Written & published originally for Selling Power Magazine

Whether you’re seeking investors for a new business, partners to help sell your services, or new prospects to fill your pipeline, an effective elevator pitch is critical.

And although it’s fine to tinker with the specific words and delivery over time, we should all have a specific, crisp and pre-meditated understanding of what we want to say, what we want that to communicate, and what impression and/or next step we want to drive with the recipient.

Below are nine specific best practices I believe will help lead to more effective, successful elevator pitches that energize and mobilize your audience.

1. Answer the right question
The typical starting point for giving your elevator pitch is the question, “What do you do?” Don’t answer that question, at least not directly. Instead, assume you have been asked the question “Tell me what you do for your customers.” What’s what they really want to know, and it’s the best way to show what you do, vs. describing how you do it.

2. Clarify the problem you’re solving
Don’t assume that your audience understands the nature or scope of the problem. Succinctly summarize what’s wrong with the current environment. Paint a picture of the current pain, or future pain, your target audience is heading towards if they don’t do something different. This can be a general problem statement, or quick reference to an expected future situation or result that’s clearly unacceptable.

3. Focus on benefits & outcomes, not solutions
Focus on the ends, not the means. Describe what you’ll enable for your customers, not how you get them there. I don’t want to buy a drill, I want to buy holes. Nobody really wants to hire a sales & marketing consultant, they just want more sales. If you sell sales, talk about that outcome and what it can mean for the customer’s business or life.

4. Make your “we do this by” statement short

Of course, you do something to achieve that magical outcome. And it’s important to reference how you get there. Just do it quickly. This is an elevator pitch, not a full business summary. More details on how you do it can come later.

5. Give a proof of concept example with metrics
Back up your benefit/outcome statements with proof that you’ve done it before and can do it again. Give a short example or two of a current or past customer, what you achieved for them in quantifiable terms. This, quickly, will bring your value proposition to life and make it real.

6. Make eye contact, smile, be engaged
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen use the right words, but with no energy. With their head down. With little to no clear passion for what they’re doing. Eyes wandering all over the place. Look the recipient of your elevator pitch in the eye, and keep their undivided attention. Pull them in with your words, as well as your physical reaction and emotions as you tell your story.

7. Choreograph your body language and arm movements
This may feel a little awkward at first, but it can make a huge difference. Think about how specific gestures, arm movements, basically any relevant physical movement can accentuate the points you’re making. Work on different options for how these movements might work, run them by someone else who knows your story to make sure they work, and practice them until they feel natural.

8. With video specifically, us a visual or prop (and more than one speaker)
Props might be a little weird for off-the-cuff elevator pitch requests, but in a prepared video it will make you stand out and further bring your story to life. That said, is there something small but significant you could keep in a jacket pocket at all times that serves as a prop or metaphor to help explain what you’re doing? Also, especially in video format, featuring more than one speaker can keep the viewer’s attention more successfully if there’s a natural transition between each speaker’s content and role.

9. Invite next steps (but don’t go for the close)
The next step (or call to action) doesn’t have to be specifically for whomever you’re sharing your elevator pitch with. Maybe you offer a free consultation with any new, prospective customer. Maybe there’s an audit tool you offer that helps quantify the specific opportunity and potential outcome. Figure out the specific offer or “ask” that doesn’t go for the hard close, but invites the listener or recipient of your pitch to engage further and ask for more.

How good is your elevator pitch? PGi (creators of iMeet) and Selling Power Magazine are cosponsors of the 2011 Sales Pitch Contest. Record your best video sales pitch (no longer than 60 seconds) and upload it by October 27, 2011, for a chance to win.