Why Elevator Pitches Need to be a Thing of the Past
Updated: Jun 8, 2019
It should be okay if we suck at selling ourselves
Society has become way too used to people selling themselves to each other. This practice of pitching ourselves to one other has run amok and is jeopardizing our ability for true connection. Google the term elevator pitch, and you will immediately see a number of links offering instructions on how to master this supposed increasingly important communication tool. Initially created as a concept for catching the attention of busy executives, the elevator pitch now applies to most aspects of the professional world, as well as social media, personal introductions and even dating. The concept originates from the challenge of conveying an idea to someone who does not have enough time for us. Therefore, during a brief chance encounter in the elevator when that person is momentarily stuck with us, we will perhaps have a chance to persuade them to later allow us to present a more complete version of an idea. The elevator pitch is a reaction to human beings not treating each other as equals and depends on quick wit and manipulative phrasing of language in order to trigger a psychological response in someone that normally would never acknowledge your existence.
The problem with this is that we are not products, we are people
The elevator pitch itself is not a bad thing, however the behavior that gives rise to such a communication mechanism is troubling. I contend that over the past decade or two we have seen a significant rise in self-importance, and so now the elevator pitch has come to be expected in even the tritest situations, including convincing an office manager to purchase Café Noir instead of Caribou, or persuading a potential romantic partner that your worth spending more than 30 seconds on. Why is this a problem? Because in order to have an effective elevator pitch, you need the following ingredients:
Omission of information
Manipulation and persuasion
Prejudice from the recipient
When it comes to making personal connections, the omission of information is not good. The elevator pitch needs to be persuasive, and in order to be convincing, it must leave out negative components. For a business idea, this is not terrible since the weaknesses of a business idea will be revealed during the long planning process before a launch (hopefully.) For personal situations however, this is odd since personal introductions become designed to convince someone else that we are worth liking. This relies on self-judgment, shame and taking stock of what other people will define as desirable and undesirable, which is by nature manipulative and creates a false impression. The personal elevator pitch requires looking at oneself and others as a product or commodity that needs to be sold to a buyer. The problem with this is that we are not products, we are people, and we have feelings and thoughts. Viewing people as products makes them inflexible, static, and defined, rather than fluid, amiable, pliable and capable of thoughtful discourse.
Whatever the reason, tacos are where it’s at
The elevator pitch further requires preying on peoples preconceived notions, or prejudices. When we build our personal elevator pitch, we need to assess what others will deem as good and bad, and rehearse the language that most efficiently matches their preconceived notions. This is of course what ambitious business people have done for decades when approaching executives and investors, however the danger with applying this to personal relationships is that we create a self-fulfilling cycle of value adoption. In other words, the more often specific symbols are used for a specific social meaning, the more social capital is applied to those symbols, which in turn creates a social value where none previously existed.
A great example of this is tacos. Spend 15 minutes swiping on just about any dating app and you are almost certain to see at least a few taco emojis. The taco emoji has become so common because it has social capital in the online dating community, and is therefore considered desirable by many. Why? Some argue that it is because the taco demonstrates wealth (I don’t know either…) and others say it’s because it connotes an easy, casual and fun date, while others insist there is some hidden sexual reference. Whatever the reason, tacos are where it’s at.
Prior to online dating, tacos were typically not a thing, and to take a date to a place that only served tacos was a great way to ensure a second date would never occur. So what happened? Did people all of a sudden decide they loved tacos? Did the taco industry promote some insidious marketing campaign within the digital dating community? Both of those are unlikely. What is likely is that a few people somewhere started using tacos as a code for communicating something. The more that others saw people advertising tacos on their dating profiles, the more they themselves began to recognize the social capital, and thus applied a social value to the taco. The result was that they themselves began to like tacos. This isn’t exactly scientific, but I do have a couple degrees in this type of stuff, and since the rise of dating apps we have seen sales improve for national chains selling tacos. Taco Bell, Chipotle, and Del Taco for example are all doing quite well, and several other chains have introduced tacos or taco salads in their menu.
It is also very likely that someone using that emoji never ever drinks wine
Correlation does not mean causation, however for my purpose here I’m sticking by this example. If you need more evidence, a recent article by METRO in the UK claimed that using the words Travel, Gym, Connection, Wine, Tacos, Hike, Foodie, Pizza, Dogs, and Concerts improved the chances of getting matches (Read More Here). This is interesting since the words themselves are very broad in scope, however, the online dating community has assigned new definitions to them that connect to social capital. Another example is the word travel. To the dating app user, travel likely means that the person enjoys traveling to desirable places, which is, of course, interesting and fun. However, travel in practice could mean flying to Omaha every few days to lead a training seminar for a call center or going to the far reaches of the wilderness to shit in a bucket for a week. Is that what most people think of when they see travel on a dating profile? No, of course not.
And wine, what of that? When I hear the word wine, I imagine having a glass of decanted Côte de Beaune or Gigondas, but to someone else, it could mean chugging a box of E&J Gallo over ice cubes. Neither, however, is likely what members of the dating app community are typically thinking of when they see a wine emoji. They are instead receiving a message that the person with a wine positive dating profile is refined, and enjoys a slow drink over conversation or while enjoying some good food. This, of course, is because the wine emoji on a dating profile has come to mean something onto itself. It is also very likely that someone using the wine emoji never ever drinks wine, however, they understand the use of it in their elevator pitch.
People aren’t static products to be sold using social capital
We use the elevator pitch to save time, however, in reality, the environment that requires and allows for this type of practice actually wastes a lot of time. Not only do we have to spend time to learn what all the popular symbols mean and further understand their social capital, but we have to plan, practice and repeat until we have mastered our 30-second persona. Once we’ve done that, we engage in a ridiculous dance where we employ falsity to entice each other, which leads to actually spending more time together in order to reach a point where the masks finally come off. In actuality then, we are spending more time trying to figure out who the other person is and if they are in fact worth getting to know deeper. The other problem with the elevator pitch mentality is that it puts everyone on guard and reduces the possibility of genuine authentic connection, as has been a common criticism of online dating.
So what’s the alternative? Instead of a pitch, perhaps what we need is a succinct, direct and honest exposure of who we are. Instead of rehearsing persuasion, how about rehearsing honesty? If we did this, we might see more introductions like:
“I’m a single father with full custody of my child and I moved to France to escape corn syrup. Prior to moving, I had a series of corporate jobs that a lot of people think are interesting, but I could never really get into them. I’m late in my 30’s and I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up, but I love reading fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin, history books about Europe and the USA, and I really like to nerd out on wine.”
While this certainly doesn’t cover everything, it does offer a little honest insight into who I am today. Two weeks ago this may have sounded different, and next week it might change again, but that’s the point. People aren’t static products to be sold using social capital, we are fluid ever-changing dynamic creatures existing in a bizarre and challenging spiritual realm that we do not understand. The world is fast-paced and likely not slowing down anytime soon, however, if we accept the fact that we actually save time by being honest, then we can forgo the elevator pitch nonsense and truly get down to business.