An Introduction for All Occasions: The Elevator Pitch
“So, what do you do?”
For scientists, answering this question—a standard at cocktail parties and conferences alike—can require some thought. When asked by another scientist, what it really means is “What do you research, and why does it matter?”
We’re asked to explain our science at conferences, interviews, seminars, in grant proposals, outreach events, and in conversations with scientists and nonscientists alike. Having a ready answer—an “elevator pitch”—up your sleeve can help you get funding, collaborate with colleagues, and do better outreach.
An “elevator pitch” is a summarization and, in a sense, promotion of your work. As the name indicates, it’s meant to last the time it takes to have a conversation during a ride in an elevator. Elevator pitches are short and to the point, but also grab your attention and make you want to learn more. Although the pitch you’d give to a group of high school students at an outreach event is a bit different from one you’d use when introducing yourself to a colleague, the general structure stays the same.
A key part of an elevator pitch is its brevity—ideally, it lasts only 30-60 seconds. This doesn’t mean your conversation ends after your pitch; rather, at that point you continue to discuss the aspects of your pitch your audience most connects with.
Creating the Elevator Pitch
There’s more than one way to create a successful elevator pitch, depending on your audience and how long you have to pitch it. If you only have time for a few sentences, using the ABT (And-But-Therefore) formula developed by science communicator Randy Olson is a great way to develop a concise and powerful narrative about your research (for more about the ABT approach, check out our Get Communicating page). You can further flesh out your ABT elevator pitch to create something a bit longer, or if you’re talking to a group of scientists who are likely to be familiar with your research, use the template below.
To create a successful elevator pitch, start out with a quick introduction. Say who you are and what your research question is. You can also mention why studying it is
Example: My name is _____________ , and I’m looking at how/why ____________ . Knowing more about this can help us better predict/develop solutions for _______________.
Then explain any necessary background information as simply as possible. Analogies and imagery work great here. If your audience is a colleague in your field, you can omit the background or use more technical language.
Example: ________________ are the ______________ of the sea. When you’re hungry, you might eat a big hamburger, but these creatures “eat” tiny molecules of nutrients like nitrogen.
Next, discuss your results. What have you discovered? How are you working to answer your research question?
Example: So far, we’ve found that _______________ leads to _______________, especially when _____________ is abundant.
Finally, talk about what these results mean and the potential benefits of this new knowledge. Emphasize how your research relates to people’s everyday lives, even if the practical implications are far in the future.
Example: These results indicate that ___________ , and we can use this knowledge to ___________.
Although elevator pitches are short, it takes time to develop a good one. Science is complex, but you’re going to have to pare things down—simplify your message, simplify your vocabulary, and let go of some detail—to come up with an effective pitch. Take a step back and consider the big picture: what is the larger goal of your research? What is its larger purpose?
Guidelines for general science outreach hold true here, particularly the need to eliminate jargon. Don’t be afraid to use simple vocabulary, as people will let you know if they’re already familiar with your research area. Another way to gauge your listener’s knowledge is to ask them, “Are you familiar with __________?”
Don’t write your pitch down word for word. Instead, use bullet points to help to keep the content of your pitch flexible, depending on your audience and time constraints. The final step is to practice your pitch. See approximately how long it is, how well it works with different audiences—and get pitching!