An elevator speech format

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Today the PhD students and I did this exercise, among others, to prepare elevator speeches that will work with a wider audience.

Step 1: Watch the presentation by Steven Johnson on his book, Where Good Ideas Come From. Then answer:

  • How long have I been exploring this?
  • Why is it relevant?
  • What’s my approach/ perspective?
  • What are my specific questions?
  • What are my findings in general?
  • What is one example?
  • How do I explain this?
  • What story do I have for you?

Step 2: Make a speech of your own using phrases similar to his:

  • For the past…. months/years I’ve been investigating….
  • It’s the kind of/ a problem/question/issue I think….
  • I’ve looked at this problem from a/an… perspective/ the perspective of….
  • So what I’m exploring is: What are/is the …?
  • And what I’ve found, in all of these systems/ the research, there are recurring patterns;…
  • One pattern I call/ is…
  • And this is partially because/ may be due to…
  • This is particularly relevant because….
  • So you see…
  • There’s a great story about…


6 Responses

  1. I saw this task bomb (partly) with a mixed level group of academics, for whom the sentence starters contained grammar chunks that were just too difficult to swallow.

    Using an authentic video like this as a model for an elevator speech is fine, but it doesn’t translate easily into a productive task. Several steps need to follow the listening comprehension before introducing the sentence starters he uses.

    I designed a similar task for the Cornelsen book project, and it works much better because I scripted it using simpler sentence starters. But I really want to avoid scripting! Using authentic material is so much nicer. Yet, productive tasks really only work when the task is properly graded. Bah!

  2. Oh great video Anne. I’d missed that one – thanks so much for posting it.

    Re the difficulties of using phrases similar to his – yes it’s a bummer. Presumably the questions worked well though – they look very promising.

    I think the sentence starter task was always doomed, for the reasons you say and because it’s surprising how infrequently chains of words get repeated in corpora – even quite short ones. But a more abstract diagram, chart or pattern for how the whole talk is organized – so something more at a discourse level. Is that something that could provide a generative framework perhaps?

  3. Hi Vicki,
    Thanks and yes, I agree: the diagrams have it! I like that flakey video, too, especially for its succinct structure; but it’s not quite right for these guys, because criteria 3 and 4 are too far off from what a scientist’s elevator pitch would be: Greed inducing? In academia? And irrefutable? When we’re talking about science??
    Last week one of the professors in Leipzig said something that blew my mind. Each participant presented a concept that was central to his or her thinking, and one of them said “trust”. He talked about the ethics of science, but also fast and true professional relationships and networks built on trust. In that context, an elevator speech becomes something very different – more of a crystal clear restatement of purpose. I have yet to find The Video for that.
    Hope things are good in Philadelphia 🙂

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