No doubt those of us who watched the final of The Apprentice did so with a sort of morbid curiosity, squirming yet captivated as the final four underwent the gruelling series of interviews. Seeing other people put on the spot helps us to evaluate our own performances without having to actually face the dragons (or is that a different programme?) ourselves. As well as engaging in some feisty self-promotion, the finalists were selling their business proposals. There’s not much for a capitalist to drool over in my research on contemporary theatre, but when the interviewer surprised Helen (and us at home) by asking her to stand behind the chair and give her spiel, I began thinking about what I could learn from her ordeal.
There’s an “elevator” (I reluctantly use the Americanism in deference to the catchy phrase) in my University library. Assuming I want a job in my home department and am not planning a sudden leap into Agriculture (the fourth floor), or meeting my prospective employer on her/his way to the mythical fifth floor (microfiche), that gives me exactly 19.6 seconds of captive audience. That’s a challenge. If I were to share this confined space with an esteemed academic, and want to sell my research wares, what would I say?
Locate your research quickly
Admittedly everything about the elevator pitch has to be done quickly. But there’s no point launching into a detailed analysis of [insert niche doctorate topic here] without expressing its value. The question is: why?
Be specific on methodology
Your listener will want to know what you actually do all day, if they are thinking of maybe, one day, possibly, paying you to do it.
Use illustrations or examples
Abstract assertions? Sweeping generalisations? Impenetrable jargon? Your prospective employer would be forgiven for deciding to take the stairs.
Make it easy for them to follow up. Contact details, publication information, conference dates: anything to help the conversation carry on.
Admittedly, I’d have to hope for some kind of mechanical fault to get all that across… You may not have the good fortune to meet your next head of department on the ground floor of a tall building. But there are plenty of great opportunities to share your research with your peers in an interdisciplinary environment, which really helps to consolidate and stretch your thinking. Next week I’ll be attending ‘Life Beyond the PhD’ (Cumberland Lodge, Surrey, 15-18 August 2011) doing just that. The recent ‘New Media and Academia’ conference (Northumbria University, 10-11 May 2011) had delegates create short YouTube clips introducing their research. There might even be something to be said for getting your elevator pitch down to that elusive 140 characters.
I hope that cures your claustro-acro-phobia. Let me know how you get on!