Research Design Service: East Midlands
National Institute for Health Research

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Elevator Pitch

  Created on Tuesday, 07 Feb 2017. Posted in Design Tips

Elevator pitches are becoming increasingly popular as a way to promote and sell your research idea. The pitches tell a story. Our brains love stories as they are easier to remember, they pull people in and show them what benefits your research idea can offer. Elevator pitches can also provide a test for the integrity of your idea. If you struggle to formulate your idea in a concise simple way then maybe you need to work on it some more. You are the expert on your research idea and you need to convey the importance and the benefits that will arise from the research to extremely busy funding panel members who may only spend a short time reading your proposal. Apart from NIHR’s Invention for Innovation (i4i) programme no other funder currently demands an elevator type presentation, but you can still use the elevator pitch technique to formulate the most important elements that need to go into your plain English summary.

Traditionally an elevator pitch contains a complicated, nuanced idea, pitched into a 60 second simple, memorable and convincing speech.

Goal: The goal of the elevator pitch is to generate interest and create a longer conversation about your idea. For funding applicants it is to keep the funding panel interested in your research and moving it up the ranking into the fundable projects zone.

Delivery:

  • It should be delivered in the manner you normally talk, so it doesn’t appear forced, but it also needs to be practised. 60 seconds may be a short time for the speaker but can seem like a long time to the listener!
  • It’s always good to pose questions in the pitch as it invites to both a longer conversation and also engages the listener to think about your idea.
  • Pause – give the listener a chance to interject

Key ingredients:

  • Include only the most important things that will make the listener want to hear more (including all the information about an idea will confuse and likely annoy the listener)
  • Show why you are worth investing by:
    • Identifying the need – what problem exits for whom. In 2 sentences highlight the problem and focus on the benefits and results your idea will bring to solve it.
    • Identify your USP (unique selling point) use a simple, short and focused statement to talk about 1 or at the most 2 key features of the idea that will impact on the problem.
  • Try using one of the following formats for your pitch:
    • Problem / Why it matters / Potential solutions / Benefits of fixing it (Nature 494, 137-138 (2013))
    • Context / Importance / Problem / What happens next

Audience: Know your audience and develop your pitch to suit. Often funding panels or fellow researchers will have some basic knowledge but they won’t be experts in your field. The public on the other hand will need a much simpler explanation.

  • Grandmother speech (or 14 year old child speech): Put it in words that they will understand, you want to engage them not baffle them! This type of speech is used with the media. If your research is funded, the plain English summary will be published on a variety of websites, without the rest of this application form.
  • Job interview speech: This audience will have a basic understanding of your field but won’t be experts. You need to be engaging, relevant and show the impact to the wider world to catch their attention. Most funding panel members are likely to be in this category, they will be reading the plain English summary first to get the gist of your idea. You want them to be so interested after reading this that they spend time reading the rest of the application!
  • Fellow researcher speech: This is the audience that you will meet at conferences, experts in your field but not in your specific area. You need to describe quickly what you do over coffee to gain their interest. This type of elevator speech may come in useful when you are looking to find other collaborators to enhance your team.

Tips for success:

  • Keep it short (less is more) – concise
  • avoid jargon and abbreviations
  • be enthusiastic, but don’t over promise - compelling
  • relate to the bigger picture, something that your audience can appreciate or relate to
  • avoid information overload
  • use analogies and/or strong images
  • relate your research to something the listener knows and/or cares about
  • practice your speech at any opportunity

Here are two YouTube examples of research pitches that won prizes and one about the power of stories: