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Lesson 1: Pinchas – “Just because we have no brothers?”: Getting a lift from your elevator pitch
“The daughters of Zelophehad, of Manassite family—son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, son of Joseph—came forward. The daughters’ names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They stood before Moses, Eleazar the Priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they said, ‘Our father died in the wilderness. He was not one of the faction, Korah’s faction, which banded together against the Lord, but died for his own sin, and he has left no sons. Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!’” Numbers 27 1–10.
In a rare role for women in the Five Books of Moses, five sisters came forward and stood before the nation’s leadership and the entire assembly with a plea. During the allocation of tribal lands in anticipation of entering the Promised Land, these sisters chose to assert a claim for their late father, Zelophehad of the tribe of Manasseh, who would lose potential land rights for his family because he had no sons, thus lapsing the family name. As Moses was uncertain of how inheritance law would apply to land allocation in the case of no male inheritors, he brought the query before God, Who confirmed the validity of the daughters’ plea (“The daughters of Zelophehad speak right. Thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance…”). At this juncture, Rashi, in his commentary, quotes a midrash (Sifre): “Happy is the person whose words the Holy One, Blessed be He, agrees.”
Briefly examining their successful plea, we notice many components that attest to a well-designed appeal: The women approached as a united family group, hoping to restore their father’s honor; they introduced their father’s identity by candidly noting that, whereas he was no hero, having died in the wilderness for his own sin (along with the rest of his generation), he was not part of the Korach rebellion and did nothing to challenge Moses’s leadership. (These women had done their homework, circumventing what could have been a red flag for Moses regarding the rebellion). Indeed, their request was to receive a right to a holding in the Promised Land and not be shortchanged. Their ploy was not to claim personal benefit but to assure that their family legacy would not end just because they had no brothers.
Moses had been challenged numerous times by angry requests for food, water, and even absurd demands to return to Egypt; however, here, finally, was a thoughtfully delivered demand to actualize what Moses himself had longed for––entering the Land and settling it. Rabbinic sages were effusive in their praise of how these five women conducted themselves, noting their wisdom in formulating their presentation, especially in its timing and its parsimonious delivery..
An even closer scrutiny of these women’s presentation will reveal allusions to Aristotle’s four modes of rhetoric, comprising the foundations of persuasion: ethos (the character or trustworthiness of the individual(s) delivering the message), pathos (a message containing an emotional appeal), logos (incorporating logical evidence in the message), and kairos (timing; finding an opportune moment to deliver the message). What better example do we have to guide us as we formulate our elevator pitch?
During his leadership in the Sinai desert, Moses was subject to more than one elevator pitch, with Israelites seeking to persuade him with an idea, a plan, or a request to rectify a wrong. Two successful pitches included the approach of Zelophehad’s five daughters, discussed above, and an earlier pitch by a group lamenting that they were prevented from sacrificing a Pascal lamb on the Passover holiday because of their temporarily impure state. So we see that the elevator pitch is not a new concept. These persuasive endeavors involved being prepared to present a concisely crafted request at an opportune moment, making their case by providing the essential details with minimal padding to a key player in the organization.
The elevator pitch that we all strive for has had many apocryphal origins. However, its essential elements address a single question: Imagine you were to find yourself in an unplanned situation where you happened to be near a prominent employer for only the briefest time (say, during an elevator ride). How would you impress them that you have something to offer their firm and trigger their curiosity to hear more?
The internet is full of tips, but it’s crucial to get the basics right. The elevator pitch is the essential copywriting task that you will encounter in your job search (which is all the time). Since these opportunities are often unanticipated, the copywriting task needs to be done at home without knowing your potential audience. Every word will count. The entire “presentation” needs to be less than a minute and under 200 words, with the first two sentences comprising a “hook” for the rest. The basic format should include the following elements: identifying yourself, minimal small talk, what you do, what’s unique about how you do it, what people say about you, and how you’d like to proceed. When in conversation mode, ask one or two questions, show interest, and project energy.
Hi, my name is Freddy; I believe you’re Mr. Buffet. Nice to have the good fortune to meet you. I work in QA, and I’m quite proud of the innovations I’ve implemented in my current company. People tell me I have the rare combination of having a nerdy detail orientation and being a people person. I’m the kind of person people hire when they want a responsible professional who can lead a team. I’d like a chance to tell you more when you have the time. Or maybe there’s a department head you can suggest I speak with about your organization?
A B2B pitch––where you are offering a product to another company––will invariably include your name, title, and business, what you know about particular challenges the target company faces, how your product can offer a solution to these needs, how you’ve helped companies in the past, and how your target can find you or you ask about how you can approach them for more details.
Your crafted pitch needs to be practiced at home so as not to sound as scripted as it (frankly) is. You will likely have some fixed sentences in your script, but you should also be open to improvising a give-and-take. Always practice with others who can be candid with you and share their impressions: With what message did the listener come away? What words or phrases struck the listener as not routine and worth retaining? What body language did the listener notice that helped or hindered the message (such as eye contact, posture, smile, energy, humor)? Was there a disconnect between your verbal and nonverbal messages? Did the closing sentence lead to a practical step?
Be prepared for your brief presentation to go in any direction, from a natural give-and-take conversation to a request for more information, to a brush-off. Remember, Major League Baseball hitting champions strike out more often than they get on base––so prepare yourself for some disappointments.
- Elevator speeches can also be presented at networking events and during a job interview in response to the unfailing question, “Tell me about yourself.” In my experience with jobseekers, crafting an elevator pitch is the quintessential assignment for defining yourself. No matter how talented, a self-employed lawyer who is a generalist will not be convincing without a sharp, focused message highlighting their unique skills and how they can serve a person or business to resolve their challenges. A message of “I’ve done all sorts of things with all sorts of clients” may simply not cut it. Would you be impressed by this introduction? You need to know yourself well before others can know you.·
- Remote meetings and gatherings offer many opportunities for exposure. Use these forums for expanding your network and sharing 45–60 seconds of the participants’ time at the pre-meeting ‘meet and greet’ or at the post-meeting small talk. Sending up written ‘elevator messaging’ in Zoom chats presents another opportunity. Social media, including LinkedIn, are additional avenues for moving your message to targeted audiences. The objective is always to present yourself as a personable individual who can be part of the solution to their challenges, whether in a job search or sales. Despite the potential stress characterizing these interactions, you may be surprised how senior professionals can be open to listening and helping others and seeking mutually fruitful relationships.
- Try this: A safe strategy is to craft more than one elevator pitch for a job search, such as one for people in your field and one for those less connected. One more tip: The success of a pitch is often determined more by the passion and the personable demeanor of the pitcher than by the content, so don’t get too bogged down by your words. Just make sure you’re excited about what you have to offer. And a final tip: Above all, don’t try to pack too much in your brief pitch. Trimming away the nonessentials is what will take time at home. The idea is to interest the listener into wanting to hear more about you — at a later meeting.
 Numbers 27:7
 Brinks, M. (2019). Ethos, pathos, logos, kairos: The modes of persuasion and how to use them. PrepScholar.com.
 Numbers 9:6-7.