Written by Melissa Marshall

Have you ever walked away from a conversation about your work with an important individual and thought, “Darn. I wish I would have explained that better or said it this way instead…”? Or maybe you had an unexpected interaction with someone who asked about your work and you just started rambling on with a long technical explanation (thinking to yourself the whole time “Why am I still talking?!”) only to see your conversation partner’s eyes glaze over and have them give a polite smile and say “Well, that’s…interesting.”.

These are the kinds of situations that I hear about all the time when I work with scientists and researchers to help them communicate their work more effectively. And there is one phrase that always comes up when people reflect on these interactions: “A missed opportunity.”

You simply never know when you might enter an important conversation and be asked to provide a short, understandable, and engaging summary of your work. The stakes are even higher when you have the unexpected opportunity to speak with someone who might be a potential funder or collaborator on your research. Don’t miss these opportunities to make an impression and start a meaningful conversation!

There is one little communication tool that every researcher should have at the ready—the Elevator Pitch. It’s a super short (I usually say less than 60 seconds) explanation of your work.

I think the best way to think about an Elevator Pitch is as a spark that ignites further conversation or a future meeting. If done well, it should be the beginning of something, not a stand-alone item that is delivered without follow up. Your goal should be to make your Elevator Pitch memorable and understandable so someone can ask you questions to start a lively conversation or so someone is intrigued enough to ask for your card for a follow up meeting.

Take a look at the video tutorial I’ve provided here and spend some time thinking about your Elevator Pitch using the strategy I’ve outlined. Make a few notes. Practice it a few times. Try it out on colleagues and friends (technical and non-technical) and get some feedback. Then file it away in your brain and the next time someone says, “Tell me a little bit about your work,” be ready to seize the opportunity!