“So, what do you do?”

When it comes to your startup or fledgling small business, this seems like it should be an easy question to answer. But summarizing your life’s work into a statement that is concise, compelling, and effective can be difficult, especially if you’re coming up with it off the cuff.

Let’s be real for a moment — most of us are too close to our businesses just to be able to produce a perfect pitch without any extraneous ramblings. We know too much. It’s hard to summarize the best bits right away.

So, let’s back up for a second and talk about the concept of the “elevator pitch.”

The idea is pretty simple, create a 20-30 second blurb (so, about the length of an elevator ride) about your business that you can whip out in those quick networking moments, like at industry events or with potential investors.

Let’s make those 30 seconds count with a few elements to make your elevator pitch one to remember.

1. Key information

To begin your elevator pitch, you’ll want to identify the basic information that any prospect is going to want to know about you. This information should include:

  • Your business name
  • What problem you solve
  • Your value proposition
  • How you stand out from competitors
  • A simplified version of your business model

That seems like a lot to cover in 30 seconds, but it can be done if you keep your language concise.

An example could be something like this,

“We are a marketing agency that helps small businesses better communicate with their customers. We do this by not only providing marketing solutions but also coaching our customers to improve their in-house communication in person and on social media. We tend to work with most clients on a monthly retainer. You should stop by and chat with us about how we can get you better connected with your clients.”

2. Accessible language

The best elevator pitches can be understood by anyone, whether they work in your field or not. While it is easy to fall back on technical jargon, try to find ways to explain what you do in layman’s terms.

For example, if you’re a web developer, you wouldn’t want to say:

“I’m a front-end designer and developer that executes HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, AJAX, and other web 2.0 technologies to make scalable web applications.”

It would be better to tone down the jargon and say something a little simpler, like:

“I’m a front-end designer and developer. I create beautiful online customer experiences using web applications.”

3. Call to action

Conversations are initiated for a reason. No one just gives their elevator pitch for fun. At the end of the day, you’re hoping to bag a new client, connection, or investor. With that in mind, don’t forget to seal your elevator pitch with a quick call to action. Be direct and ready to hand over a business card. Your call to action should be simple and easy to act upon.

For example, you could say: “Would you like to sit down next week and discuss how we could improve your web presence?”

4. Concise

Distilling your company into 20 or 30 seconds can be absolutely excruciating. There’s so much passion in your work that you just want to get out. Maybe you want to tell them about a fantastic project you just finished or perhaps there’s more to your business than you can simply fit into a tiny pitch — whatever the case, don’t let it all out.

An elevator pitch can quickly turn from a simple spiel to a rambling nightmare. What you may think is an interesting anecdote could derail the conversation entirely.

If this business relationship is one that will last, you’ll have time to share with this client as you get to know one another. Don’t give all your secrets away. Allow the potential client time to breathe and take in the conversation. There will be time for more conversations later.

5. Diversified

Once you have your elevator pitch sorted out, think about the different clients you’ll meet. Investors, customers, potential business partners — each one has different needs.

Take some time to modify your elevator pitch for each of these possible people, so you’re never caught off guard.

6. Polished, but still human

Finally, you’ll want to practice your elevator pitch a few times. While it’s important to know what you’re going to say, don’t memorize it word-for-word. Remember, when you give your elevator pitch, you want to be in the moment. Genuinely engage with the person you’re speaking to; don’t just automatically blurt out a rehearsed script. Your elevator speech should sound natural.

Memorize your key information and practice a few calls to action for the different types of people you’ll meet. Then, the best way to practice is to simply get out there. Practice using your pitch in conversations and tweak it as you go.

Soon, you’ll be pitching just like the networking pros.