One thing that causes a lot of consternation, at least in my life, is the need to present ideas in a short, catchy way—in what’s called an “elevator pitch,” because you’re supposed to be able to explain your entire big idea to someone while the two of you are in an elevator.

How hard can it be, right? Well, it turns out to be very, very challenging.

In my friend Dan Pink’s terrific new book, To Sell Is Human: the Surprising Truth about Moving Others, he has a great list of tips for making a pitch. As he points out, the ability quickly to intrigue others with ideas is a task that more and more people face. “Selling” is something that many of us do.

Dan’s Six Strategies for Making a Great Pitch

1. The One-Word Pitch. That’s right. Distill your ideas down to just one short word. Think “Priceless” or “Search.” (I’m a big fan of the one-word approach. I use it to choose a theme for the year.)

2. The Question Pitch. By asking a question, you invite others to come up with their own reasons for agreeing. (Note: this strategy only works if underlying arguments are strong.) Think: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

3. The Rhyming Pitch. Who knew? People embrace ideas more easily when they’re expressed in rhyme. Think: “Happy wife, happy life” or “Wit beyond measure is a man’s greatest treasure.” (My examples, not Dan’s.)

4. The Subject-Line Pitch. We all want to have our emails read! Utility, curiosity, and specificity are keys to making subject lines more effective. “Three simple but proven ways to get your e-mail opened” or “Some weird things I just learned about e-mail.”

5. Twitter Pitch. Say it in 140 characters or less.

6. The Pixar Pitch. Express your idea in the Pixar story sequence: “Once upon a time _____. Every day, _____. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.”

Reading these, I’m reminded of Lytton Strachey’s observation, “Perhaps the best test of a man’s intelligence is his capacity for making a summary.”

To be able to summarize your ideas in these six ways, you have to have a very clear understanding of what you’re trying to express. And this is surprisingly difficult, at least for me. I spend most of my time trying to grasp the obvious and then write it down clearly. It takes all my strength.

Also …

  • Is your book group reading Happier at Home or The Happiness Project? If you’d like the one-page discussion guide, just email me. Or if you’re reading the books in your spirituality book group, Bible study group, or the like, ask for the spirituality discussion guide.
  • I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in! No need to catch up, just jump in right now.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.