Find your silver bullet.
July 2, 2020 12 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
You are more than likely familiar with Entrepreneur’s popular show "Elevator Pitch," in which entrepreneurs pitch their company to a board of investors during a 60-second elevator ride. If the investors like the pitch, the elevator doors open and the entrepreneur is invited into the board room to potentially make a deal.
This show’s premise is of course inspired by concept that people in business have embraced for decades now: that a truly good idea can be summed up in the span of an elevator ride.
But this poses a significant dilemma. As an entrepreneur, you’ve likely been toiling away at your idea for some time, possibly even years. How are you supposed to cram all of the value you’ve created in so little time? And if you’re making a pitch in order to attract investments, how can you describe your work in a compelling way, while demonstrating viability in the marketplace, while asking for capital?
You may be surprised to find out that there is a way you can craft your elevator pitch to not only create greater interest in your product or service, but actually give people chills in under twenty seconds.
Related: Here's What It's Like to Be on 'Elevator Pitch'
How people usually do elevator pitches
Among those who put thought into their elevator pitches, there tends to be two basic formulas:
Formula A: Introduce oneself and the name of the company, then describe the product or service in the context of the customer or industry’s pain point. Then, at the end, make the ask.
Formula B: Identify the pain point before introducing oneself and the name of the company. Then describe the product or service, followed by the ask.
While I’m adamant that the only hard and fast rule of communication is that there are no hard and fast rules, I favor Formula B. People are most likely to embrace a solution when it’s provided within the context of a problem they care about solving. By starting with a pain point, the entrepreneur is speaking to what an uninformed audience cares about right away thus making sure that the first thing their audience hears is has intrinsic value to them. This helps the audience become immediately invested in solving the problem, which helps the entrepreneur to build some momentum.
What further helps with this momentum is identifying a hole in the marketplace. Sometimes this hole is defined by a new need as dictated by circumstance (e.g. the invention and commercialization of the Internet led to a sudden need for accessing it), while other times it’s defined by the inadequacy of existing solutions (e.g. introducing broadband Internet connectivity as a superior alternative to dial-up). Still other times the hole is defined by a problem that the audience doesn’t actually know they have (e.g. how to access the Internet without wires when the marketplace was introduced to Wi-Fi).
What all of these different holes have in common, however, is that they are highlighting the typical solutions that don’t work — or that don’t work as well. This helps the entrepreneur to build momentum because it highlights why the pain point is as powerful as it is — why it’s seemingly so hard to make that pain go away.
However, there is one ingredient that nearly every entrepreneur overlooks. It can redefine not only elevator pitches, but presentations, speeches, webinars, articles, and even books.
And this ingredient can make your captive audience in that elevator get chills in twenty seconds or less.
Related: Entrepreneur Elevator Pitch Season 4 Episode 1: 'You Attacked Me!'
An example from an unlikely source
You may remember the 2011 film Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. Based on a true story, Pitt plays the general manager of the Oakland Athletics in 2002. His and Hill’s characters implement a fundamentally different approach to building a Major League Baseball team, and eventually win twenty games in a row, the most consecutive wins in the American League at that time. What is perhaps most significant about their season, though, is how they tied the New York Yankees for the most wins in the American League with a roster that cost a small fraction of the New York roster.
Toward the beginning of the film, Hill gives a little speech to Pitt that can be considered an elevator pitch of sorts — he has a short amount of time to capture Pitt's attention.
Hill explains to Pitt that there is an “epidemic failure” in how the leaders in most Major League teams manage their teams. He explains that by filling their rosters with expensive star players, they are fundamentally misunderstanding what it takes to have a winning ball club.
Where the conversation becomes interesting, though, is that he then describes this flawed approach as baseball clubs’ desire to buy players. He states that the point shouldn’t be to buy players, the point should be to buy wins. And to get wins one needs to get runs.
He doesn’t take a half-hour, an hour, or even longer to explain a complex system of economics and baseball so as to make sure that Pitt’s character is as informed about this approach as possible.
Instead, he distills the approach down to a single nugget of truth:
Baseball teams will win not when they buy players, but when they buy runs.
This distilled, essential truth is what I call a “silver bullet” — a statement that conveys the whole of a solution, idea, or innovation in a single, power-packed sentence.
Silver bullets throughout history
Notably, silver bullets have shown up throughout history for thousands of years. Arguably, the most memorable passage in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is line 18 of the first chapter: “All of warfare is deception.” If you were to look up Aristotle on sites like Brainy Quote or Good Reads, you will notice that a large portion of his most famous quotes are silver bullets. This includes quotes such as “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but rather their inward significance.”
We can cite modern examples as well. Some of the most highlighted passages in Kindle editions of non-fiction books are silver bullets. This includes what author Ed Catmull writes in his New York Times bestselling book Creativity Inc.: “Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right” which as of this writing has over 7,600 highlights. In his wildly successful book Sapiens, author Yuval Noah Harari writes that “large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths,” a silver bullet that as of this writing has over 29,000 highlights.
Further still, silver bullets show up in the most popular TED and TEDx talks. TED speaker Dan Pink once gave a talk on “The puzzle of motivation,” and as of this writing has nearly 26 million views. His silver bullet states that “The secret to high performance isn’t rewards and punishments but that unseen intrinsic drive…the drive to do things cause they matter.” And Simon Sinek’s famous TEDx talk “How great leaders inspire action” as of this writing has over 50 million views and prominently features the silver bullet that “people don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it.”
But what is it that makes a silver bullet what it is? What each of these examples as well as every other one all have in common is that they are each a cause-and-effect sentence: when we take this action, we get this outcome.
When we buy runs, we win the game.
When we deceive our opponent, we win the war.
When we get the team right, we get the ideas right.
When we focus on why, people buy.
This simple device has the impact it has — it is remembered, highlighted, and emphasized — because it does a very important thing.
It empowers the audience without any other context.
It empowers them to suddenly believe in a different possibility.
When someone is suddenly empowered in a way that they weren’t a moment ago, they have an ah-ha moment.
And when someone suddenly has a particularly powerful ah-ha moment, they get chills.
The silver bullet and the elevator pitch
This technique has significant bearing on an elevator pitch, in that it explains to one’s audience why they’re getting the results that they are. They may have succeeded in attracting customers, clients, or followers, but this silver bullet delivers the secret sauce. It explains why that success is there in the first place, and why further success can be scaled.
How can one craft the 20 seconds that will potentially give their listener chills? What many people who learn of this silver bullet concept believe at first is that the more prominent they make their silver bullet the more powerful it will be. In this way, they treat it like a tag line.
But tag lines and silver bullets are two different devices. Tag lines are essentially a promise that brands make so as to attract others as part of a first impression — as conveyed on a product’s package, for example.
A silver bullet, however, is the recipe that makes that promise possible. It’s the secret sauce that makes the solution as valuable as it is, and as established earlier in this article people are most likely to embrace a solution when it’s provided within the context of a problem they care about solving.
Given this importance of context, I recommend the first 20 seconds of an elevator pitch be as follows:
- Identify the problem the audience wants to solve, their pain point.
- Identify typical solutions, those that leave a hole in the marketplace.
- Provide the silver bullet, the reason why this new solution will work when other ones have not.
Then, after creating this flow, the entrepreneur can present their product or service, describe its features and benefits, identify its proof of concept in the marketplace, and, if it’s a formal pitch to investors, whatever the ask may be.
An elevator pitch for a famous brand
Let’s make TikTok into a hypothetical example so as to apply this structure to something tangible. Imagine that you are an executive looking to pitch the platform before its meteoric rise to having 800 million users by the end of 2019. You wish to convince would-be investors, stakeholders, or partners of its potential distinction in the marketplace.
“How would this be different from Vine?” a wary listener might ask. Vine’s service, after all, had been discontinued only a couple of years before TikTok was merged with Musical.ly to become the juggernaut we know today. But with this structure, the speaker might open their elevator pitch as follows:
- With so many streams of content available at any given moment, social media apps are struggling to keep users engaged for extended periods of time (the problem).
- Other platforms optimize their search algorithms so as to match user intent with content in as precise and aligned a way as possible (typical solutions).
- But the fewer decisions users must make, the more likely they are to engage (the silver bullet).
The pitch would then go on to explain the nature of the “for you” algorithm utilized by TikTok, which curates the users experience thus eliminating decision-making as a barrier to further engagement.
Though there would be more to learn to go into business together, this simply expressed idea would plant a seed as to how to actually increase average user engagement.
And if this pitch were to happen after having reached a proof of concept, the speaker would be able to cite the extensive period of time any given user stays on the platform, which for many current users is nearly an hour.
The importance of a single ah-ha moment
The most effective elevator pitches inspire the belief that growth is possible. And many pitches are effective simply because the speaker is able to boast clear indicators of this possibility. They’re able to address a relatable hole in the marketplace and a proof of concept that demonstrates an ability to fill that hole.
But a silver bullet empowers without context. It inspires that ah-ha moment, which in turn inspires chills.
In our fast-paced, cluttered, noisy world, this kind of visceral response is becoming rarer and rarer. We’re numb to so much of what we consume. Therefore, when you inspire this kind of visceral experience in so little time, you will create an undeniable connection between your audience and your content. You will inspire not only deals but views of talks, highlighted passages in ebooks, and other demonstrations of empowerment.
With this empowerment, the user won’t just have a connection to your content, they will have a connection to you as the person who created it.
And that’s when you go from being an entrepreneur to being the face of a movement.
Related: Hold That Door! 7 Rules for an Elevator Pitch.