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What’s an Elevator Speech? How Can You Prepare One?

By Barbara Gastel | March 18, 2017  | Research skills Research communication

Greetings again. I hope you’re doing well.

Recently I gave a graduate student group a workshop on talking with general audiences. Because some group members would talk soon with policymakers, part of the workshop dealt with elevator speeches.

Elevator speeches? Huh? How does talking with policymakers relate to elevators?

An elevator speech is a brief, easy-to-understand description of your work. If someone entering an elevator with you asks what you do, you should be able to finish the speech by the time you get off the elevator. 

Elevator speeches (also called elevator pitches) have many uses. For example, you can use them when introducing yourself at conferences, interviewing for jobs, talking with funders, approaching potential collaborators, and telling relatives what you do.

For different groups and occasions, you can have different versions of your elevator speech. Some versions might be semi-technical and others non-technical. Some might be less than 1 minute and others as much as 3 minutes.

An elevator speech should be planned in advance. Some pointers:

  • Gear the speech to the listener’s interests and knowledge.
  • Start with context. For instance, identify the problem that your work addresses. Or begin with an analogy.
  • Then say what you’re doing.
  • Finally, say what the benefits of your work can be.
  • Avoid overly technical wording.
  • Use effective body language.

An elevator speech should leave the listener wanting more. The listener can then ask you questions.

Examples of elevator speeches are available online. A blog post about this topic contains a written example. There also are videos of award-winning elevator speeches, including a 1-minute one and a 3-minute one.

Until the next post—


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