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Most of us find ourselves, at one time or another, in a situation in which we need to explain what we do very briefly. To avoid the tendency to go on at length about yourself, your project, or your research we encourage you to develop and practice a 30-second (or less) “elevator” speech that you could give at a moment’s notice—and in the time it would take to ride from the ground floor to the top floor of an office building or hotel.

“Tell Me a Little About Yourself…”
Explaining Your Work in 30 Seconds or Less

This is a good exercise for developing a brief, razor-sharp description of who you are and what you do. This will likely be useful not only at professional gatherings, but at family holiday gatherings as well!  Here are a few thoughts on creating this short presentation.

1. Who are you talking to? 
Consider these questions in crafting your description:

  • How familiar are they with your subject matter?
  • What are their biases/interests?
  • How can you connect your topic to what they care about?

2. What’s your message?
A message is a statement that describes what a person or organization is, does, or most importantly, believes. Hone the 1-2 key messages or take-aways from your poster/research when preparing your presentation. Avoid jargon or acronyms that your listener may not know or understand.  This message(s) should answer one or more of the following:

  • Why is this research/project important?
  • What makes your research/project unique?
  • What are the short- or long-term benefits of this research?
  • Why should the person/audience care about your work?

3. Can you make it personal?
This is a perfect opportunity to show that researchers are people too!  It is not just about the science. Relating a relevant biographical note or a crisp anecdote that points to why you were led to this research is an effective way to connect with your audience.

4. Can you tell a story?
A short (say 10-15 second) story about a client, friend or person involved in your research can go a long way toward getting your message across. It will shrink the rest of your elevator speech, but you may be surprised by how much information can be carried in a narrative.

5. Practice. 
Practice with a friend or colleague (preferably someone not too familiar with your work). Consider recording your elevator speech and reviewing it to fine-tune the content as well as your delivery.

Remember:  The best descriptions leave the listener wanting more. If you succeed with your 30-second presentation, you’ll likely have three or four more minutes to elaborate on your work.

*Developed by Strategic Communications & Planning for the 2007 GSA Leadership Conference.

Message Modules – Use Your Elevator Pitch as the Building Block for Stronger Content from Nancy Schwartz & Co.

How to Craft an Effective Elevator Speech by Chris King.

Preparing Your Elevator Speech from the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University.

An Elevator Speech—an Indispensable Tool for Self Promotion by Molly Gordon, Master Certified Coach.

The Hartford Online Communications Resource depends on the active participation of the foundation’s grantees. If you have a resource related to elevator speeches that you would like to share, please let us know so we can post it on the site and make it available to the rest of the Hartford network.

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