Crafting a Winning Elevator Pitch is as Easy as A-B-T

 Photo by  andrew welch  on  Unsplash

Photo by andrew welch on Unsplash

You’re at a business event and get to that point in the conversation where the person asks, “So...what do you do?”

This is where the “elevator pitch” comes in. You have about 30-seconds to tell your story in a way that piques that person’s curiosity before they get off the proverbial elevator.

If you nail the pitch, that person will want to learn more, which may eventually lead to a new sale, investment, or business opportunity.

But, if you miss the mark, there’s a THUD. You get the polite “Hmmm. Interesting,” and then awkward silence. The conversation stops...and the opportunity is lost.

So, how can you improve your odds of delivering a winning pitch—to make the most of any opportunity that comes your way?

Randy Olson, in his book “Houston, We Have a Narrative: Why Science Needs Story,” provides a simple 3-point formula that can help you craft an elevator pitch that grabs attention, creates interest, and opens doors to new business.

The formula? A-B-T

As a marine-biologist-turned-Hollywood-screenwriter, Olson wrote this book with the scientist in mind. That’s because as a tenured professor he grew frustrated with academia, where groundbreaking studies often remain in obscurity because they lack a coherent narrative structure that could make them more interesting, understandable, and useful to a broader audience.

Olson’s work in Hollywood led him to discover the A-B-T formula, a universal story structure that appeals to how we, as humans, like to receive and process information. And he realized that this simple formula could help his former colleagues in academia develop a more powerful pitch to “sell” their research—and make a much greater impact on the world with their work.

But the A-B-T can also apply to the business world—especially if you’re in the business of selling complex ideas, products, or services but struggling to move the needle with your audience.

So, what exactly is A-B-T? And how can you apply it to developing your elevator pitch?

A-B-T = And-But-Therefore

Imagine you could boil down a two-hour movie, like “The Wizard of Oz,” into a one-sentence “pitch” that captures the essence of the story. That’s the power of A-B-T, says Olson.

As he puts it: “Every story can be reduced to this single structure. I can tell you the story of a little girl living on a farm in Kansas AND her life is boring, BUT one day a tornado sweeps her away to the land of OZ, THEREFORE she must undertake a journey to find her way home.”

Here’s how he breaks it down:

The Beginning—And = Setup

“A story has three parts—beginning, middle, and end. A typical story begins with what is called exposition, meaning a laying out of a few facts—basically the setup of the story. The simplest and most common connector for stringing together the setup facts is the agreement word ‘and.’”

The Middle—But = Tension

“So you begin with one or more facts joined together by ‘and’s.’ Then it comes time for the story to start (a story begins when something happens) and for us to enter the middle of the story. This is where the word ‘but’ comes in. ...What occurs with ‘but,’ because of the contradictory direction it forces, is the establishment of tension, or even conflict…Conflict is the driving force of all stories.”

The End—Therefore = Resolution

“‘Therefore’ is a word of consequence. It is a ‘time word.’ It shows up after some amount of time and signals a consequence or effect. What is the central element in a story? Time. When we talk about advancing the narrative, we’re talking about moving things forward in time. That’s what ‘therefore’ does. It pulls things together and moves them further along…It becomes a cue, meaning ‘What’s your point? What are you getting at? Where are you going with this?”

Putting A-B-T Into Practice

For years, I’ve wrestled with how to develop a coherent pitch for my own business because I had what I assumed were two completely unconnected components to Lyden Communications.

I know, the irony is obvious. How is it I could help other people develop clear messaging while struggling with my own?

But here’s the deal. 

On one side of the business, I serve a handful of media companies as an independent journalist and editor, helping them create content that grows their readership and advertising revenues.

And on the other side, I serve entrepreneurs as a strategist on leadership and sales communication, helping them develop their stories and content to boost their exposure, build their credibility, and, ultimately, sell their products and ideas.

Deep down I knew there was some sort of connection between those two sides but I couldn’t figure out a way to articulate it.

All I know is that when I tried explaining both sides to the same audience, I would lose their attention and get that glazed look of “I have no clue what you’re talking about.”

It wasn’t until I read Olson’s book that I finally had that a-ha moment with how I could solve this challenge and connect the two sides into one coherent narrative.

The connection is this: The expertise I’ve developed serving media companies as an independent journalist—and thus, a professional storyteller—lends a lot of credibility as to why entrepreneurs hire me to help them craft their own stories.

And the conflict that I was experiencing between those two sides is precisely where the B—the But—fits in the story.

So, here’s an example of what I’ve put together using Olson’s A-B-T framework.

A

By trade, I am a journalist who writes about the future of transportation and its impact on business and society.
And much of my work has been about tackling complex technical subjects and making them more compelling to wider audiences through the power of story.  

B

But in recent years, I have discovered that the same storytelling techniques that I use as a journalist can also help entrepreneurs become more effective and persuasive communicators—to grow sales, attract top talent, and secure venture funding.

T

That's why [or therefore], in 2013, I launched Lyden Communications LLC, a Strategy and Storytelling consultancy: To teach and coach entrepreneurs on what to say (strategy) and how to say it (storytelling)—with their elevator pitch, website, presentations, and articles—to help them grow their business.

Adapting A-B-T Across Marketing Platforms

Once I crafted this “core story” using the A-B-T framework, I could then adapt it for other marketing purposes, while staying true to the original message.

Here are a few examples:

The One-Liner

I’ve taken the gist of my A-B-T story and created a one-sentence high-level encapsulation using the following framework I’ve adapted from Donald Miller’s book, “Building a Story Brand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen.”

  • The Hero: Entrepreneurs
  • The Problem: Customer distraction
  • The Plan: Storytelling
  • The Outcome: Grab attention, garner trust, grow the business.

When I put it all together, my one-liner looks like this:

In a world of increasing distraction, I help entrepreneurs tell their story in a way that grabs attention, garners trust, and grows their business.

Author Byline:

Here I take the one-liner and tweak it for use as my byline for blog posts and magazine articles.

Sean M. Lyden is CEO of Lyden Communications LLC, a Strategy and Storytelling consultancy that helps entrepreneurs tell their story in a way that grabs attention, garners trust, and grows their business.

LinkedIn Profile

For my LinkedIn profile, I combine the One-Liner with the A-B-T:

In a world of increasing distraction, I help entrepreneurs tell their story in a way that grabs attention, garners trust, and grows their business.
Why? Here's my backstory …
By trade, I am a journalist who writes about the future of transportation and its impact on business and society.
And much of my work has been about tackling complex technical subjects and making them more compelling to wider audiences through the power of story.
But in recent years, I have discovered that the same storytelling techniques I use as a journalist can also help entrepreneurs become more effective and persuasive communicators—to grow sales, attract top talent, and secure venture funding.
That's why, in 2013, I launched Lyden Communications LLC, a Strategy and Storytelling consultancy: To teach and coach entrepreneurs on what to say (strategy) and how to say it (storytelling)—with their elevator pitch, website, presentations, and articles—to help them grow their business.

Long Form:

Here I expand upon my core A-B-T story, staying true to the message while providing more details that build a case for why entrepreneurs should subscribe to my email newsletter.

See http://strategyandstorytelling.com/blog/2017/12/26/my-story.

The Bottom Line

When you’re at a business event, on a flight, or on an elevator and someone asks you, “What do you do?” don’t waste that opportunity. Invest the time it takes to wrestle with your story and get it right by applying the A-B-T formula. Then you’ll have a clear and compelling core message that will make all your marketing communications more powerful.

Sean M. Lyden is CEO of Lyden Communications LLC, a Strategy and Storytelling consultancy that helps entrepreneurs tell their story in a way that grabs attention, garners trust, and grows their business. 

The Next Step

If you'd like to learn how to build up your story muscles, then join me on this journey to becoming a stronger communicator by subscribing below to receive my best posts sent to your inbox.

And you can also connect with me directly via email at sean@lydencommunications.com.