The importance of an elevator speech

It’s called an “elevator pitch” or “speech,” but it could also be referred to as the “water cooler speech,” the “cocktail party speech,” or the standard blurb you use at your family get-togethers. When time is limiting (e.g., an elevator ride), it helps to have a 30-60 second summary of exactly what it is that you do and how you, as an individual, are contributing to your respective field. Ideally, once this micro-speech has been delivered, the impression that you leave should be memorable and long-lasting, especially if it is passionate and effortlessly delivered. Most importantly though, your listener(s) should recall your speech whenever they hear of that topic again, and, when relevant, your unique twist on it.

Why is it important to prepare an elevator speech? As a scientist working in a research laboratory that is primarily funded by taxpayers, it is your responsibility to be able to explain what you are studying to a broader audience. Indeed, good communication is key to engendering trust between the research community and the general populace. Elevator speeches also serve as educational tools, putting you in a position to relay your hard-earned knowledge to people who may not be educated in your field.

Elevator speeches can also be a great tool for career development and have the potential to connect you with future employers, collaborators, or funding agencies. Kate Bradford, the winner of the 2013 ASCB Elevator Speech contest, said that “competing in the Elevator Speech contest gave me the confidence to pursue other opportunities that involved public speaking: outreach, Capitol Hill visits, and teaching. I’ve learned that not only do I love talking about science, I love teaching science communication as well, which I do in my current position at JHU!” In her job search, Kate included the YouTube link of her award-winning talk in her application materials, and noted that “it was brought up positively in every interview,” and helped her land her current position as the Assistant Director of Career Services in the Professional Development and Career Office at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The ASCB Elevator Speech Contest was conceived by the Public Information Committee (PIC) to recognize the power of elevator speeches and to encourage researchers to be prepared to explain their work to anyone. Each year, we solicit 90-second video submissions and offer exciting prizes to winners of the contest at the ASCB/EMBO Meeting. We encourage applicants to inject their own personal style into the videos and to use easy-to-understand language (avoid jargon) so that the video is accessible to a broad audience. Most importantly, we want the participants to have fun sharing their work and explaining why you consider your research important for funding and the greater good of society.

For more information about the contest and how to submit an entry, follow this link. And if you are going to the meeting in San Diego, consider attending the Advocacy Toolbox session sponsored by the Public Policy Committee and co-sponsored by the PIC to learn more about strategies to communicate with general audiences in a variety of contexts.

To learn more about how to submit to the ASCB Elevator Speech Contest during the annual meeting, go to:

About the Author:

Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Michigan
Callie Wigington, is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Biology, Stanford University.