Message development: Nailing the elevator pitch

Written by
Nigel Malone

This story is part of a series of  articles on “Seven Pathways to Strategic Thinking” written by Nigel Malone, Strategy Director at Archetype. If you would like to receive a notification when the next article is published, register here.

As a hybrid strategist/writer, clients often say to me, “I really want to have one sentence that sums up who we are and what we do.” The elusive ‘elevator pitch’ – a compelling snapshot of what you do better than anyone else – has become increasingly important in this time of rapidly decreasing attention spans.

Occasionally the client follows with “but I’m not a writer, that’s why we need you”, and looks at me as if I possess some superpower. But writing is not a magic trick. Sure some are better at it than others but on the whole it’s a skill like painting or playing piano that can be taught.

There’s one particular tool I share with both clients and colleagues to help them overcome any fears they may have about writing. It works equally well for an elevator pitch, as it does a speech, and can dramatically help the persuasiveness of the communication.

The tool is called ‘Knowing, Feeling, Doing’ and it came to me via Sam H. Ham, Professor of Environmental Communication and International Conservation at the University of Idaho. Ham’s research taught me that effective and compelling communication is not about organising facts for maximum recall, it is about ‘meaning–making’.

Here’s how it works: every communication or message you wish to create should have three essential components. They can be used in any order, as long as you address each one. Start by addressing each one individually and then mesh them together.

Knowing – what we want our audience to know or learn (cognitive goal)
Feeling – what do we want our audience to feel (affective goal)
Doing – what do we want our audience to do, your call to action (behavioural goal)

Here’s a hypothetical example…

A few weeks ago, I got into a lift at Sydney Technology Park with James Tuckerman, someone I hadn’t seen since University days. After some pleasantries, I asked James “so what are you doing with yourself now?”.

[Knowing] I’m the founder and editor of Anthill, and online community for entrepreneurs, business builders and innovators.

[Feeling] I get to do what I love every day – tell stories about the thrills and spills of start-up culture and hang out with some most innovative thinkers on the planet.

[Doing] Jump online and see what we are up to at

The tool provides a simple way to organise thinking into communication, but it goes much deeper than that. As communicators, it’s our job to impact another human being’s point of view, about a product, place, person or idea, in a way that produces the desired outcome consistent with organisational goals. In other words, our communication needs to be more than a fact-giving process. It needs to be persuasive.

To be persuasive we need to be provocative – not in the angry or negative way the word is often used – but rather to ensure we are actively provoking thoughts, are ‘thought provoking’. For when our thoughts are provoked, we wonder, we ponder, and sometimes entertain new and wonderful possibilities about a product, place, person or idea.

I really admire Professor Ham for developing the ‘Knowing, Feeling, Doing’ tool. As with many of the strategy tools I recommend, they are part framework, part complete freedom. It can’t help you come up with actual content, but it can help guide you and structure it in the most persuasive and meaning-filled way.

Written by
Nigel Malone