Networking 101 – From Nerd to Networker: Reinventing Your Elevator Pitch

Rob Humbracht and Ryan Kelly

Imagine you’re an investor on the TV show Shark Tank with lots of money to invest. In this episode, you’re evaluating pitches from two different people about two apps* that are nearly identical:

*(Note: these pitches and products are entirely made up, even though there are some products and services whose names resemble them).

Pitch 1:

"Sharks, I'm Taylor, and I'm seeking $200,000 for a 10% share of WealthWise, the app that's redefining personal finance for young adults. Our platform combines real-time budgeting, automated savings, and investment education, all powered by AI to provide personalized financial strategies.
In a market flooded with generic financial tools, WealthWise stands out by engaging users with an intuitive interface and gamified learning. Invest in WealthWise, and let's lead the charge in making smart money management the norm for the next generation."

Pitch 2:

"Hello Sharks, I'm Alex, asking for $200,000 in exchange for 10% of FinanceForesight. Picture a kid in Nebraska, raised by a single mom, where even new school supplies were a luxury. That was me. We juggled bills and skipped meals, but it taught me the value of a dollar and the pain of financial ignorance. I vowed to change that narrative—not just for me, but for anyone facing similar struggles. That's why I created FinanceForesight, an app that's more than a budget tool—it's a beacon of hope for financial literacy.
FinanceForesight is the culmination of my journey, designed to guide users from confusion to clarity in their financial lives. It's a personal finance mentor that combines real-time budgeting, automated savings, and investment education, all powered by AI. With your investment, we can turn financial stress for young adults into success stories for millions. So, Sharks, who's ready to invest in a future where financial wellness is within everyone's reach?"

Which would you invest in, Pitch 1 or Pitch 2?

When it comes to captivating potential investors, it's crucial to remember that they're not just investing in a product or idea—they're investing in you. The narrative you weave, the passion you exude, and the resilience you embody are as critical as the numbers and forecasts in your pitch. Investors are on the lookout for founders who display a potent combination of vision, grit, and adaptability. A pitch with a personal story isn't just more engaging; it's more compelling because it showcases your journey, the challenges you've overcome, and the depth of your commitment.

Your personal story can often tip the scales, transforming a mere proposition into a shared mission. This human element is what makes an idea resonate on a deeper level, turning potential interest into a powerful investment.

Your Story Isn’t Static; Let It Grow Alongside You

Back in my early days, I was the ultimate nerd. Picture someone who took the SAT for fun and actually enjoyed it. I turned that love for tests into a superpower, helping students tackle the beast of college admissions. It was a neat party trick that made me the go-to guy for students and parents needing to crack the college code

Fast forward a bit, and life threw a curveball called the pandemic. Suddenly, I'm steering a healthcare education company, ReelDx, and the nerd narrative doesn't stick as well with investors and business partners. They're not looking for a trivia whiz; they want a leader who can handle tough challenges.

So, I had to shake up my story. No more “SAT guy”; now, it was all about being the “energetic problem-solver,” the CEO who thrives on big issues. It was the same me, but with a fresh coat of paint to fit the new gig.

Here's the takeaway:

Your story isn't static. It's more like your favorite app—it needs updates. As you grow, your story should too.

Talking to professors or potential mentors? Lead with your academic hustle.

Pitching to a startup or at a job interview? Highlight your innovative spirit and problem-solving skills.

Remember, it's not about reinventing yourself completely. It's about highlighting different parts of who you are, depending on who's listening. Keep it simple, keep it true, and your story will do the heavy lifting for you.

Mastering the Elevator Pitch

As a student it is crucial for you to hone the art of the "elevator pitch". This will help you effectively market yourself to potential employers, programs, and schools of interest.

To help you grasp the importance of this skill and understand what makes a good pitch, let’s start with a generic example:

"Hello, my name is Alex, and I'm a senior majoring in Computer Science at XYZ University. I like technology and its potential to solve problems. I've done some projects in school, including one about data analysis. I'm good at coding and enjoy working in teams. I'm currently looking for job opportunities after graduation in the tech industry. Do you know of any openings?"

Do you know what to talk about with Alex? Do you have any sense of their strengths? Are they memorable?

Eh, not really. Let’s turn this generic elevator pitch into a more specific one with one of my favorite word games: Mad Libs.

Go ahead and quickly fill out the blanks below.

Elevator Pitch Mad Libs

Your Name: _____________

Year/Level: _____________

Major/Field: _____________

School/Institution: _____________

What Excites You: _____________

Skill/Experience Area: _____________

Project/Internship/Research Demonstrating Skill Above: _____________

Typical Activity: __________

Unique Trait or Perspective: _____________

Benefit of Unique Trait or Perspective:_________

Objective/Goal: _____________

Specific Opportunities/Challenges. _____________

Call to Action: Discussing a Project, Giving Advice, etc: _____________

Job Version:

When filled out, it could sound something like this:

"Hello, my name is Alex, and I'm a senior studying Computer Science at XYZ University. What really excites me about this field is the potential for AI to revolutionize healthcare. I've honed my skills in machine learning through a research project that predicts patient outcomes. When I'm not crunching data, I'm an avid rock climber, which has taught me a lot about problem-solving and perseverance. I'm currently looking to join a startup in healthcare technology, and I'm especially interested in predictive analytics for patient care. Would you be open to discussing how I might contribute to your team?"

Medical School Version:

Or let’s pretend Alex took a different career path and wants to be a rural healthcare provider. Here’s how Alex might pitch themselves to a medical school:

Topics for Med School version elevator speech:

Your Name: _____________

Degree Major/Field: _____________

School/Institution: _____________

General reason for choosing medicine: _____________

Specific reason for choosing medicine: ________

Role Project/Internship/Research Experience: _____________

Accomplishments Project/Internship/Research: _____________

Unique Trait or Perspective: _____________

Benefit of Unique Trait or Perspective:_________

What draws you to university: _____________

CTA: How you align with university: _____________

“Hello, my name is Alex, and I graduated with a degree in Biochemistry from XYZ University. What fascinates me about medicine is its capacity for immediate and tangible impact—particularly in rural Appalachian communities where access to healthcare is limited. I've gained clinical experience volunteering at a local community health clinic in West Virginia, where I led a patient education program on diabetes management. A unique asset I bring is a background in improvisational theater, which has honed my skills in adaptability and quick thinking. I'm especially drawn to your school because of its focus on community healthcare and its partnerships with rural clinics. Would you be interested in discussing how my experience and interests align with the mission and opportunities at your institution?”

How did YOUR Mad Lib pitch turn out?

Download these handy Ad Libs (Admissions Libs) forms to keep experimenting with new words/phrases to tweak and refine your pitch!

Final Thoughts

In many ways, the art of networking (including the elevator pitch) is a mix of practicality and passion.

You must not only appeal to the rational/logical part of the listener’s brain (i.e. what you can concretely offer them?), but also the emotional side (i.e. do they like you or find your story moving?).

So, it’s equal parts idea and delivery, equal parts content and style.

After all, the idea may be the seed, but it's your tenacity and drive that nurtures it into growth. So when you present your vision, remember: your story doesn't just tell them what you've built—it shows them why you're the one to build it.

  • Rob and Ryan

Rob Humbracht is founder and CEO of Passport Admissions and lead author of The Savvy PreMed. He is also CEO at ReelDx and Co-founder of HEAL Clinical Education Network. FOLLOW HIM ON LINKEDIN.

For over 11 years, Ryan Kelly has guided hundreds of students towards acceptance into top colleges and graduate schools, with an emphasis on standing out while also staying true to themselves. Read more about Ryan here. Or book a free intro meeting with him here.