Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Episode 144: Elevator Pitch Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 144: Elevator Pitch

Record Date: February 6, 2022

Air Date: February 9, 2022



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Shauna Harrison


And I’m Dan Pugh

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

This week we are following a lead from our Dean of Learning, Mary Halsig-Lopez, who wanted to know the origins of the phrase “Elevator Pitch” 


And elevator speech or elevator pitch, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is:


A short but effective explanation that is intended to persuade someone to buy a product or accept an idea

End Quote

Alternately, Cambridge notes it can also be applied as:


A short description of a product or business idea, especially one given to a possible investor

End Quote 

The concept of using some sort of power to lift items has been around since the 3rd century BCE, though we didn’t call them elevators. Back then they used human, animal, or water power. 

The word “elevator”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, has been around since the 1600s where it was used to describe muscles that raise a limb or organ. In the 1700s it began to also be used to describe machines that were used to raise corn or flour to an upper storey. On a side note, by the 1800s, the term was also used synonymously with the building that stored the grain that was raised in this way, hence why you may have heard large silos referred to as “grain elevators”. 

Modern elevators wouldn’t come about until the 1800s. Mary Bellis gives a quick history on elevators in her 2019 piece from ThoughtCo


In 1823, two architects named Burton and Homer built an "ascending room," as they called it. This crude elevator was used to lift paying tourists to a platform for a panoramic view of London. In 1835, architects Frost and Stuart built the "Teagle," a belt-driven, counter-weighted and steam-driven lift…

End Quote

It wasn’t until the mid 1850s that we saw the real rise, pun absolutely intended, of elevators.

Back to Mary Bellis in the section called, The Elevator Brakes of Elisha Otis.


In 1853, Otis demonstrated a freight elevator equipped with a safety device to prevent falling in case a supporting cable broke. This increased public confidence in such devices. In 1853, Otis established a company for manufacturing elevators and patented a steam elevator.

Otis invented something he called an "Improvement in Hoisting Apparatus Elevator Brake" and demonstrated his new invention to the public at the Crystal Palace Exposition in New York in 1854… While Otis did not actually invent the first elevator, his brakes, used in modern elevators, made skyscrapers a practical reality.

In 1857, Otis and the Otis Elevator Company began manufacturing passenger elevators. A steam-powered passenger elevator was installed by the Otis Brothers in a five-story department store owned by E.W. Haughtwhat & Company of Manhattan. It was the world's first public elevator.

End Quote 

Now how did we go from elevators, to having an elevator speech?

Well first, I want to say a huge thank you to the Internet Archive, a digital public library. Almost every book I reference in this segement I viewed with a free account to the Internet Archive. This research would have taken me several more weeks without their resources. You can check them out at 

Well this one is a bit murky, so perhaps more evidence will be uncovered in the future that could clear things up. But the first written attestation I could find seems to be from Philip B. Crosby in his 1981 book The Art of Getting Your Own Sweet Way - Second Edition.


When teaching Quality Management, I always teach my students to learn an “elevator speech.” This is the all-encompassing, action-producing set of ideas and actions that you pronounce while on the elevator with the big boss for just 1 minute. Your big chance to be heard can pass you by if you are not prepared to be listened to.

End Quote

Now you’ll notice I said this was the second edition. The first edition was released in 1972 and the part about an elevator speech wasn’t included. Part of that might be because Phil Crosby’s own “elevator speech” didn’t really hit until 1979.

Back to elevator speeches… Here is a piece from Michel Perigord’s work Achieving Total Quality Management, originally published in the French language in 1987. I’ll be quoting from the 1990 English language translation.


In the course of this brief account, one great person should not be forgotten: Philip Crosby, who, after having studied Feigenbaum’s ideas, attempted, in an American fashion, to integrate the messages of Deming and Juran. At the beginning of 1979, in his famous “Elevator Speech,” he became known for a 14-phase program which he implemented at ITT, where he was the vice-president in charge of quality.

End Quote

The phrase began to blossom in the late 1980s, possibly thanks to two people. I’ll turn to Dr Graham Wilson and a 2012 blogpost from his blog The Confidant.

First, to tie in with what we’ve already mentioned about Phil Crosby.


In the latter half of the 70s, the US was losing market share to Japanese businesses and the common perception as to why was the poor quality of US goods and services. There was a huge demand for quality professionals at the time, and spotting this Crosby set up a consultancy training business in 1979. As was the norm in those days, the best marketing collateral was seen to be a book, and so he quickly produced his next, “Quality is Free”, that year. This propelled him into the public eye, and he was soon a key player on the international speaking circuit. He decided to produce a follow-up book, and for expediency did a 2nd edition of “The Art of Getting Your Own Sweet Way” which appeared in 1981.

End Quote

But about those two people I mentioned… back to Dr. Wilson. 


It was in 1987, that two eminent statisticians, Gerry Hahn (from General Electric) and Tom Boardman (Prof at the University of Colorado), who were both very proactive in the American Statistical Association, began to push Crosby’s philosophy of change to other statisticians and to encourage them to promote their value to industry and society. Boardman, especially, made so much of the “elevator speech” that it became a bit of a mantra. By the time Hahn made the WJ Youden Memorial Address at the ASA in Autumn 1987, Boardman’s reference to this had become a friendly joke among the professionals there.

End Quote 

You may notice that none of the quote so far use ‘elevator pitch’. The first time I found that phrase was in the late 1990s. Here are two examples.

This first is from the 1998 book Guerrilla Persuasion: Master the Art of Effective and Winning Business Presentations by Don Pfarrer. 


Those incredibly important minutes on the phone are sometimes boiled down to a few seconds. Jim Geisman, a business consultant to high-tech ventures, is a great proponent of a simple but surprisingly severe test, the “elevator pitch”. 

End Quote

The second example is from the 1999 book The Plot to Get Bill Gates: An Irreverent Investigation of the World’s Richest Man -- and the People Who Hate Him by Gary Rivlin


Later that day, while I was interviewing Schlien, he told me he slides to drill entrepreneurs in the art of the “elevator pitch”. I asked him what he meant and he explained it this way: “You’re on an elevator, and Bill Gates gets on at the fifth floor. You have to the ground floor to get him interested in your company. Go.”

End Quote

This shows how even though the phrase was used quite a bit in the corporate business world, it didn’t necessarily translate to other industries like journalism and certainly not to the average person.  

In the June 12, 2000 edition of Fortune magazine, Ann Harrington interviews Ken Morse, the managing director of MIT’s Entrepreneurship Center, saying:


Take the basic entrepreneur’s pitch, often called the “elevator speech” because you are supposed to deliver it in the 60 seconds or so you spend traveling between floors with a very busy person. I had always thought of this as a generic spiel, delivered by rote, but Morse insists that his students tailor tier pitches to specific targets, focusing on such matters as how their idea could help cut a product’s time to market.

End Quote

In the July 2002 edition of Business Week magazine, Andrew Heller wrote in the Trend Watch column


There’s a new phenomenon gaining momentum in the corporate world: the elevator speech. Self-help gurus advise that in these downsizing times, those who want to stand out should have a 15-second self-promo speech at the ready, just in case they find themselves unexpectedly face-to-face with the boss.

End Quote

By the early 2000s, every business magazine I could find was running some sort of article talking about elevator speeches or elevator pitches every few months. And by then it started seeping into the dialect of more than just business professionals and business students, but every industry. 

Before we get to today’s uses of our phrase, we want to say thank you to our sponsors. 

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon.

You can help support this educational artform and get awesome perks along the way! Tiers start at $3 a month, which get you our polls and community-only discussions, early access to the podcast, and the behind the scenes video for each episode so you can watch along as we make the show. That’s less than one coffee shop drink per month. 

At $10 you’ll also get original digital artwork from Shauna once a month featuring exclusive art about an idiom or other turn of phrase. At $15, you’ll also get personal on-air recognition like Pat Rowe does every episode. And of course huge thanks goes to the top spot among our Patrons, our Dean of Learning, Mary Halsig-Lopez. Thank you so much to Mary and all of our patrons. 

If you want to help create Bunny Trails week after week, whatever your budget, we are bunnytrailspod on Patreon. 


Modern Uses

Before we talk about how the phrase is being used today, I want to share a story involving none other than Elisha Otis himself. Earlier we mentioned how he demonstrated his new invention to the public at the Crystal Palace Exposition in New York in 1854. But there is more to this dramatic story. In a 2013 piece by Jan Schultink, he recounts a claim by Venture Capitalist Tom Tunguz writing…


The term elevator pitch originates from the very first demonstration of an elevator with a safety brake. At the time, elevators were hazardous, routinely plummeting down shafts when their hoisting ropes fell, destroying their payloads. In 1852, Elisha Otis invented a locking system that would catch and secure a plunging elevator. Unable to drive much interest in his innovation, Otis organized a demonstration in New York City. He stood in the elevator as an assistant severed the hoisting ropes and the safety brake engaged. Otis’ innovation paved the way for humans to ride in elevators. 

End Quote 

Of course, there was no mention of “elevator pitch” or “elevator speech” in anything prior to 1979/1980, so this was definitely not the origin of the phrase. I looked for accounts in newspapers from across the Country and I couldn’t actually find anything referencing this. In fact, I couldn’t find anything that would back up this claim. Tons of places talk about it, but no where does anyone have any credible citation of this event taking place. So I have to declare this story to be dubious at best. 

Though, if true, it may have been the most dramatic “elevator pitch” ever made.

1988 Movie

Another popular example of an elevator pitch is from the 1988 movie Working Girl starring Melanie Griffith in the titular role, also starring Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford (who both had a phenomenal decade with their careers). There is a scene where Tess, played by Griffith, has the time of the elevator ride with a bigwig potential client to convince him there is more to the deal her boss is trying to get him to sign. I searched the script from and couldn’t find any mention of the actual phrase “elevator speech” or “elevator pitch”. I also watched a clip of the scene and didn’t see it mentioned there, either. So unless the term shows up somewhere else in the movie, and off script, the phrase itself wasn’t part of the movie.

Now, on to some modern uses of the phrase. And from these it is clear both elevator pitch and elevator speech are used interchangeably. 

2010 Song

I found a song called Elevator Pitch by j ember. The artist posted it on Youtube in 2010. It looks like the song was officially released as part of the 2020 album Sleepwalking.

The song doesn’t use the phrase ‘elevator pitch’ in it, so I assume the song itself is an elevator pitch, perhaps to listeners or studios. The chorus goes:


I'm on something new

I'm on something good

And if you ever, ever try to run away with my soul

I'm gonna get you back, get you for good

I'm on something new

End Quote

And since the song did appear on an album 10 years later, it must have done the trick as an elevator pitch!

2013 Album

In 2013, legendary music producer Preston Glass released his soulful album Elevator Speech - his 4th studio album but the first with him doing most of the vocal work.The final song of the album is also called Elevator Speech 

Barry Towler of Soul Express, called the album


…a thoughtful, well-considered set that seeks to do more than entertain. It elevates, brings forward love and joy and promotes respect and responsibility and talks of LOVE, a greater love for yourself, your family and your community.

End Quote 

We could probably all use more of that in our lives. 

2014 Movie

I also found a short comedy film from 2014 written by Zak Klein and directed by Simon Ryninks called The Elevator Pitch

Here’s the short synopsis from


A fourth-wall breaking trip through the film industry, featuring a plucky intern struggling to get to the top…

End quote

If you want to kill a few hours, go to Youtube and search The Elevator Pitch Movie. It won’t come up with any specific clip, but you can just watch the plethora of user submitted clips from TV shows, movies, and short projects featuring elevator pitches. It’ll help you kill some time.

We usually try to find some books to include here in this segment, but I simply couldn’t get through all of the self-help books to find any good narrative ones to share. If you, dear listener, have good ones we should check out relating to Elevator Pitch or Elevator Speech, let us know on Twitter @bunnytrailspod or you can go medium school and email us at Or you can go old school and send us something at 

Bunny Trails 

PO Box 1359 

Derby, KS 67037

Now onto the Twitterverse!

In October 2021, visual artist Rueben Wu shared an image of him on an American TV program and wrote


Always disliked public speaking but I force myself to do it and it does pay off. Marketing yourself, aka sharing your story, is so necessary; always has been. Gotta learn to enjoy it more. Gotta perfect that elevator speech!

End Quote

Here’s one from January 8, 2022 from Rick Burkholder, an athletic trainer for an American football team.


End Quote

And one more… this one from January 27, 2022 by Mani-shadowhunter, who shares an image of Mandy Patinkin in the role of Inigo Montoya from the amazing movie The Princess Bride. Shadowhunter says


This is how an elevator pitch should work

End Quote

Here’s the meme:

Wrap up...

When I did my masters degree in business administration, elevator pitches were a huge deal. Every project we did had to have one. We even start every episode of Bunny Trails with part of our elevator pitch. Ready?

Bunny Trails is a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. It’s a weekly 30 minute educational and entertainment podcast available on platforms worldwide with listeners in over 150 Countries.

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today. We use early examples, strong citations, and modern uses to give a complete picture of the phrase's life.

And depending on who we are talking to, we may add a follow up piece…

We believe that words mean things. But their meanings can change over time. We try to capture those meanings and their changes in the show. That’s why we end every show with the reminder ‘words belong to their users’. 



That’s about all the time we have for today. Special thanks again to our Dean of Learning, who suggested the topic for the show. If you have any thoughts on the show, or pop culture references we should have included, reach out to us on social media where we are @bunnytrailspod, or comment on our website - Of course, the best way to make sure we see your comment is to post it on the Patreon page!


Poll time! 

In a recent poll, we posed this scenario to our Patrons, “You have forged an alliance with an animal. You will ride it into a ferocious battle for the fate of humankind. What is your steed?

The winners are patrons Jan and Charlie for their amazing comments!

Jan went with an oxen, naming it: Terry - short for Dysentery. Will strike fear into the hearts of any Oregon Trail game veterans. 

Charlie said, Lion, but honestly it’s the size of a Clydesdale and is a perfect medium smoke gray and she’s a badass named Cricket. 


I’m gonna need to see some fan-fiction artwork with Terry the oxen and Cricket the Lion kicking some butt in battle.


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Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. And until then remember... 


Words belong to their users

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