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Elevator Pitch


Note: This approach is meant to be pretty flexible- other idea generating and prioritizing techniques may be substituted within the flow to suit the circumstances. Would like to hear how others approach this challenge. -James

Object of Play: What has been a time-proven exercise in product development applies equally well in developing any  concept: writing the elevator pitch. Whether developing a service, a company-wide initiative, or just a good idea that merits spreading, a group will benefit from collaborating on what is- and isn’t– in the pitch.

Often this is the hardest thing to do in developing a new idea.  An elevator pitch should be short and compelling description of the problem you’re solving, who you solve it for, and one key benefit that distinguishes it from its competitors. It must be unique, believable and important. The better and bigger the idea, the harder the pitch is to write.

Number of Players: Works as well individually as with a small working group

Duration of Play: Long- save at least 90 minutes for the entire exercise, and consider a short break after the initial idea generation is complete, before prioritizing and shaping the pitch itself. Small working groups will have an easier time coming to a final pitch; in some cases it may be necessary to assign one person follow-up accountability for the final wording after the large decisions have been made in the exercise.

How to Play:

Going through the exercise involves both a generating and forming phase. To setup the generating phase, write these questions in sequence on flipcharts:

  1. Who is the target customer?
  2. What is the customer need?
  3. What is the product name?
  4. What is its market category?
  5. What is its key benefit?
  6. Who or what is the competition?
  7. What is the product’s unique differentiator?

These will become the elements of the pitch. They are in a sequence that follows the formula: For (target customer) who has (customer need), (product name) is a (market category) that (one key benefit). Unlike (competition), the product (unique differentiator).

To finish the setup, explain the elements and their connection to each other.

The target customer and customer need are deceptively simple- any relatively good idea or product will likely have many potential customers and address a greater number of needs. In the generative phase, all of these are welcome ideas.

It is helpful to fix the product name in advance—this will help contain the scope of the conversation and focus the participants on “what” the pitch is about. It is not outside the realm of possibility, however, that there will be useful ideas generated in the course of exercise that relate to the product name, so it may be left open to interpretation.

The market category should be an easily understood description of the type of idea or product. It may sound like “employee portal” or “training program” or “peer-to-peer community.” The category gives an important frame of reference for the target customer, from which they will base comparisons and perceive value.

The key benefit will be one of the hardest areas for the group to shape in the final pitch. This is the single most compelling reason a target customer would buy into the idea. In an elevator pitch, there is no time to confuse the matter with multiple benefits- there can only be one memorable reason “why to buy.” However, in the generative phase, all ideas are welcome.

The competition and unique differentiator put the final punctuation on the pitch. Who or what will the target customer compare this idea to, and what’s unique to this idea? In some cases, the competition may literally be another firm or product. In other cases, it may be “the existing training program” or “the last time we tried a big change initiative.” The unique differentiator should be just that- unique to this idea or approach, in a way that distinguishes it in comparisons to the competition.

Step One: The Generating Phase

Once the elements are understood, participants brainstorm ideas on sticky notes that fit under each of the headers. At first, they should generate freely, without discussion or analysis, any ideas that fit into any of the categories. Using the Post-up technique, participants put their notes onto the flipcharts and share their ideas.

Next, the group may discuss areas where they have the most trouble on their current pitch. Do we know enough about the competition to claim a unique differentiator? Do we agree on a target customer? Is our market category defined, or are we trying to define something new? Where do we need to focus?

Before stepping into the formative phase, the group may use dot voting, affinity mapping or other method to prioritize and cull their ideas in each category.

Step Two: The Forming Phase

Following a discussion and reflection on the possible elements of a pitch, the group then has the task of “trying out” some possibilities.

This may be done by breaking into small groups, pairs, or as individuals, depending on the size of the larger group. Each given the task of writing out an elevator pitch, based on the ideas on the flipcharts.

After a set amount of time (15 minutes may be sufficient) the groups then reconvene and present their draft versions of the pitch. The group may choose to role play as a target customer while listening to the pitch, and comment or ask questions of the presenters.

The exercise is complete when there is a strong direction among the group on what the pitch should and should not contain. One potential outcome is the crafting of distinct pitches for different target customers; you may direct the groups to focus in this manner during the formative stage.


Don’t aim for final wording with a large group. It’s an achievement if you can get to that level of finish, but it’s not critical and can be shaped after the exercise. What is important is that the group decides on what is and is not a part of the pitch.

Role play is the fastest way to test a pitch. Assuming the role of a customer (or getting some real ones to participate in the exercise) will help filter out the jargon and empty terms that may interfere with a clear pitch. If the pitch is truly believable and compelling, participants should have no problem making it real with customers.

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Empathy Map

Empathy map, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

The empathy map, one of XPLANE’s methods for understanding audiences, including users, customers, and other players in any business ecosystem, has gotten some press lately because it was featured in Alex Osterwalder‘s excellent book, Business Model Generation as a tool for discovering insights about customers.

Here’s how it works:

GOAL: The goal of the game is to gain a deeper level of understanding of a stakeholder in your business ecosystem, which may be a client, prospect, partner, etc., within a given context, such as a buying decision or an experience using a product or service. The exercise can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. You should be able to make a rough empathy map in about 20 minutes, provided you have a decent understanding of the person and context you want to map. Even if you don’t understand the stakeholder very well, the empathy-mapping exercise can help you identify gaps in your understanding and help you gain a deeper understanding of the things you don’t yet know.

1. Start by drawing a circle to represent the person and give the circle a name and some identifying information such as a job title. It helps if you can think of a real person who roughly fits the profile, so you can keep them in mind as you proceed. In keeping with the idea of a “profile” think of the circle as the profile of a person’s head and fill in some details. You might want to add eyes, mouth, nose, ears, and maybe glasses if appropriate or a hairstyle to differentiate the person from other profiles you might want to create. These simple details are not a frivolous addition — they will help you project yourself into the experience of that person, which is the point of the exercise.

2. Determine a question you have for that stakeholder. If you had a question you would want to ask them, or a situation in their life you want to understand, what would that be? You might want to understand a certain kind of buying decision, for example, in which case your question might be “Why should I buy X?”

3. Divide the circle into sections that represent aspects of that person’s sensory experience. What are they thinking, feeling, saying, doing, hearing? Label the appropriate sections on the image.

4. Now it’s time for you to practice the “empathy” portion of the exercise. As best you can, try to project yourself into that person’s experience and understand the context you want to explore. Then start to fill in the diagram with real, tangible, sensory experiences. If you are filling in the “hearing” section, for example, try to think of what the person might hear, and how they would hear it. In the “saying” section, try to write their thoughts as they would express them. Don’t put your words into their mouth — the point is to truly understand and empathize with their situation so you can design a better product, service or whatever.

5. Check yourself: Ask others to review your map, make suggestions, and add details or context. The more the person can identify with the actual stakeholder the better. Over time you will hone your ability to understand and empathize with others in your business ecosystem, which will help you improve your relationships and your results.

Download the Empathy Map Canvas.

Click here for photos of empathy-mapping in action.

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Show and Tell

Geneva workshop

While it’s enjoyable and worthwhile to discuss the ideas behind Gamestorming, it’s more useful to experience them. The image below represents output from a visual-thinking game that you can “play” with your employees.

Caution: Adults have a tendency to link Show and Tell to child’s play. This is a learning faux pas. It’s right up there with underestimating the value of doodling. And now we know what’s wrong with that: Take Note: Doodling can Help Memory.

OBJECT of the GAME: To get a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ perspectives on anything—a new project, an organizational restructuring, a shift in the company’s vision or team dynamic, etc.


  1. A few days in advance of a meeting, ask employees to bring an artifact for Show and Tell. The instructions are to bring something that, from their perspective, is representative of the topic at hand. If possible, tell them to keep the item hidden until it’s their turn to show it at the meeting.
  2. In a white space visible to everyone, write the name of the game and the topic. If you wish, draw a picture of either.
  3. When everyone is assembled with their show piece, ask for volunteers to stand up and show first.
  4. Pay close attention to each employee’s story of why she thought an item represented or reminded her of the topic. Listen for similarities, dif­ferences, and emotional descriptions of the item. Write each of these contributions in the white space and draw a simple visual of the item the person brought next to her comments.
  5. Summarize what you’ve captured in the white space and let the group absorb any shared themes of excitement, doubt or concern. Ask follow-up questions about the content to generate further conversation.

WINNING STRATEGY: Show and Tell taps into the power of metaphors to reveal players’ underlying assumptions and associations around a topic. If you hear a string of items that are described in concerned or fearful terms, that’s likely a signal that the employees’ needs aren’t being met in some way. As the team lead, encourage and applaud honesty during the stories and write down every point an employee makes that seems important to him or her. Keep the rest of the group quiet while someone is showing and telling.

As the group facilitator, if you feel intimidated by drawing a representation of a show item in the white space, get through it: attempt to draw it anyway and let the group tease you about your efforts. Show and Tell can be a vulnerable activity for employees—particularly the introverted type—so show some team spirit by being vulnerable in your leadership role.