Business networking: Why your elevator pitch is all wrong

I’m a person who stutters. I feel anxious around crowds. And I’m a public speaking and storytelling specialist who advises people on strategies for business networking, presenting and public speaking.

I experience communication and anxiety challenges every day – and because of this, I’ve developed a hyper-awareness of my surroundings. I’ve learned to manage these challenges and taught myself public speaking using unusual techniques.

As a result, I can show you how to refine your storytelling in business networking to take your elevator pitches not just to the next level, but right up to the penthouse suite. In this article, I’m going to demonstrate how you can hone your pitching skills to make your first, short communication with a stranger a consummate deal winner.

Shil Shanghavi; business networking specialist

Hi, I’m Shil Shanghavi, and if you’re still with me it’s because you’ve been won over by my 60-second elevator pitch disguised as an intriguing personal story. The elevator pitch is an important part of business networking, but in its traditional format it’s destined to fail.

About the author:
Shil Shanghavi is a public speaker, business networking specialist and expert storyteller. He presented at the 2023 Bentleys Network Training Conference recently, and shared his expertise on the power of storytelling as a tool for business networking. From our work across diverse industries, we know that Shil's insights provide valuable tips that many business owners can apply. We hope you enjoy this article.

Business networking and pitching for connections

Business networking is a crucial aspect of any successful enterprise. When you build and maintain professional relationships with people who can provide valuable resources, information, and opportunities, you pave the way for building trust and credibility, creating collaborative partnerships, accessing new industry insights and knowledge, and, ultimately, generating new business.

Using an elevator pitch for business networking is a common practice because it’s a way to introduce yourself and your business to others quickly and succinctly. The term derives from the idea that you should be able to deliver your pitch in the time that it takes to ride in an elevator with someone – in other words, no more than 30-60 seconds.

But the traditional approach to elevator pitches is all wrong, because there’s no story, no attention-grabbing personal narrative.

The problem with the conventional elevator pitch

An elevator pitch is traditionally a brief, persuasive speech that explains what your business does, how it solves a problem, and why someone should be interested in it. It typically goes like this:

  1. Hi my name is . . .
  2. I am a (marketing manager, accountant, etc)
  3. My company (sells toothbrushes/audits accounts)
  4. We’ve been doing it for (six months/50 years)
  5. Here is some social proof (e.g. mentioning existing major clients or a recent positive reference in the media)
  6. Call to action.

I’m bored already – how about you? 

The reason for this is that the classic pitch structure offers no rapport or connection to the listener, and no magnet for curiosity. It’s just another lifeless piece of sales talk. There’s nothing intriguing or compellingly human about it. Elevator pitches can often fall flat because they lack relevance, clarity, confidence or passion, but most often it’s because they’re just plain dull.

But stories are different. They’re a powerful form of communication that has been with us since humans first learned to speak. 

Stories are interesting.
Stories are fun.

And storytelling in business needs to be the leading part of your elevator pitch.

Turning the elevator pitch on its head

Let’s put storytelling in networking where it belongs, right at the beginning of your elevator pitch as a beguiling hook. Your name can go where it also fits best, at the end of your story and at the point where your listener now has a good reason for remembering it. The revised structure looks like this:

business networking
  1. Start with a story relating to something that you did, preferably – but not necessarily – in a business context.
  2. Talk about the significance of the story, and what you learned from it.
  3. Discuss what you can show, in relation to the story, to the person you are addressing in your pitch.
  4. My name is . . . 
  5. I am (insert job role and company)

By starting with a story you will evoke curiosity, so that your listener will be engaged enough to listen to your explanation about its importance, and what you learned from it and can share.

Examples of how to use storytelling in business networking

Now, I understand that most people don’t feel they have a story to tell – unless they happen to be, say, a circus acrobat or a pearl diver – but they’re wrong.

Everyone has a story.

For example, if you’re an accountant, your pitch doesn’t have to be about how good you are at auditing books. Instead, you could start with something like:

 “Last week I pulverised a mountain that had been standing in the way of someone’s success. 

It was a mountain of unrecorded financial transactions and paperwork that was preying on their mind and stopping them from taking their business forward.”  

A dietitian, rather than saying that they provide guidance about how to appropriately manage diets and nutrition, might lead with:

“Yesterday I showed someone in trouble how to unlock their inner strength and live a better life. 

I teach clients with health problems that what they eat can be a source of empowerment instead of a handicap.”

Go ahead and try crafting storytelling in a business pitch for yourself or your company. Start with an intriguing personalised hook that contains a conflict or problem. Explain how you can provide a resolution.

Keep it concise and use vivid language. End with your name and a clear call to action. If you get it right it will lead to a further meeting in which you can elaborate on your product or services.

Nail your business networking with a nutshell narrative

Don’t try to sell yourself, your product or your company. Instead, tell your personal story in a way that leaves your listener wanting to know more. Turn the traditional elevator pitch upside down, and watch your business networking efforts rocket through the roof.  

Want to know more about Shil? Head over to his LinkedIn page to find out more about his story.

Want to know more about how Bentleys can help your business? Make a time for a chat with a Bentleys business advisor. We can help you to get where you want to be.

Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and should not be relied on as advice. It does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. You need to consider your financial situation and needs and seek professional advice before making any decisions based on this information.

How can we help you or your business?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.