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YouthActionNet Blog

5 Ways To Say What You Do, FAST!

Lisa Jones | January 7, 2013

Often it’s called an “elevator pitch.” That brief moment you are caught off guard with the opportunity to inform someone about your everyday work and inspire them to believe it matters.

Often it’s not in an elevator—it’s at a conference, in a workshop, even on the bus during your morning commute—but it’s always a worthwhile opportunity, and it’s never long enough.

It’s easy to spend thirty minutes discussing the great work your organization is doing—the numerous programs you run, the first-hand experiences of beneficiaries, and the evaluations you do to prove results. The hard part is saying it before your new contact’s bus stop.   

With that challenge in mind, here are five things to think about before your next chance encounter with a potential volunteer, donor, or mentor.


The goal of a brief pitch is not to fully explain your work, it is to get the listener curious enough to want to find out more. The easiest way to interest someone is to demonstrate how you are different. Do you run the only suicide prevention network in your country? Do you use an innovative technique to teach autistic children to read?  After introducing yourself, this unique claim should be your first sentence.


It is important to spend a sentence or two describing the context of the issue you address and the basic strategy of your program, but don’t delve too deeply into the intricacies of how your project is implemented. A listener doesn’t need to fully understand how your model works; they just need to be convinced that it does.


You may think that using jargon or abstract terms make you sound like an authority on your topic. However, if a listener does not understand a term, they may feel distanced and unable to contribute to the work you are doing. Use simple terms. Save the jargon for longer conversations with an audience you better understand.


It doesn’t make a good first impression to rush through lines of rehearsed content about your project. You will appear nervous and your listener will feel anxious. Instead, take your time and speak with confidence, as if you know your listener will be so enthralled that you will have another opportunity to share more later.  Show your enthusiasm, maintain eye contact, and allow your listener space to speak without having to interrupt you.


After three minutes of talking, hopefully you have impressed and intrigued your listener. Don’t let it end there! Depending on the listener, you will want to ask for something: Can I call you this week to further discuss this?  Could you recommend us to your friends who like volunteering? Can I get your email to include you on our upcoming newsletter? Can I invite you to come meet our students and see our project in person?  The worst they can say is “no,” and that’s even harder to do while standing face to face.  

Practice now! The moment you overhear the woman next to you at a restaurant mention that she works with your dream donor is not an ideal time to begin synthesizing your entire program and passion into five sentences.
In the time it took you to read this, you should be able to introduce yourself, explain what you do and why it matters, and have your business card in the hand of someone eager to call you back. It takes practice, but the possibilities for new connections you can make are just about as endless as the places your “elevator pitch” could happen.

What is the YouthActionNet elevator pitch? Watch our video here.