UW Graduate School

November 20, 2014

Your Elevator Pitch

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Imagine yourself in the following scenarios:

You’re talking about your research to an academic audience outside of your field…
You have a very brief window to network with potential employers…
You are having that “Soooo… what is it that you do again in grad school?” conversation with Aunt Thelma…

To help navigate these interpersonal and professional interactions, develop and practice your “elevator pitch.” An elevator pitch is a 30-second to 1-minute sentence (the time it takes to ride the elevator a few floors with someone) that outlines your intellectual/professional work. Consider your context and audience. Start with this bite-sized piece to gauge their interest and understanding, before launching into a 5-minute version.

Here are some strategies to get you started:

  • Introduce yourself. How do you present who you are and what you do in a few words? What are your strengths? What is key to your identity in this particular context?
  • Consider time and timing. You only have a moment to create a connection or establish interest. As you give the short version of your work, think about the impact you’re making.
  • Know your audience. Are you speaking to an academic peer at a cross-disciplinary conference? Did a friend just introduce you to a potential employer at a party? Are you spending time with family during the holidays? As in the next point, the pitch is less about you being the smartest person in the room and more about engaging the person and piquing their interest.
  • Figure out points of connection. You know why your work is important to you, but how is it important to your family and community, your colleagues, and your field of interest? Find that point of connection—or a metaphor—that makes sense in their world. Most importantly, express mutual interest in your audience. Listen to their responses and feedback. You are building relationships.
  • Start and end your pitch. Don’t forget to express a simple “Hello!” and “Thank you so much for your time.” General graciousness goes a long way.
  • Follow up. For professional contacts, foster and maintain these relationships by using your elevator speech as a point of reference. For example, in a follow-up email or phone call, you can say: “We met recently at the career fair, and I spoke with you about my work in ______. I would be interested in exploring further (what your company needs are at this time, or where our interests may align). Is there a time we can talk for 30 minutes in the next few weeks?”
  • Practice, practice, practice. Integrate your elevator speech in everyday conversation. Opportunities abound: at the bus stop when someone asks, “What do you do?” or when a fellow customer in the coffee shop line strikes up a conversation. Try out different versions and see what works.

Okay, now go!