The Worst Ever Elevator Pitch

Christopher Witt —  February 5, 2015

Worst-ever elevator speechI’ve heard awful elevator pitches over the years, but today I heard the worst-ever elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is a brief explanation of 1) an idea, product, service, or person, 2) how people might benefit from it, and 3) what those benefits are.

In networking situations professionals use elevator pitches to introduce themselves in response to the question, “What do you do?”

The whole point of an effective elevator pitch is to start a conversation, hoping people will say something like, “That’s interesting. Tell me more.”

Bad elevator pitches are:

  • Long and exhausting: Ten seconds is best. You can, if you must, take 15 to 20 seconds. But the longer your pitch goes on, the less likely anyone is to say, “Tell me more.”
  • Vague or confusing: Technical experts excel in this regard, although they’re not alone. They might say something like, “I’m a UI designer, specializing in requirement gathering, design alternatives, prototyping, and user interfaces.” As if that clarifies anything.
  • Airy fairy: Which I find particularly irritating. Something like, “I set free your inner child so you can dance with success.” Gag me.

Which brings me to today’s example of the worst-ever elevator pitch.

I was at a networking luncheon of government contractors, project managers, and engineers. When I asked the man seated to my left what he did, he said, “Stuff.”

I’m not making this up. He said, “Stuff.” That was it.

I waited for him to say more, thinking he would add something clever. But he didn’t.

So, fool that I am, I asked, “What do you mean?”

In all seriousness he said, “We design and manufacture stuff that people use.”

Can you top that? Have you heard a worst elevator pitch than “Stuff”? I’d love (or hate) to hear it.

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

8 responses to The Worst Ever Elevator Pitch

  1. Bruce Gabrielle February 6, 2015 at 8:53 AM

    Strange. Since it was a networking event, you would think he’d be prepared to say something more interesting. It sounds like he didn’t really want to be there.

    But “stuff” did get you to say “tell me more”. So, Chris, do you think that’s a good technique to answer with a vague one-word answer (“plastics”) so people say “tell me more”? Or was it more frustrating for you?

  2. Wow. I mean…just…wow. He wouldn’t even commit to people LIKING the stuff he makes that people use.

    My fave terrible elevator pitch was John Kerry’s campaign motto in 2004. (NOTE — I’M A DEMOCRAT). After weeks and weeks of consultants “massaging” the message, it was, “Together, we can do better.” I actually fell asleep after “we”….

  3. Bruce,

    His initial response, “Stuff,” both irritated and intrigued me. It did get me to respond, asking for more. If he had some clever comeback, I’d be satisfied, maybe even amused. But his second attempt just irritated me. I refuse to work that hard in a conversation.

    To your question about a one-word answer… I’m for anything that adds some humor or piques my curiosity, especially in an event that tends to kill off both humor and curiosity. But the next line has to be a killer.

    Do you think it could work?


    • No, I think it’s a risky strategy to try anything so cute as one-word answers, begging to be clarified.

      I think it can work with some people who have more patience, but it would irritate the heck out of others who wouldn’t even bother to ask the follow up questions. They’d just dismiss you with “well good luck with that”.

  4. Rich,

    I can do you one better. Do you remember Dukakis’s acceptance speech at the Democratic convention?

    He talked about restoring the American dream. Nicely done, if a bit overdone by politicians on both ends of the spectrum.

    His build–up led to a line that shut me down: “This election isn’t about ideology. It’s about competence.”

    How do you rally people around competence? Or, for that matter, around doing better?

    What were they thinking? And how much did their consultants get paid for such drivel?


  5. Unless he owned the company, he should be fired. Both of his answers were arrogant insults.

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