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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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About Idea Platforms

Idea Platforms, Inc. collaborates with individuals and organizations to develop and structure idea-driven content, create various forms of expression (including books and visual media), and help build self-reinforcing platforms that extend and enrich content across many channels and venues and over extended periods of time.

Highlighted Works

Overlay Books

The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong In a World Where Things Go Wrong

The Idea Platforms team collaborated with author Dr. Judith Rodin, president of The Rockefeller Foundation, to develop the proposal for this book on social resilience, place it with publisher PublicAffairs, conduct interviews and field research—in Colombia, Kenya, India, and the United States—draft and edit text, and help build and support a platform for Dr. Rodin and her ideas. The book is a "revealing examination of the anatomy of resilience" according to the Kirkus starred review. Endorsers include President Bill Clinton, Arianna Huffington, Michael Bloomberg. (PublicAffairs, 2014. 384 pages.)

Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire and the Internet of Things

IPI worked closely with author David Rose, serial entrepreneur and MIT Media Lab lecturer, to develop this book that presents an alternate vision of the future of technology, one of technology-infused but humanistic objects rather than more screens and apps. The New York Times writes of the book: "Delightful... In the scrum of talking heads wrestling to gain control of the narrative behind the Internet of Things, Mr. Rose is an engaging, plain-spoken guide." (Scribner, 2014. 320 pages.)

Trading Up: The New American Luxury

The IPI team partnered with co-authors Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske of The Boston Consulting Group to create this definitive work on consumerism and support the book in multiple media. It won the Berry-AMA Book Prize for 2003 and was a BusinessWeek bestseller. David Brooks writes: "Trading Up is far more than a dissection of a single consumer trend. It is packed with insights on how shoppers think and behave. I found it incredibly smart and illuminating." (Portfolio/Penguin, 2003. 316 pages.)

John Butman, founder and principal of Idea Platforms, has been involved in the development of ideas and the creation of expressions with a wide range of partners and collaborators, including influential organizations and institutions such as The Boston Consulting Group, NASA, The National Park Service, and The Rockefeller Foundation; influential companies including American Express, IBM, and GE; educational institutions including Brandeis, Harvard, Tufts, and the University of Massachusetts; as well as rising individual stars including entrepreneur and technologist David Rose, psychiatrist John Sharp, and executive Vineet Nayar. John has worked closely with clients in Africa, China, Europe, India, and throughout the United States. He is the author of six books, including Breaking Out: How to Build Influence in a World of Competing Ideas (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013) and is a frequent speaker for clients including American Express, The Chautauqua Institute, Google, and many others. His work has been featured in major publications throughout the world, including The Atlantic, BigThink, The Boston Globe, BusinessWeek, Harvard Business Review, Financial Times, Hindustani Times, Huffington Post, The Independent, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Time. His titles include bestsellers in The New York Times, BusinessWeek, and The Boston Globe. His media work has been featured or awarded honors at festivals and competitions around the world, including The American Film Festival, The Athens International Film Festival, and the Chicago International Film Festival. According to Jeanie Duck, formerly of The Boston Consulting Group and author of The Change Monster, John is a "dream come true as editor and collaborator."