As social entrepreneurs, we’ve got a story to tell. It’s a story about making the impossible possible, about David beating Goliath, about the triumph of right over wrong. Because we’re living these stories, it seems clear to us that everyone should hear them — that everyone needs to hear them.

Here’s the catch: No one actually has time for stories anymore. And while you may have heard over and over again that you’ve got just 30 seconds to deliver your elevator pitch, the reality is that you have about one-fifth of that.

The political sound bite shrank from over 40 seconds in 1968 to under 10 seconds in 1988. And it’s not just politics that’s had to adapt to shrinking attention spans. Marketers haven’t been spared, either. Brands have gone from leisurely ad jingles to mere 100-character tweets. For reference, that last sentence used up 103 characters and would have taken around six seconds to say out loud (unless you wanted to sound desperately rushed, which you probably wouldn’t).

The political sound bite shrank from over 40 seconds in 1968 to under 10 seconds in 1988.
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This isn’t arbitrary. The messengers have settled on these lengths because, for now, they’re what people are most receptive to.

So there it is. You’ve got six seconds to tell your story, or at least to tell the audience why they should care enough to get to know your story. So before you walk into that pitch with potential investors, get on the phone with that reporter, or send out that e-news to your supporters, boil your pitch down to a six-second sound bite and practice like hell.

This article published in 2014. It has been reposted to inspire further conversation.

About the author

Rajesh Anandan

Rajesh Anandan

Rajesh Anandan is SVP of UNICEF Ventures at UNICEF USA, Co-Creator of Kid Power—the world's first wearable-for-good—and Co-founder of ULTRA Testing, a high performance software testing company that employs individuals on the Autism Spectrum. @UltraRajesh

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  • Rajesh, I like the frankness here, and agree, it’s not arbitrary. But there are further hindrances to the effective elevator pitch I’m finding…

    My orgagnization’s “Women & Girls empowerment & sustainable community activism program in Latin America with a focus on indoor air pollution, water & sanitation, and leadership education.” can be described in 6 seconds — this isn’t the problem…the problem is in judging the listeners background and former knowledge of the complex issues relevant to the program I’d like to succinctly describe.

    I find myself needing to either ‘back up’ and explain what indoor air pollution is (and the demographically astounding 2+billion people who cook food over open fires with fuel they collect…the health + environmental + economic ramifications of this)

    –Or realizing that my elevator audience has heard these developmental buzz-words too many times and would much prefer 6-seconds of differentiating details…

    How can we best anticipate interest and experience of those stuck in the elevator with us? Probing small talk seems to work, but can drag on dangerously. Any Unreasonable thoughts?

    [I am straddling corporate america and grassroots sustainable development worlds on a regular basis and I think I need at least 3 different elevator pitches for the same idea!]

  • Becky, I can’t stop smiling about the “Women & Girls empowerment & sustainable….education” sentence, its all too familiar, and yes, anyone who’s already in int’l development will hear me-too and anyone outside that world will hear nanu-nanu. Knowing your audience is important, and if you have 20 seconds in an elevator, use 14 of those precious seconds focused on the other person, and 6 to deliver your pitch – which is less of a pitch and more of a teaser to get a follow up conversation. In terms of what you actually say, check out the link in the post above to Simon Sinek’s TED talk – great advice, about people “buying” (funding, joining, supporting) not WHAT you do, but WHY you do it. Good luck!

  • I once worked for a nonprofit that gave all new employees a copy of their “brief” elevator pitch to memorize. It was an entire page, single spaced! My eyes glazed over just reading it.

    I ended up memorizing only the part about the organization’s mission, and then adapted my “pitch” to my audience as need be. The “why you should care” part seemed to be most important – if you can get people to care about your mission, I found, you can get more of their time to elaborate.

  • People are to busy to here long pitches; short and sweet is the way to go. I completely agree on capturing your audience in record breaking time will definitely bump up your odds on any one actually agreeing with you.

  • Wow I never thought of it this way. Six seconds doesn’t seem like a lot of time to sell pitch yourself, but this article really makes a lot of sense. People in america have short attention spends now, and I think technology has made some people lazy to a certain extent. I think we are so reliable on technology that are society is started to suffer from the lack of initiative, such as reading, writing, etc.. i hope this changes soon because if we only get 6 seconds now in the next 10 years we’ll only get a couple seconds to pitch ourselves.

  • I find it slightly upsetting that in order for our visions and passions to be recognized, we have to rush or shorten them. Our lives have become so hectic and chaotic that we often don’t have time and honestly don’t care to give attention to things that don’t concern us or directly affect us. EVery ida and passion is valid in the holder eyes, it would be nice if society as a whole could slow down. Everything would become more genuine and less artificially. our ideas and visions wouldn’t be cheapened.

  • Its crazy to think about how much technology has influenced every single aspect of our lives. As new social media platforms are formed and new communication styles rise, we must change everything about how we do business, relate to our friends, etc. I appreciate your bluntness and honesty in this article, Rajesh.

  • This was a great article to read because in our class this semester we have to create a pitch project. Its amazing how in only 6 secs you can either grab your readers attention or not. I will definitely keep this in mind throughout the next couple of weeks when my group and I are creating our pitch project.

  • This article has a lot of truth behind it for many people these days. There will be many companies or people that you talk to who only care about the first few words out of your mouth. On the contrary, there will be others who want to hear you talk about yourself you hear how well you sell. This article makes sense to our fast-paced world today though. It makes you wonder how much smaller the pitch will become in the future with all of this new technology.

  • This article is sad but true on how people are. There are always people who are only looking for they want to hear, and if they don’t here is quickly they lose concentration and interest. There are also companies and people who want to here your background to get a judgement on how you are as a future employee. Its crazy how the time for delivery is getting smaller and smaller.

  • I agree with this article, but I don’t believe it’s arbitrary. I think it’s very reasonable. People now a days are all about speed, and getting things done. People want answers and products and they want them now. I feel a catchy slogan, or hampsters that drive in cars can catch someones attention more than a thirty second elevator pitch. People want brand names that are popular and credible. Often they don’t want to hear your start up idea that hasn’t produced any revenue yet. So yes, six seconds is good for a sales pitch. Maybe throw in a slogan or catchy sond that will get stuck in consumers heads.

  • our society is all about first impressions and your article portrays just that idea. I am in now shape or form a business woman, and do not have the drive to be. However I live to inspire and motivate people. If I can’t pitch the importance of why fitness is important and can’t give someone the same drive I have to be healthy then their attitude about it won’t change. I feel that not only do you have a limited amount of time to sell an idea to someone but also if you can’t convince yourself then you shouldn’t be trying to convince others.

  • Although I can see how delivering a message quickly and efficiently is important, I still think creating a narrative around an issue is valuable. The main social mission can be said in 10 seconds, but then the means of creating change and the importance of it needs to be discussed at length to fully understand the complexity of the issue.

  • Thank you for your post! I feel this article is very useful for a lot of college students who are majoring in business. One of the things that a lot of professors tend to focus on is the idea of the 30 second speech which I agree with you, is actually shorter than 30 seconds. I feel that it is important to immediately convey to the person you are talking to, why they should be interested in what you have to say. One question I have is this: can you give an example of what might be a short, concise elevator pitch?

  • Interesting, I was always told about the thirty second elevator pitch but never really thought about who is actually going to listen to you for thirty seconds. I will have to start keeping that in mind because I agree that thirty seconds for most might just be too long.

  • I think it’s true that it’s hard to get someone to listen even 30 seconds anymore. A 6 second pitch is a great idea because it’s short, quick, and to the point. However, we do have more to say than just 6 seconds worth, so I feel that if the 6 second pitch works, that should earn us the chance to embellish more on what we said in the listener is interested.

  • Yes I completely agree. 6 seconds should be the attention getter. Then we can go into detail about who we are and what we want to do. However, mastering this 6 second speech is an art. People need to practice in order to get ahead or you will be stuck with the 30-45 second elevator speech.

  • The six second pitch leaves no room for any fluff or nonsense. By shortening the pitch down, you are only able to convey the most important idea of your organization to your audience. As someone who is a concise writer, I prefer to read and listen to short, straight-to-the-point pitches.

  • Interesting article. The six second pitch sounds great to me because I hate confrontation. It also leaves less room for mistakes and anxiety to build up. 30 seconds does not seem like a long time but it is when you are the person listening. What would be a short pitch that is acceptable?

  • Interesting article. I like the idea of shortening the 30 seconds because you go straight to the point and leave no room for irrelevant matters.

  • I completely agree in a period were time is money, and people do not want to sit around all day listening to something that will not grab there attention quick enough for them to actually care. Keeping the pitch short and concise is brilliant.

  • Catching people’s attention is key. People are busy, and the quicker you can get someone’s attention, then more effective you will be. When it comes to your “30-Second Elevator Pitch,” what you say not only has to be concise, but it also has to be creative. People like a show. Give them a show (in less than 30 seconds).

  • I think this is over dramatic and contributing to our technology driven short attention spans and our over apparent inability to concentrate. If you want to be taken seriously and are making a real pitch that matters, chances are you will be given more that 6 seconds if the person/people you are pitching to take themselves seriously. We do not live in twitter. People are not machines. We are not mechanical. We have brains, ideas, and thoughts; therefore we have the ability to have conversations and speak on our ideas for longer than a sentence. I completely disagree with this approach. Yes, I understand that we are given less and less time to get our ideas across but I think we have no business embracing and operating off that idea. I am choosing not to tweet when I speak.

  • Agree, specially during a class presentation where the chances of people putting attention to your presentation are low. That intro should be attracting and the first 6 seconds may be crucial during the presentation. If you really want to make a difference or create an impact on someone’s life you have to rock those 6 seconds. This reminds me of what I learned in my ENG 101 class, “thesis statement is the most important part of an introduction” because you are telling the reader what the essay is going to be about.

  • This article has an interesting point, but i do not agree. No real information can get across in 6 seconds. People do not work that quickly — I often believe it takes me longer than 6 seconds to formulate my thoughts and opinions. If you are discussing this information with any intelligent person and you want to leave an impactful message, their attention span is longer than 6 seconds.

  • I completely agree. No one wants to have a conversation longer than they have to. Most people have already made up their minds about what you have to say before you even open your mouth! I believe that your body language, appearance, attitude can help sell your service and say much more than what you are able to convey in those brief, precious 6 seconds in the spotlight,

  • There is science that backs up your discussion here. Times are changing regarding society’s attention spans. There have been studies that show due to the electronics that we use on a constant basis, society has now become the “instant society.” Electronics have given us the everything we need at our fingertips. Don’t know the directions to a restaurant or the definition of a word? No problem, just whip out that phone, tablet or computerized device and instant satisfaction. It only makes since that this need for instant buzz word, quick pitch.

    What I find that I’m struggling with though is, are people truly getting the information needed to get the point across with a quick pitch?

  • Thank You for this article I really like your point. The truth technology is taking over so many things that you have to be able to compete I love what you said about the tweet. Now you have to find a way to get people to want to do things the old way or you need to find a way to advertise with technology now. My question for you is what could you do to make you see more interesting than a tweet or a website?

  • Thank you for the post. Maybe we are seeing the phenomena of a shrinking attentions span die to the introductions and reduction of constant exposure to technology and information.

  • I like his idea that saying we need to reduce our elevator pitch time. Putting my life story in 30 seconds are not easy because I have so many things to say but if we need to reduce that time, I think all I can say is just thesis statement for my story. So if they are interesting about my thesis statement, I might get a chance to introduce myself to them. So I think we need to make short thesis statement that could impress others and also interesting.

  • This article was short, but extremely helpful. I like how it is short and to the point. You have advice and you give it in the simplest way possible. Short and sweet. What you are saying is very true. I think that the world we live in is starting to revolve around time, and the time we have is getting shorter and shorter. People just don’t have the time anymore, so it is important to make your pitch short and right to the point. It was interesting what you said about the 100 character tweet, because it is true that that is all people have time for anymore. I do have a question though, isn’t it difficult to tell your story successfully in six seconds?

  • Definitely. With the right amount of practice, we can master a 6 second pitch which will ideally get us a chance to say more about what we really mean

  • Thank you for this article, although it is short it is actually incredibly useful and in a way you have mirrored the point you are trying to get across to us as readers. Most people nowadays lack time, everything has to be done quickly because we have a million other things to do, which in turn emphasizes the phrase ‘first impressions count’. When doing a speech/interview you need to be precise and to the point, it shows you are confident and know exactly what your employee/interviewer etc wants to hear. Sometimes I would think many people would get nervous at the thought of doing these types of things…how do you prepare yourself?

  • I think this is something that is applicable in many aspects of life because our current generation has a dwindled attention span. Regardless of what you are trying to do you need to sell it and sell it fast, even on social media if you are trying to get a point across it better hit home in the first few sentences because nobody wants to read a wall of text about something they are not interested in. What is your go-to attention grabber in the first few seconds of presenting something?

  • I agree with this article. Nowadays people are always in a rush to go to one place to another and don’t have time to chit chat. Also as the generations have come along, people’s attention spans have decreased.

  • Straight to the point. I like it. Six seconds to deliver a pitch sounds more like baseball than selling an idea to someone. How do you catch someones attention on your idea in six seconds? Any tips?

  • Rajesh, thinking about only having 6 seconds to catch people’s interest and get them to care about what I’m doing or what I want them to know is incredible. Sometimes I wish we were still back years ago when catchy jingles were a thing and people were given time to explain what they wanted others to know. I have a hard enough time getting my tweets down to the allotted number of characters, and I’m not even trying to sell people on something. We live in such a fast-paced society now that I am not surprised people’s attention spans to read or listen to something longer than that is not very good. Do you think we will ever go back to the days where we could actually take our time?

  • This was an interesting article. Thanks! I think it is really interesting, this whole idea of shortening it to 30 seconds. It really does require you to get right to the point. Trying to catch someones attention is the main goal, and it can be rather difficult. People are always moving at fast paces, and hardly listen to things that they think do not relate to them. I agree, the faster you get someones attention, the more likely they will actually listen, and take something from what you are saying. Your pitch has to be straight to the point in order for this whole idea to work. Utilize the time you have! This article I will for sure remember, and think about when I am giving my “30 second elevator pitch” A question I have is what would you do if even after the pitch, the audience still does not get the point, then what?

  • Thank you for your article. I found this article to be very helpful with regard to how times have changed and how little people want to pay attention to what you have to say. I liked the tips on sending out what you need to say before hand to a reporter, so they have it all and your pitch can be the six seconds. That way you are reaching people in more detail in a different way.

  • This isn’t too surprising if you know are culture. We live in a fast past time and people want things faster and faster. We live such a fast past life that you need to know how to deliver. It crazy how fast pace our culture is to the point where we need to be delivering 6 second sale pitches

  • Its unfortunate nowadays that the amount of time we have to pitch an idea has shrunk by thirty seconds but its the time we live in. The best thing I can do adapt, prepare, and prepare some more because when that opportunity opens up whether that may be a job interview or an internship I must get the employer hooked right away and make sure I don’t leave without getting my business card.

  • I would blame technology for how fast we want to live. But i actually kind of like it. There will be more advance technology that would make our living better and faster. Great read!

  • This day and age, we tend to have a very short attention span. I was very interested to see that marketers have about 6 seconds to tell their story. I believe that the advancement in technology has a lot to do with this. We live a fast pace life, and if something does not catch our attention, we ignore it. This article brings up a good point that we should be straight and to the point, stop beating around the bush, and make our message nice and clear.

  • It is unfortunate but very true that the average individuals life span has decreased significantly over the years, especially as we emerge into a world of technological dependence. However, you can take this challenge as a game and work of art to master your pitch in just six seconds (the newly accepted average time you have). This article is realistic and makes us see that is may be difficult but it is nothing you cannot master if you put work into it. Maybe have a profound question or attention-grabbing comment when you run into the CEO or whoever it is you are trying to appeal to in the elevator. I personally think that is the only time you need it the “six second” interval. If you actually have a scheduled meeting with people about your startup/business. You may not have all the time in the world, but you have a little more than six seconds. You definitely want your pitch to be clear in the first 10-15 seconds/1-2 slides of your presentation as explained in another article I read recently. Either way, find a point to make it efficient and to the point!

  • I agree with the 30 second pitch or less to tell your story because in passing you could get the intern or job of your dreams so it’s best to start now with a pitch because you never know who you could run in to.

  • It is sad but true. I would love to have more time to explain myself to people but we live in a world that is so fast pace that people don’t want to stop for too long to listen. If you can’t explain things fast you won’t ever be able to. Which is really sad but it is the truth. Getting enough information out fast so that people are still listening but yet you aren’t going so fast that it makes no sense is the tricky part of life.

  • I know people always say you get judged within the first 10 seconds of the interview. Most of the time they have their mind made up within that time period whether they want to hire you on or not. I feel that is a good thing because they are focusing on things like your appearance, hand shake, etc. But they arent looking at their resume, understanding their skills, knowledge. I feel the elevator pitch isnt long enough. We should be able to have atleast 2 whole minutes. It is sad to know that we have less than 30 seconds to say the most important piece. It goes to show how important things really are and how preperation is helpful! You dont want to go into something unprepared because that takes longer time to think of things on the spot. Before interviews get your elevator pitch down, your talking points down, etc. You want to take control of the floor. This is also why cover letters and thank you letters are so important! It is an opportunity for you to express more of what you would like to say.

  • I completely agree with you! I am in a sales class and we are learning about elevator pitches right now! We have to do one soon and I am super excited. It is so true that you never know who you could run into. Being prepared for that moment you want to pitch yourself to someone is very important!

  • I totally agree with you! We need to learn to catch the attention of others because most of the time, you catch people glued to their phones. Getting to the point is crucial because no one wants to be distracted from what they were doing on their phones from a stranger. Learning how to get the attention and make your point quickly could be the make or break for getting a meeting with the person your pitching to!

  • Thank you for posting this article! I’ve heard over and over again that you want to get to the point when you are talking to someone. I heard it was roughly 30 seconds but after reading this i was shocked to see that it is 1/5 of that! I found this article to be very important when I am searching for a job in the future.

  • Kayla I agree with what you said. We can’t even take 30 seconds out of our fast pace job to talk to a person while were in an elevator. In a world where business are all run by technology, maybe it would be better to not even have a six second elevator pitch prepared, but a default 140 character tweet ready. It would make more sense, and honestly may even leave a more memorable impression.

  • That is true! I’m not sure if it is a good thing or a bad thing though. It is good because really everyone uses technology it is the way of the future it is how we all live. But at the same time people can say whatever they want. If you have a conversation with someone face to face you can tell if someone is lying about 90% of the time. If it is a tweet how do you know if someone is being censurer or not?

  • While the idea of only having six seconds to pitch an idea is terrifying, I found reassurance in the line “at least to tell the audience why they should care enough to get to know your story.” I think we often forget that we only need to capture their attention long enough to intrigue them and leave them wanting more, rather than blurting out specifics as quickly as we can.

  • I honestly don’t think I would like this. I don’t think you can understand all I am trying to inform you of in six seconds. I understand that in business people don’t have time to sit and listen to these long drawn out pitches but how can in six seconds can someone know if your idea will help their company or not.

  • I total agree with you that short story are better. You never know how long you have that person attention. So the next time you tell a story just keep it short and to the point.

  • Totally agree. It may be a an unfortunate part of the world we live in, but if someone can decide whether or not to give me the time of day in 6 seconds are they really someone I should be spending time trying to impress in the first place?

  • Since recently taking a class all about job interviewing and elevator pitches, I definitely agree with you. I don’t think a 60 second pitch about yourself is going to give an employer an idea of who you are and they aren’t going to be able to process your pitch and be able to know if you are going to benefit their company or not.

  • Creating strict boundaries and rules is key for creativity. It is challenging and almost seems like it works against creativity. However think of it this way, an advertisement in a standard amount of time would be decent, but an advertisement compacted in 6 seconds that somehow is creative and witty at the same time would make it great. This is because consumers are aware of the barrier to potentially ruin a message, but if they pull through, us as consumers acknowledge the obstacle they overcame.

  • I agree but I think it forces you to really show what you want them to hear. They probably really do not care so much about you but you have to make them. They really only want to know that six seconds to see if you are really worth it.

  • I agree with you. I know there is no way that I would be able to pitch an idea in six seconds. I feel that isn’t enough time to fully explain with what I’m trying to get at and I don’t think it is enough time to impress the ones who are listening. I do agree that when pitching out a new idea that it should be short and sweet, but in my opinion six seconds is just way too short.

  • Great point! All you really have to do is peak their interest and if you do they’ll either want you to elaborate right then and there or maybe set up a meeting for a later date which is always a promising sign.

  • I think that your target audience is important when considering wether a 30 sec or 6 second pitch is better.

  • I love the challenge of discovering how to market yourself in 6 seconds. It also makes me feel slightly irrelevant! We are all so much more than 6 seconds. But, it’s true how we have to just get to the point as quickly as possible, that’s just the kind of world we are living in – quick and immediate gratification!