“So, my idea…is… ok, so it’s…um where I make products, locally sourced. I do designs for cards… maybe custom orders, actually, no, website designs, actually maybe some calligraphy and watercolor. Oh and also partnering with local artists and we make notebooks and tote bags. It’s all about empowering and giving voice to people that… wait, so my idea, it’s going to make a difference in one person’s life. Oh, also, it helps vulnerable communities and I teach workshops that get people into the arts, all kinds of arts, and gives vulnerable communities a voice. And I make these cool documentaries about the people where the products have helped make a difference. And also, I give 100% of the profits away… “
At a Happy Hour catch-up date with a friend, I mumbled and stumbled through my explanation of the new thing I had going on in my life. As I jumped from one tangent to another, connecting all the invisible threads that had originally led me to my brilliant idea, my something-out-of-nothing, I asked her what she thought. Taking a long–much too long–sip of her wine, she looked at me blankly and asked, “What is your elevator pitch?”
Being an introvert, why would I want to talk to a stranger–and in an elevator of all places? Growing up, we were always warned about ‘Stranger Danger’ and to not talk to people you don’t know because next thing you know, you could be kidnapped. Also, everyone knows the prime real estate in an elevator is the back corner, with headphones on, and eyes staring directly at the floor numbers to avoid any eye contact. Why would I break these sacred societal norms now?
You might be wondering what exactly an elevator pitch is (just like I was that day). According to confident entrepreneurs (who gave me shocked looks when I told them I had never pitched, and knew very little about what pitching involved), an elevator pitch is an interesting, memorable, and succinct speech that lasts no longer than a short elevator ride, that sparks interest in a project, idea, or product. Basically, it’s the skill of communicating your idea to someone before you lose their attention-because after all, the average attention span has now dropped to 8 seconds. Being an educator, I can describe with certainty the nonverbal cues that you have lost someone’s attention. Look for: glazed-over eyes, or their gaze darting to something behind your head, slouched shoulders, and body slightly turned, as if they are scanning the room looking for an escape. You do not want that to happen, especially if the person you are talking to can help build your something-out-of-nothing.
I have come to realize that the best people to practice pitching are actually strangers. Strangers are a perfect group of people to give you honest direct feedback and ask you clarification questions. There are no bonds of friendship or emotional ties that could hinder them from listening to you. You are forced to quickly filter your idea to its bare bones, to the most important 1-3 sentences that get to the heart of what you want to say. Strangers will evaluate your idea solely on the basis of what you just told them, knowing nothing of how you have struggled (or not struggled) to get to this point. Believe me, there’s nothing more satisfying than having a stranger completely understand your idea and give their stamp of approval.
So where do you find a bunch of strangers that you can practice pitching on? The best socially acceptable environment where strangers actually want to listen (as opposed to networking events where everyone just wants to talk about themselves) is at the bar. Specifically, during Happy Hour deals because if you are just starting out as a #bossbabe, you definitely are also a #startuppayrollbabe as well. A great elevator pitch to a stranger can also be the silver lining of being the sober designated driver or wing woman for the night.
I stumbled upon this gem of pitching know-how one night when I was out with friends at another Happy Hour in a little bar in Tsim Sha Tsui. As we caught up on life and sipped our cocktails, two young bankers walked in. A confused order, some mutual eye contact, and a couple of drinks later, our party of three became five. We started talking about what we did in Hong Kong (the usual) and with an unexpected push from my friends and some whiskey in my belly, I proceeded to pitch.
“Barefoot Love Co is a creative company that engages the public through creating custom designs and service learning experiences (workshops) to make a difference through the arts. 100% of our profits go to those in need by partnering and collaborating with charities.”
As I tipsily blurted out my pitch and passionate answers to their follow-up questions, the realization soon dawned on me that if I could sway these intense corporate-types, I knew I was on my way to creating something. That night, I left the bar with something much better than a date. I left the bar knowing that my something-out-of-nothing was something spectacular. It only took some validation from complete strangers in suits, who unexpectedly were the people that I needed to get me started on the groundwork to start making my dream into a reality.
The moral of the story? Get your margarita on and enjoy Happy Hour pitching!
About the Author
Gloria So is an educator, specifically dreaming up programs that cultivate youth leadership and encourages empathy for the local community. In the last 10 years, she has created multiple service-learning programs, mobilized thousands of donations and provided education consultancy services to organizations. As the founder of Barefoot Love Co, she has stumbled on the exciting world of entrepreneurship and startups. From individuals to institutions, Gloria loves collaborating and partnering to do some social good together.