A More Effective Elevator Pitch through Cultural Understanding

February 23, 2022 by Melinda Meszaros

Two gold-coloured elevators
Image credit: Sun Jing Cho via Unsplash

You're probably familiar with the elevator pitch. The idea is that you have under one minute to pitch an idea to a potential client or investor. If you've ever needed to do an elevator pitch, you probably prepared it thoroughly. You thought of who your investor is, what occupies his or her mind at the moment, which value your proposition has for them specifically, etcetera. But have you ever thought about the other person's cultural background?

A difference in cultural background is an easily overlooked aspect of human communication that has the potential to derail any conversation. When it comes to making a good first impression, which is the case with an elevator pitch, understanding the cultural values of the person you're trying to persuade can make the difference between a deal and a no-deal.

There are many cultural dimensions, but the one that's may be the easiest to understand in this context is "task vs. relationship orientation".

Some cultures, such as Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.S lean more towards the "task orientation" side. This means that people tend to focus more on managing time carefully and completing tasks efficiently. The workflow is optimised to support this over benefiting relationships.

On the other end of the scale we find "relationship orientation", which means that the workflow is arranged around strong, lasting relationships. Harmony and connection has priority over speed and efficiency. Relationship-oriented cultures are some Mediterranean countries, many Asian and the Arabic countries.

Let's assume we're pitching our product: Business English training. If we know we're dealing with a person who is more task oriented (as per the cultural dimension), we might pitch the idea like this:

You probably want everybody to understand each other in meetings, in order to work together effectively. Language barriers between colleagues might lead to misunderstanding on deliverables and deadlines. Therefore it's important that, at the workplace, everybody is able to speak the same language and understands its nuances. You will probably benefit from Business English training.

However, if the person is more relationship oriented, we might say this instead:

You probably want to understand your partners, in order to evaluate whether you can build a fruitful relationship with them. Language barriers might lead to misunderstanding on intentions and motivation. Therefore it's important that you are able to talk freely and comfortably. You will probably benefit from Business English training.

Here, the difference lies in focusing what represents the most important value to the other person. Notice how the first sentence in the first example connects to the idea of getting things done efficiently. In the second example, we open with a sentence that emphasizes the harmony our product creates through building quality relationships.

Some countries like Russia, Poland and some other Baltic cultures are towards the middle of the task/relationship orientation scale. For them you might pitch like:

It's important to understand each other's intentions in business. I help you strike a good deal by being able to have a good talk to see if you can trust your partners. So my training helps you ask the right questions, and once work is underway, get things done together efficiently.

In this third example a very factual and direct message addresses both building a relationship and being productive together.

Understanding the cultural underpinnings of business (and everyday, informal) communication is essential for effective communication. These examples show how important it is to adjust your message to the cultural context. Task and relationship orientation is just one of the many aspects you can choose from when it comes to using your cultural competency - your understanding on how to operate ethically, effectively and efficiently across cultures - in your everyday work.

Disclaimer: This article is not meant to establish stereotypes, the cultures and countries are used as an example for teaching purposes and it is not assumed that all individuals or organisations of the same area act the same way.

Next up: Rules and What They Mean in a Multicultural Environment

This is the first article.