Conference Presentations, Part I: Developing an Elevator Pitch

This semester, I’ve written a few posts about making conference presentations (check out the conference tag for a full list). This is a topic that has been increasingly important to me, as I’ve started to more actively participate in the scholarly work in my field by attending and presenting at conferences.  But giving conference talks and other kinds of presentations is something that I had never received any formal training in — and from the feedback I got from some of you on those earlier posts, it seems like I’m not alone in that experience.

But all that changed this past weekend, when I attended a fabulous day of workshops sponsored by my university called “Taking Research from the Page to the Stage.” The brain child of Prof. Julie Kiernan, of my school’s Theatre and Speech Communication department, these workshops offered explicit instruction on a wide range of topics related to making presentations. I got a TON of great ideas that I am just dying to share with all of you.

So, inspired by my friend Danah’s blog series on 21st century literacies, this post kicks off what will be a series of several posts on all things presentation. Today, let’s talk about the elevator pitch.

The elevator pitch gets its name from the following hypothetical situation: Imagine you are riding in an elevator with a person important to your field. You have 60 seconds to explain your work and grab their interest. GO.

No pressure, right? I always thought that the elevator pitch was something that only business people had to be concerned with. But according to Professor Kiernan, it’s equally as important for academics to be able to whip one out at a moment’s notice, to succinctly summarize and synthesize the important aspects of their research and scholarship. In fact, she suggests that when you attend a conference, it is these unexpected moments of interaction and networking that provide a more important venue to share your research than your conference talk itself.

I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced. But according to Prof. Kiernan, the only way we’ll feel comfortable to share our elevator pitch is if we think about it ahead of time. Without that advance planning, she says, we’re more likely to let that opportunity pass us by and talk about something innocuous and totally un-memorable.

Here’s her method of condensing a much longer paper into just the essentials required for an elevator pitch:

1. Write your thesis in one sentence. This may already exist somewhere in your paper, or you may need to do a bit of condensing to reach this point. Either way, write it as one sentence, and commit it to memory so you can easily share it at a moment’s notice.

2. Why is this relevant to your audience/field? This is the “So what?” of your research.

3. Three ideas/findings that support your thesis. Draw this from your evidence.

4. What happens next? What are you/others going to do with this? I view this as the “implications” of your paper — what you might address after your conclusion.

5. Write 5-8 sentences incorporating above information. Put everything above together and you’ve probably got a pretty compelling elevator pitch that captures the most important aspects of your paper.

We actually did this exercise during the workshop, and then shared our pitches with another person. To test out whether out pitches worked, our partner tried to repeat back the important points that they remembered.

What do you think? Have you ever used an elevator pitch to share your research at a conference? Does this make you want to start? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to join us next time, when I’ll be sharing some advice for dealing with public speaking anxiety.



3 thoughts on “Conference Presentations, Part I: Developing an Elevator Pitch

  1. This workshop was incredibly helpful. I love that you are posting here to share with others, especially people who may not have been to make it to the workshop. The tips Julie shared really are amazing; I know I’ll be using these in the future.

    P.S. The elevator pitch was actually a lot harder to write than one would think.


  2. Pingback: Conference Presentations Part IV: Top 10 Most Randomly Useful Tips You Never Knew You Needed | Breaking Grad (School)

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