Sunday, May 17, 2009

From 150 to 225 Words in 60 Seconds

By Michael A. Barr

A few days ago, Marty Zwilling wrote in this forum that an elevator pitch should be about 150-225 words delivered in 60 seconds or less. I want to focus on two challenges you have with your pitch – and indeed with any presentation you make: dealing with negative reactions and the dilution of words.

Mike Tyson was told that his boxing rival had a strategy. “They all have a strategy,” replied Tyson, “until they are hit.”

You can practice your 60-second pitch with passion and energy, and you should. But, if you practice without confrontation, you won’t be ready to deal well with getting ‘hit’ by an impatient investor with a temper. And we do meet some of those.

Practice your pitch with a coach who is experienced and objective, meaning she does not share your understandable love of your product or service. Rather, she can ‘hit’ you with questions and attacks that you may have simply not expected. The more of these you handle in a safe environment, the stronger you are in a tough one.

Questions we prepare for. What throws us is the unexpected attack, the sneer, the negative, dismissive gestures. We can become emotional, defensive, panicked. Make sure your coach listens not just to what you say, but also to how you say it.

Here is a formula for handling attacks that works:

· Acknowledgment
· Bridging
· Restatement

You pitch your startup’s system for managing health care records. Your potential investor interrupts within seconds: “That’s crazy! Hospital managers won’t buy it!”

Count to three. Take a deep breath. Don’t lose your cool with a retort like “That’s not crazy! It’s a great system!” What you have done is to legitimize his words. Instead, in a calm, confident manner acknowledge the concern he has: “I can hear your concern. Hospital managers are challenging customers.” Then bridge: “My company understands hospital management.” And restate: “We are sure our system will succeed.”

When President Ronald Reagan was asked tough questions he used to smile, wait a few seconds, and then start with: “Well….” Reporters knew what he was doing; the public loved it.
The pause served to allow him to consider the situation and to access the content that he had practiced extensively with his aides. The pause and the smile also defused many a confrontation.

Another issue you should consider is the dilution of words. Take a good look at the words you use
in your pitch. If you’ve heard them before, repeatedly, so have your listeners. Work on giving your words new power through short stories that give you presence and your investors something to remember.

A sixty second pitch is a test of your character, enthusiasm, commitment and poise under fire. Practice it with an awareness that people invest in people. And if we meet you in an elevator we’d love to hear your pitch.

And if you want our advice before you get into the ring, contact us.

Today’s article is presented by Michael A. Barr, who is a member of our Startup Professionals team. He brings to the table a long list of business and academic credentials, including business coaching and communication skills. Contact him via email at

Marty Zwilling




  1. In many ways I think the "150-225 words delivered in 60 seconds or less" is too long for most times you will need to use your elevator pitch. You may want to have one of this length, but you also need a shorter pitch, perhaps 10-15 seconds max.

  2. Practice often and consider that each attempt is an iteration that you can use to optimize your delivery and message. Practice in your car everyday . . . don't worry . . . nowdays people don't think you're strange . . . they just figure you are talking on the phone, hands-free.

    Guess what . . . practice works. Thanks for the post.

  3. Danny - thank you. A short presentation is truly challenging. I think it was Churchill who said that it took him weeks to come up with a twenty-minute speech, but if he was asked to give a two-hour version he was ready now.

    Chris - You are a good coach. You have just added value to a lot of commutes! Thank you.