An elevator pitch is your chance to quickly describe your work and start a conversation. Although your pitch will take different forms, a successful one will:

  • Get a stranger excited about your ideas,
  • Use simple language that is familiar to your audience,
  • Include a concise phrase that captures the value of your work or idea, and
  • Take as little as 20 seconds.

The sections below describe how to develop a pitch based on the situation’s purpose, audience, and context, and how to craft and deliver the final pitch.

Contents
1. Developing a pitch
1.1. Identify your purpose
1.2. Analyze your audience
1.3. Be mindful of the context
2. Crafting and delivering a pitch
2.1. Putting it together
2.2. Delivering your pitch
3. Quick tips

 

1. Developing a pitch

To develop the pitch, focus on the purpose, audience, and context. Once you have a pitch for a specific situation, minor changes can help it fit many situations.

1.1. Identify your purpose

“Why are you giving a pitch to this person or audience?” Clarifying the purpose of your pitch will help you decide what information to include. Below are three common purposes and what to include in each case.

PURPOSE
Start a conversation Introduce yourself Introduce your research
Examples • Talking at a conference about common research topics
• Making connections at a career fair/networking
Collaborators introduction: “Introduce yourself and research area.” • Presenting a research poster at a conference
• A family friend asks “What do you do in graduate school?”
Goal Secure the listener’s interest, frame your conversation, and allow for follow-up discussion Give context for your interactions, provide touch points for follow-up Provide relevant information about your work. Allow for follow-up if interested
What to include • Name, institution, program
• Relevant research area
• Why you want to have a conversation
• Name, institution
• Relevant research area
• Pathway from their interest to your research
• Description of your research

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1.2. Analyze your audience

Just as your purpose helps you decide what topics to cover, considering your audience will help you narrow down what information or technical details to include. Audiences can be divided into four groups, with increasing levels of technical knowledge on your subject, as shown below.

AUDIENCE
General public Educated non-expert Peers or colleagues Peers or colleagues
Example Anyone you meet on the street or you don’t know the technical background of People with college or advanced degrees but not in your field Other researchers or practitioners in your field but who may not work on the same project or subfield Professors, researchers, or professional working in the same subject matter area
What to include • Connection to topic of broad interest
• Most basic technical information
• Avoid all jargon
• Connection to topic of broad interest
• Technical info only where relevant
• Some science jargon
• How your project fits in the field
• Relevant technical info
• The exact nature of your work
• Background is unnecessary
• Use jargon where convenient

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1.3. Be mindful of the context

Understanding the context of your pitch, both in terms of social atmosphere and length of time, will help make your pitch stick with your audience. Context can be broadly grouped into four categories:

CONTEXT
Casual Semi-formal Formal Competition
Example Happy hour with peers or discussions with family/friends Talking with a speaker after their conference presentation Introducing yourself during an interview or large meeting Pitching your work at a case competition or showcase
Things to consider • Allow for 2-way conversation
• Gauge their knowledge/interest
• Length is dependent on interest and engagement (<30 sec)
• Professional yet conversational
• Keep the pitch concise (~20 sec)
• Make your points/requests and allow the listener to decide if the conversation continues (~20 sec)
• Brevity is key
• Keep your language formal
• Stick to requested information
• Leave follow up to listener
• Treat this like a sales pitch for your work
• Be sure the pitch appeals to the audience
• Be cognizant of time requirements

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2. Crafting and delivering a pitch

With your pitch purpose, audience, and context in mind, bring all the pieces together and focus on delivery.

2.1. Putting it together

Order the content of your pitch in three steps:

  1. Set up: introducing a broad problem that the audience can relate to or describing the specific problem in the field that you’re trying to solve
  2. Description of your work: overall or a specific portion of your work
  3. Follow up: describing how your work solves the specific problem or why you’re interested in talking more with them

The figure below shows how these three parts fit together, where you can start based on pitch audience and where you can end based on pitch purpose. A good rule of thumb is to limit the content you associate with each box to 1-2 sentences. Try to cross out non-essential words or jargon, and focus on the key concepts. (Note that you will adjust your pitch further when you start practicing.)

 

Curious how to put together a pitch using the figure above? On the right are three examples illustrating what a pitch could look like for different audiences and purposes. In the next section, we’ll discuss how these pitches are written to be heard, not read.

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2.2. Delivering your pitch

Because your oral delivery is as important as the message itself, it is essential that you practice delivering your pitch aloud. Continue to edit your pitch to make it more natural-sounding to you, and more memorable for your audience.

Adjust what you say: The way we write is different from the way we speak. When drafting your pitch on paper, your sentences and words may tend to be longer and more complicated than in day-to-day conversations. This written structure is often too rigid for a pitch and will feel forced when you try to deliver it as is. Read your pitch out loud as you draft it to ensure that it sounds natural.

Adjust how you say it: A good pitch feels natural. You are comfortable with the words and structure because you have practiced delivering it, yet it’s not rigid or robotic from over-practice. Natural conversations have changes in energy, speed, and volume, so try to vary the way you speak to emphasize the most important parts of your pitch. Use pauses to let the audience think about something you said or underscore the importance of a point.

Think about how you interact with your audience: The most effective pitches may require you to tweak your pitch as you deliver it. For casual pitch contexts, you can use questions to directly gauge audience interest or knowledge, and change the “Set up” or “Description of your work.” Try to read the audience’s non-verbal cues and be ready to pivot to a different topic, or end the pitch early if it’s clear that they’re not interested in what you’re saying.

Practice your pitch and seek feedback from friends, family, or group members to help refine your content and delivery.

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3. Quick tips

  • “No one listens to your content unless you connect with them,” says Tony Eng from MIT EECS. Being genuinely interested in something unique about the other person will help you establish this connection.
  • Introduce yourself using both your first and last names. Nancy Houfek from Harvard notes that, in professional settings, women are more likely than men to omit their last names and often risk being less memorable. (It is also encouraged to introduce your colleagues with both their first and last names.)
  • Speak your name clearly and slowly, and pause briefly before introducing your work. This will help your audience remember you and start making connections.
  • When practicing your pitch, consider marking your “script” with delivery cues to highlight which words to emphasize, where to pause, and where to change the intonation of your voice.
  • Do not rush through your elevator pitch. It is better to say fewer words more slowly, than more words too fast.

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