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The Elevator Guy

By Marc Fest

First thing every morning, I take my Belgian Shepherd dog Zeus out for a bike ride on the deserted dirt road that leads to our remote property here on the edge of the South Florida Everglades. The ride and the solitude of the place put me in the right frame of mind for meeting with my usually three or four clients per day. They come from all around the world and join me for 60-minute, one-on-one video calls in which I help them compress the stories behind their mission into a short speech that they can use in a variety of situations to get more support and attention for their work.

Marc Fest


I have a formula for helping you get more attention and support for whatever you do. I call it the Elevator Speech Framework. It works for anybody in any situation. My clients use it to succeed on the frontlines of some of the biggest challenges of our time. Because of the step-by-step approach of the framework it is possible to achieve amazing improvements in just a single one-hour coaching session.

They are former National Security Council officials now working at D.C. think tanks, worrying about things like the impact of artificial intelligence on the command and control systems of nuclear weapons. They are CEOs of billion-dollar affordable housing investment funds, concerned about COVID-19 causing a “pandemic of evictions.” They are transgender migrants from Guatemala who now work as community organizers to help prepare undocumented immigrants for the terrifying moment when an ICE officer will knock at their door to arrest them. 75 CEOs and Executive Directors recently endorsed Elevator Speech Training.


The training sessions are paid for by some of the country’s best-known philanthropies: Knight Foundation, Ford Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, JPB Foundation, The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, and others. Other Elevator Speech Training clients include for-profit corporations like Axel Springer, an international media company headquartered in Berlin.

Different clients have different needs. Communications success for nonprofits usually means raising money from potential funders. For an analyst at a think tank, it can mean briefing members of Congress on the dangers of not renewing an arms control treaty with Russia. For a community organizer, it can mean enrolling undocumented immigrants as grassroots members in an organization that fights for immigration reform.

There is a lot of laughter during the sessions. My clients have called the experience “a breath of fresh air,” “really energizing,” and filled with “generosity and warm humor.”

Sometimes, Step Seven in the Elevator Speech Framework (“personalization”) will make a client cry. It’s where I encourage them to talk about why they care about their work and express an emotion. Their natural tendency is to talk about how accomplished or experienced they are, but I want them to reveal a vulnerability or a pain point that relates to their work. That makes their pitch stronger, but for some clients it is hard. But this step can be really powerful, especially right before your call to action. If you can lower your guard and share something vulnerable, then your audience will lower its guard and become much more responsive.

The strange juxtaposition of my interactions via Zoom with my reclusive Everglades existence is not lost on me. Sometimes I worry a little that it makes me a bit peculiar. For example, there’s this one yellow butterfly. She’s been coming by for months, making the same rounds every single day. Did you know that butterflies can live for up to a year? I call her Yellow. When I see her, I say ‘Hey, Yellow, how are you?’ I tried taking a photo of Yellow with my Canon. But it came out blurry (see below). I like it anyway. Sometimes I’m asking myself: What’s happened to you that you have a relationship with a butterfly?

Yellow (blurry)

“Every leader of a non-profit should take this training as it will dramatically improve their ability to talk about their organization.”
Eric Cohen, Executive Director
Immigrant Legal Resource Center
“I’m impressed how quickly Marc was able to help me hone in on the most resonant and memorable aspects of my pitch. He really gave me a lot to work with and think about!”
Derek Johnson, Executive Director
Global Zero
“In a short hour I went from a decent pitch to a targeted, clear, well focused ask.”
Joshua Ginsberg, President
Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
“I had no idea so much could be done in just one hour, total game-changing work!”
Heather Ferguson, Executive Director
Common Cause New Mexico
“If only all my one-hour meetings were so productive!”
Priya Jayachandran, CEO
National Housing Trust
“Marc was so prepared and tailored the training so well to me and my work that I got a great deal out of the training and will be able to put it to use immediately.”
Tom Fritzsche, Executive Director
Milk with Dignity Standards Council
“The training was really excellent – well-paced and fun, and even more critical now given the greater need to be effective at making a pitch on a very tight timeline. “
Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director
National Immigration Project
“In just an hour I left with concrete ways I can be more effective.”
Rachel Micah-Jones, Executive Director
Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc.
“Marc blew me away and I can’t wait to recommend him to my colleagues.”
Cecili Thompson Williams, Executive Director
Beyond the Bomb
“This is seriously one of the best trainings I have ever received.”
Marielena Hincapie, Executive Director
National Immigration Law Center
“The modeling of story examples was so helpful.”
Quyen Dinh, Executive Director
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
“The training gave me some really great tips on making a strong presentation of my organization!”
Ralph Williamson, President
Faith Organizing Alliance (FOA)
“Anyone could benefit from this training opportunity.”
Bob McFalls, Executive Director
Florida Philanthropic Network
“I loved Marc’s approach, the direct and efficient real-time feedback, and the confidence-boosting energy for something a lot of leaders really struggle with: landing the right words, message arc, and invitation for people to join our mission.”
Sarah Shanley Hope, Executive Director
The Solutions Project
“In just one hour, with this training, I was able to distill a short and moving way to communicate my organization’s unique add and impact as well as a way to naturally and compellingly transition the conversation to directly asking for support from potential funders.”
Stephanie Ettinger De Cuba, Executive Director
Children’s HealthWatch
“I gained a lot of helpful insights from the training. It was a highly productive use of just one hour — I highly recommend it.”
Richard Dubois, Executive Director
National Consumer Law Center
“We were inspired enough to gather our entire staff on a giant zoom call and talk about it. Because we are global we wanted to give everyone the opportunity to benefit from a really insightful and helpful process. The early results have been amazing.”
Kathleen Rogers, President
Earth Day Network
“The one hour session was a great reminder of how important this elevator-pitch work is. You can get so busy in the day-to-day, it was an extremely useful reminder that this is a valuable thing to spend time on!”
Brady Walkinshaw, CEO
“This one hour training helped me get out of my own way and hone in on the core essence of what people need to know to be able to say ‘yes.'”
Munro Richardson, Executive Director
Read Charlotte
“My elevator speech was improved *at least* 100% in the fun hour I spent with Marc.”
Kyra Shields, Bright Cities Program Director
Healthy Babies Bright Futures
“I am a seasoned public speaker and generally pretty confident in my messaging. However, in just one hour Marc helped me greatly improve the quality of my elevator speech and increase the impact of my delivery.”
Nancy Parrish, Executive Director
Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND)
“In just one hour with Marc, I was able to develop usable talking points that will increase my ability to fund raise, build awareness and call to action all those I interact with.”
Debra Cronmiller, Executive Director
League of Women Voters of Wisconsin
“It was enlightening and refreshing to come away with new ideas in such a short amount of time. Thank you!”
Suzanne Graham, President
Downtown Akron Partnership
“The strategies Marc shares can be applied far beyond an elevator speech.”
Vivian Stockman, Executive Director
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
“We always say our work is too complex or bespoke to have an effective ‘elevator speech.’ Marc proved us wrong.”
Kim Latimer-Nelligan, President
Low Income Investment Fund
“Elevator Speech Training is truly exceptional.”
Anne Evens, CEO
Elevate Energy
“Got some great, practical feedback on upping the emotional impact when I talk about my organization’s mission. So helpful!”
Sarah Milligan-Toffler, Executive Director
Children & Nature Network
“I highly recommend this training.”
Jojo Annobil, Executive Director
Immigrant Justice Corps
“This one hour session was more impactful for me than the hours, days, weeks that I have spent in other communications trainings.”
Dan Nissenbaum, CEO
Low Income Investment Fund
“This was a well-used hour to step back and make sure that our most basic communication reflects the current needs and connects them to not only our long term mission and but with the shared values of our current and future partners.”
Andrea Ponsor, CEO
Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future
“Honest feedback is critical and I definitely got that! Thank you!”
Lindsay Harper, Executive Director
Georgia WAND
“Elevator Speech Training helped me hone my message.”
Shelly Prichard, President & CEO
Wichita Community Foundation
“This was the best bang for the buck in training I can recall — from just a couple of hours, I gained lots to act on both immediately and over the long term.”
Stephen Burrington, Executive Director
Groundwork USA