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I have learned many lessons in my career. One of the most critical — you never have a second chance to make a first impression.

For emerging businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs, the elevator pitch is critical. So aptly named because it shouldn’t last more than a few floors riding on an elevator, the elevator pitch should be clear, concise and to the point. You never know—the next person you meet could be “the one” that gives you your big break.

While the elevator pitch is fundamental, it’s often difficult to master. The challenge is in taking what you have to offer, and boiling it down to a 30 second conversation.

The pitch must clearly and concisely articulate who you are and what you do best. Here are three lessons from Businessweek that are incredibly helpful when creating your 60 second pitch:

  1. Preparation is the key to confidence. You know what they say—practice makes perfect. The pitch is an art, but eventually you can become a master storyteller.
  2. As your business changes and grows, your pitch needs to grow with it. Always keep your pitch up to date to convey an accurate image of your company.
  3. Be prepared for difference audiences. Try to think on your toes to tailor your points to whoever is listening.

The finalists from NFTE Philadelphia have already been sharing their business plans with the community. Now, E*TRADE is hosting an elevator pitch competition and Philadelphia’s two finalists have stepped up to the challenge.

The competition runs through October 4, leaving you plenty of time to vote for these student entrepreneurs. You can check out all NFTE participants’ videos here: www.elevatorpitch2011.com.

View the pitch for Benita’s Sofrito, from Philadelphia’s Bianca Nieves.

And Vito Lawns, the business developed by Viktor Vabishevich, also from Philadelphia can be found here.

NFTE has helped more than 2,500 students like Bianca and Viktor to learn about entrepreneurship, recognize business opportunities and plan for successful futures. As we begin a new school year, we look to further our mission in over 20 different schools with the help of more than 150 business leaders from the Greater Philadelphia area.

One such leader is Michael G. Rubin, Founder and CEO of Kynetics; and Founder and Former CEO of GSI Commerce. The Philadelphia chapter of NFTE will actually be honoring Michael at the 2011 Visionary Gala with an award for his perseverance and commitment to excellence as an entrepreneur. Michael is a great example of entrepreneurial spirit and a model of success for NFTE students. And I bet you he has a winning elevator pitch of his own.

The 2011 Visionary Gala will be held on Thursday, Nov. 17 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Vie, 600 North Broad St. in Philadelphia. Led by 2011 Gala Co-Chairs Pam Lehrer, Berwind Corporation, Carolyn Oakley Lowe, Lowe & Associates, and Sally Solis-Cohen, CEO IntroNet, we’re anticipating a terrific night to honor Michael, our students and all the hard work they’ve done over the past year.

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