Meet the pitch coach who’s helped clients land on Shark Tank, Dragon’s Den in Canada and even Shark Tank – Australia: US National Elevator Pitch champion, Chris Westfall. We recently chatted with Chris about the elements of a winning elevator pitch and learned why corporate leaders should be skilled storytellers and develop effective brands in order to succeed in the 21st century.
Tell us a bit about your background. How did you come to be the National Elevator Pitch Champion?
It all started with a tweet.
I saw something in my twitter feed about a national elevator pitch contest that was looking for the best two-minute speech in the country. And I thought, “Why not?” I was already coaching executives on a variety of subjects (including the elevator pitch), so I decided to try. I recorded a video and entered the contest. I had to raise votes on social media; but unfortunately, I came in second place.
Well, that was a good experience, I thought. Like so many things in life, I felt I had done the best I could, but the result was different than I had hoped. Then the phone rang.
It was Bloomberg TV’s Jeffrey Hayzlett, the coordinator of the contest. He let me know that even though I got second place in the voting, his team reviewed my video. Like a surprise ending on the TV show, “The Voice”, they chose me as the national champion. And everything changed.
Other than concision, what are some of the qualities of an effective elevator pitch?
An effective elevator pitch – which, by the way, is a short and persuasive description of a person, product, or idea – has to have these three elements:
- It must be brief.
- It must be persuasive.
- It can’t sound like a “pitch.”
Nobody wants to be “pitched.” And today, the elevator platform has been replaced with the social platform – so a modern elevator pitch is a conversation. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s a dialogue that is short and persuasive and makes your listener say, “Tell me more…”
Creating that “Tell me more..” is the key to creating a powerful conversation. It’s counter-intuitive: we often think that more detail is more persuasive. Actually, it’s not. Providing the right details in the right context creates the right result.
Among the executives and leaders who come to you for coaching, what are some of the main challenges that they are facing today?
A great deal of my work with corporations centers on leadership. As John Mattone says, “It’s not about the organization you want to create – it’s about the organization you must create.” And as John describes so well: Leadership isn’t an adjective. It’s demonstrated in action.
If a company has a strong leadership team, what’s the best way to communicate that to an individual or audience during an elevator pitch?
If a company has a strong leadership team, that’s a really good thing! But if the employees can connect and describe that leadership in ways that make customers say, “Tell me more,” then that’s a great thing. Leadership starts at the top, but connecting to the hearts and minds of the entire organization is how to turn leadership into a cultural advantage. And that advantage starts with your story.
If an executive were to say to you, “As long as I fully disseminate my ideas and expectations to my employees, I’ll be successful. How I say it doesn’t matter,” how would you respond?
It would remind me of a story. In the classic movie Sayonara starring Marlon Brando as an American GI stationed in Japan, there is discussion of a military concept called “insubordination through manner” – in other words, complying with every order so precisely and exactly that you make no room for human judgment. It’s sort of a passive-aggressive strategy for showing a leader just how stupid you think they are while you salute every order. And the leadership consequences are disastrous. For leaders who don’t engage the hearts and minds of their employees, all they will ever get is compliance. Not innovation. Not dedication. Not loyalty. And maybe even “insubordination through manner.”
The effective leader realizes that none of us is as smart as all of us. Harnessing innovation, creating loyalty, and building your own executive brand all starts with your story. Simply thinking that your title speaks for itself or the facts speak for themselves is a recipe for disaster. You may not owe your employees an explanation, but guess what? That dialogue is key to your success.
Why is it so important for today’s corporate leaders to be good storytellers?
Corporate leaders come to me to understand how to build and deliver that leadership story – and to do it in a way that’s authentic, engaging, and real. In my book, BulletProof Branding, I talk about the importance of a powerful personal brand. Executive leaders have to understand that each individual is a brand. There’s no “opt-out.” You’re either good at it, or you’re not. And your team and your customers are watching, listening, and wondering how they can engage with your vision.
How can an executive or corporate leader strengthen his or her company’s brand?
If a leader wants to strengthen the brand of the company, it starts at the top. Before you invest in a new logo, website, or advertising campaign, think about what branding really means. Today, branding isn’t just a part of your business: it is your business. You can say whatever you like about yourself or even create a brand campaign around your “pie in the sky” vision. But without execution, excellence ceases to exist.
Without consistency in your branding – from concept to delivery of your products and services – your brand is not bulletproof. Understanding how to create a culture of innovation and consistency is the key to building the organization of the future. That future begins with the connections that matter most – to your employees, your customers, and the customers you haven’t met yet. Those connections aren’t about “compliance.” Leveraging innovation and capturing the hearts and minds of your employees requires a new understanding of what leadership really means. And when you think about it in that context, leadership starts with your story.
What are the qualities that executives will have to possess if they want to be successful in the future?
Check your pocket or your purse. Everyone is carrying a smartphone for one reason and one reason only: we want to be connected. We understand that connecting to one another is not only entertaining, but also productive. Connection is the key in business. Effective leaders understand the role of connection, and they leverage that insight to create the connections that matter most: attracting the right employees, developing a future vision, and building results for the entire company.