward to learning more from John on building influence for ourselves and our ideas.

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