NESI Blog: Taking your career upwards – The elevator pitch (or speech?)

So Why Are You Special?

By Professor Zoe Knowles FBASES, HCPC Registered Practitioner Psychologist, Physical Activity Exchange at the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, UK

I have the privilege of supporting postgraduate students through early career applied practice whilst under supervision and also into employment. In the UK employers are requiring ‘wider’ or ‘softer’ skills often housed under the term ‘engagement’ from their practitioners. How Graduates represent themselves by way of verbal or online introductions, presentation skills (so the dynamic not the thematics),  social media profiles and their ability to do this both authentically and effectively with a range of audiences is fundamental. Recently I’ve worked on this with Graduates and in particular an exercise which focuses on an elevator pitch (or speech) and then from this towards a congruent social media biography.

I have taken this paper as a basis and to which interested readers are directed.

Duncan Simpson (2016) “Going up?” A sport psychology consultant’s guide to the elevator speech, Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 7:2, 109-120, DOI: 10.1080/21520704.2016.1182091

Within the paper (p.109) it states that an elevator pitch involves a short (30–60 sec) persuasive speech that attempts to secure funding for a business venture or selling a product (Denning & Dew, 2012; Pollack, Rutherford, & Nagy, 2012). In contrast, an elevator speech is a brief statement of what you do (Daum, 2013), or a brief description of why you are special (Barada, 2015).

There are key questions to ask in the formulation of a speech

  • What is the purpose of your speech? Is it education, promotion, publicity, assessment or that of gaining employment?
  • Who is/are your potential clients? Do your background research on range of clients you make encounter informed by stakeholder mapping (lots of free mapping tools available online)
  • Is what you are saying congruent? Your speech should align with your philosophy of practice/beliefs; your espoused values (what you say you do) and your values in use; your other socials/website/imagery/logo; what you are saying (thematics or ‘the what’) with your non verbal communication (dynamics or ‘the how’) such as stance, setting, appearance and manner.

In the paper Simpson provides Table 1 from which ‘the what’ can be constructed – perhaps first on paper and then the following is advised

  • Work up a ‘standard’ elevator speech in your own words and targeted to a familiar stakeholder using literacy you are comfortable with. It may be too long at first but don’t worry. Read it out loud and draft to a suitable timeframe.
  • Try and ‘pitch’ this verbally to different audiences – first on paper then try it out for real in a tutorial moving from the familiar to the less familiar perhaps with your supervisor, meeting with an external stakeholder or the ‘friends and family’ test is always a good one!

I asked my graduates for some advice to those of you considering writing a pitch and they offer the following to you

  • What’s the one thing you want your audience to remember?
  • Engagement is key – stimulate this by including a question in your pitch
  • Ensure you talk about skills not just qualifications and who you work with (consider confidentiality!)
  • Speak in your authentic voice
  • You could include your own goals, where are you heading, pertinent if early career?
  • Control movement when delivering – consider proxemics, eye contact, stance, gestures
  • Be ready for a response back to you at the end of your pitch!

My final note to readers is that of ‘why are you special?’ It’s often a question we struggle with but one that needs to be tackled to understand what we can do, uniquely perhaps, for others.

Professor Zoe Knowles is a UK based award winning public engagement specialist and leads on External Engagement for the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at LJMU. She is a sport and exercise psychologist with a research background in the psycho social determinants of exercise, natural play and creative methodologies.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @SpExPsych