What to Say in Your 1, 5, 10, or 20-Minute Elevator Pitch

Author: Angelique O'Rourke

Angelique O'Rourke

Angelique O'Rourke

7 min. read

Updated May 10, 2024

Download Now: Free Pitch Deck Template

How much time you have to deliver a pitch to investors will have a big impact on how and what you’ll want to do and say.

If you’re giving a five-minute presentation followed by a Q&A, you will approach that a little differently than if you’re giving a one-minute presentation!

So, how do you know what to include in a really short pitch? What about a 20-minute pitch? We’ve got you covered.

The one-minute pitch

-you have to know what the problem

This very brief time slot is a little brutal—you have to be clear and concise—but if you’re nervous about speaking in front of people, there’s one big benefit: it’s over quickly. The challenge, of course, lies in using the time as wisely as possible.

Think of a one-minute pitch as the absolute heart of your business: What problem is your business solving? Projecting confidence and having the clearest, most concise explanation of your product or service possible is key.

Jackie Wu created Rook, a flying security camera, and received funding after pitching an incubator. Jackie says, “The biggest thing is, you have to know what the problem you’re solving is and how your product/service will solve it. We articulated that very clearly to the investors. That is the one-minute pitch.”

The five-minute pitch

A five-minute pitch is when you can start branching out from your core message. In it, you’ll cover the problem your business solves and how you’ll solve it, but you can include other important details like what your competitive advantage is and why your team is the best for the job.

Forbes has a great example of a winning five-minute pitch from a pitch competition. The winning entrepreneur offers some important advice: avoid unrealistic financial projections (you’ll look like an amateur), and always copy edit your pitch deck. A typo or misspelling in such an important event says to investors that you aren’t detail oriented—not exactly the message you want to be sending.

The 10-minute pitch

Caroline Cummings has successfully raised nearly a million dollars in angel investment. To help entrepreneurs achieve funding success, she’s distilled the process into a series of manageable takeaways and has even created a great format for a 10-minute pitch.

Caroline suggests this format for your pitch:

To present a polished and professional pitch, practice it. You should know the key points you’ll mention and the order you’ll present them in, whether you use a pitch deck or not.

Brought to you by

Create a professional business plan

Using AI and step-by-step instructions

Create Your Plan

Secure funding

Validate ideas

Build a strategy

The 20+ minute pitch

If you have the opportunity to pitch for 20 minutes, its safe to assume you probably have a larger block of time, like 40 minutes or an hour, in which to cover both the pitch and the Q&A. Guy Kawasaki, Apple’s former chief evangelist, has what he refers to as the 10/20/30 rule, which is a good guideline when it comes to longer pitches.

It goes like this: If you have a pitch deck of slides for your presentation, use no more than 10 slides, you should be able to pitch from these in 20 minutes, and you shouldn’t be using a font smaller than 30 points.

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 3.29.47 PM

If you start from the heart of your pitch—the one-minute version—then each longer iteration allows you to provide more detail expanding from that point.

20 minutes gives you plenty of time to not only hit those high points listed under the 10-minute pitch, but also time enough to really flesh them out. You could include a brief product demo that shows off your technology, or more details about your smart and efficient business model that you might not otherwise have had time for.

Advice from the trenches: Pitch to win

I talked to entrepreneurs who had successfully pitched their businesses and received funding and collected their advice on how to prepare for your pitch and what makes a pitch successful.

Here’s what they learned from their experiences:

Assemble a solid team

Have a great team working with you and know why they are the best people for their jobs. Jackie Wu says that your team is one of the most important things to mention in your pitch.

She recommends answering questions like, “Why are you guys uniquely capable of doing this? Do you have a lot of experience?” Be able to concisely say why you and your top people deserve funding.

Have a plan and structure

Jasmin Augustin of Swift Logistics, Inc., a shipping company, won the Liftoff Houston Business Plan Competition after a four-minute pitch and 10 minutes of Q&A, but she says she never would have gotten to that point without writing her business plan first.

You won’t need to submit a business plan before every pitch you make, but you can bet that having a plan in place will make your pitch that much easier to create, and you’ll have something to direct investors to should they ask.

Bring a backup

It sounds old school, and it is, but it’s also a guarantee: If you have a hard copy of your pitch deck on hand, no amount of technical difficulties will stop you from using it.

“I would highly recommend that you print a copy of the slides in case the projector or computer fail. This happened to me,” says Roman Diaz, president of Touchstone Compliance.


Practicing, especially if you’re the nervous type, is a must. It’s common to be a little jittery, but you don’t want it to distract from the great idea you have for your business. So the more you can get used to explaining your business to people, in a cohesive and relaxed manner, the better chance you have of staving off nerves when you really need to.

Remember that practice doesn’t mean memorized; this can make you sound robotic or mean that an interruption could throw you off. You just want to get so familiar with all of the pertinent material that you could answer relevant questions in your sleep, so that there’s little risk of drawing a blank when the pressure is on.

If you’re not comfortable with public speaking in general, check out Toastmasters, an organization that helps people build those skills, and also take a look at Bplans’ guide to pitching for more help and ideas.

Caroline Cummings says: “If there’s one thing I can’t stress enough, it’s the importance of rehearsing your pitch.”

Make them say, “Tell me more.”

I heard this one from quite a few people: piquing the interest of your audience is a worthy goal. Greg Archbald of Greasebook, an oil and gas technology company, says that this can be done in one of two ways:

1.) Talk about all the traction you’re getting, or 2.) not only inform, but entertain.

Remember, investors want to see any kind of external validation of the usefulness/coolness of your product or service. The more traction you can show, the less you’ll require investors to take a leap of faith.

The next best way to stimulate interest is to entertain. You can do this with penetrating new insight, humor, or controversy. Not only will the investor appreciate this, but you’ll stand out from the crowd, be memorable, and above all else, stimulate interest,” he says.

Tell your story

Every startup has a story. Lida Zlatic of ClassTracks, a language learning company that has won two pitch competitions, advises thinking of your pitch as a compelling story you have to tell.

“Every story has characters (who is your product helping), a problem, a pathway (a general suggestion for solving the problem—we start this section with, ‘If only…’), and a solution (our product). Longer pitches spend more time explaining the product. Stats and humor are also helpful,” she notes.

Further Reading: 7 Great Pitch Deck Examples From Successful Startups

Brought to you by

Create a professional business plan

Using AI and step-by-step instructions

Create Your Plan

Secure funding

Validate ideas

Build a strategy

Content Author: Angelique O'Rourke

Angelique is a skilled writer, editor, and social media specialist, as well as an actor and model with a demonstrated history of theater, film, commercial and print work.