To make the most of any networking situation you must develop an effective “elevator pitch,” a necessarily brief explainer about who you are and what you do. A good pitch illuminates the why and how of your work or situation.

But there’s a hurdle — research psychologists have proven that we overestimate (by a huge margin) what others will remember about what we say. In their book Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath attribute this to the ‘Curse of Knowledge’ — once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it’s like not to know it.  This creates a communication bias: We assume the listener has the background knowledge to easily comprehend and remember what we say. In other words, because we know ourselves intimately, we subconsciously imagine our listener does, too.

Chances are your pitch could use improving. The goal is to make it “stickier,” to paint a positive, accurate and, most importantly, memorable picture of you. Made to Stick explores six principles that make ideas register with listeners and stay in their minds. Here is how to apply them to your elevator pitch:

  1. Simplicity — keeping it simple doesn’t just mean being brief, it means being a “master of exclusion” and carefully prioritizing. What is the most essential thing you want your audience to know? This can be difficult; our natural inclination often is to convey too much. Remember, what matters most here is the core idea, the most important thing you want your listener to know about you. The more extra information you eliminate, the better the chance your core idea will register.
  2. Unexpectedness — sharing something a bit surprising catches the attention of the listener and helps maintain his/her interest.
  3. Concreteness — a clearly conveyed idea uses sensory language and clear images, not abstract ideas. You communicate more concretely when you tap into the human side of your work. So, if you work in the world of abstractions, like strategies, data, analytics, or numbers, instead tap into the real-world impact that your work makes — how are lives changed or improved?
  4. Credibility — being believable comes from a balance of being not too humble and not too boastful. Call on things that your audience can relate to, give vivid details and perhaps point to a trustworthy resource that will vouch for your work.
  5. Emotion — to get our audience to care about our pitch we must appeal to their feelings; but people primarily care about their own issues and themselves. Knowing a bit about your audience can help you tailor your pitch to appeal to what matters to them, before making an appeal.
  6. Stories — sharing an anecdote is often more powerful than summarizing the facts. Brief, well-told stories are entertaining and draw the listener in, and good stories lead to action.

A “sticky” pitch will get the listener to pay attention, understand, remember, believe you, care about what you’re saying, and finally, take action.  Pitch statements are always evolving, so use the principles as a guide in order to become more intentional with your words. Practice your new pitch, and don’t worry if you can’t incorporate all six principles; starting with just one or two refinements can dramatically improve your effectiveness.

Here are some excerpts of pitch statements to illustrate the principles in action:

  • Simplicity: “The work I do has one common theme: I lead teams to develop technologies that make retail sales quicker and easier.”
  • Unexpectedness: “I’m helping bring to market an innovative device that will fix damaged spines!”
  • Concreteness: “In my years of consulting work for primary school administrators, I have helped over one hundred hard-working school staffers make their schools better places to learn.”
  • Credibility: “You might not know the names of the tiny startup companies I’ve worked for, but I bet you know my clients, or even consume their products every day, like Coca-Cola!”
  • Emotion: “I learned how to communicate in the U.S. as a kid by watching Reading Rainbow, now I bring social translation into my work making the news at [major outlet].”
  • Stories: “My dad taught me money skills from the age of six when he’d set line of stacked coins on the fireplace mantle — my lunch money — and let me figure out whether to purchase from the cafeteria, or pack my lunch instead, pocketing the difference…. I’ve been successfully managing money for companies now for over 30 years!”

These are only snippets of larger talking points, each improved in order to better reach the audience.  Write out a sample pitch you might say and look for the opportunities to make it “stickier” with these principles.

Contact Alumni Career Services if you’d like some help constructing or practicing your elevator pitch.