More than likely you’re familiar with the term “elevator pitch.” You know—the short, conversational explanation of what an individual or firm does and the competitive advantage they have in their respective marketplace. Think about your elevator pitch for a second. How well does it work? Do you see the gleam of understanding and interest in the eyes of your listeners? Or do they just stand there, numb and uncomprehending, wishing they were somewhere else?

If it’s the latter, that’s a sign your elevator pitch is toxic and you need to fix it, fast.

First, let’s strip it down and examine the three primary components of an elevator pitch to determine if yours is effective. Ask yourself: Does your elevator pitch do these three things:

1. Explain what you do. And, most importantly, do so in clear, simple language. Think of it this way: You’re sitting in your mother’s kitchen having coffee with her and she asks you about your new firm—how would you explain to her what you do?

For example, you’re certainly not going to tell your mother that “we assist SMBs with P&L analysis to better monitor asset and liability allocation, mitigate corporate risk, and maximize revenue enhancement.” No. You’re probably going to say something like “we help firms go public.”

Remember, not everyone speaks the industry language so it’s best to keep it simple and save the industry jargon for industry events.

2. Explain who you do it for. Be specific. Business professionals, eager to attract as many new clients as possible, often will insist they work with “anyone who needs (blank).” But that is rarely, if ever, true. For example, your firm may do tax returns, but you actually specialize in large enterprises. You want to be clear about that so you attract the right prospects and referrals from the appropriate individuals and companies.

3. Describe why clients choose you. Put your firm in context by clearly stating how you’re different — and better — than your competitors. Give prospects a good reason to put you on the short list.

If you’re ready to rebuild your elevator pitch, here are a few tips on how to make it work more smoothly:

• Tell a story. People love stories—they’re attracted to conflict and resolution. They like to hear how people overcome challenges and build a better mousetrap. So try to begin your pitch with a tale about why you’re doing what you’re doing. “I was tired of always having to do (blank) that only wasted time and money and provided poor results, so I decided I could do it better by improving (blank)…”

• Talk, don’t write. People have a habit of writing out pitches in long form—which is fine, if you’re delivering a written presentation. But elevator pitches are spoken, so be sure to make yours conversational so that it sounds natural when you speak.

• Don’t try to be everything to everybody. The whole world is not your target audience. Focus your pitch on describing your primary mission and the specific types of individuals or firms that can benefit the most from it.

• Be consistent. Once you have your pitch perfected, stick with it. Don’t alter it for different audiences or keep tweaking it. A consistent message makes it easier for others to refer you.

• When in doubt, cut it out. Remember, they’re called elevator pitches because you’re supposed to be able to present one in the time it takes you and your prospect to travel a couple of floors in an elevator.

Chances are good that your first pass at a pitch is too long. Most people try to jam in everything they consider important, making it way too wordy. You’re not delivering a keynote address; you’re trying to convince someone to do business with you in less than 60 seconds. Pare that talk down to the bare bones: “Here is what we do, who we do it for, and why we’re different.” That’s it.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because an elevator pitch is short, it’s easy to do. It is not. Crafting an effective elevator pitch requires discipline, focus and excellent communications skills.

It’s easy to over-think your pitch since it can be such a crucial tool for generating valuable new business. So take a deep breath, relax, and embrace the tips and techniques provided here and turn your elevator pitch from toxic to terrific.

Lee Frederiksen

Lee Frederiksen

Lee Frederiksen, PhD, is managing partner of Hinge, a branding and marketing firm for professional services.