2.1 Elevator pitches
A good starting-point for communicating academic work with a non-specialist audience is to think about how you might describe your own research to someone who has no prior knowledge of your subject area. Often, as academic researchers, we are accustomed to sharing our work using long-form methods aimed at audiences who already have some understanding of our field (think PhD theses, detailed articles published in academic journals, or whole books). It is also important, however, to be able to communicate what we do in more concise ways to those who aren’t yet familiar with the topic. Many of us will have encountered examples of impenetrable academic prose which we need to reread several times in order to understand, or lectures which we have found baffling, even on topics with which we are familiar. Lack of clarity, failure to explain key terms, or a convoluted structure can all inhibit an audience’s understanding of the subject matter of a talk or written text.
It can be very useful to have your own ‘elevator pitch’ which sums up your research topic in order to spark interest in your work. (The idea behind an ‘elevator pitch’ is that it is short enough to be delivered in the course of a conversation with a stranger in the time it takes for an elevator to move between floors.)
A succinct description which gives a short introduction to the subject you’re working on can be helpful in all sorts of situations, from describing what you do to a new acquaintance or a family member, to pitching an idea to a media organisation or talking to visitors at a public engagement event.
Ideally your elevator pitch should do the following:
- avoid, where possible, the use of jargon or technical/specialist terminology which is normally used only by members of your research community
- if specialist terminology is really the only accurate way of describing something, give a clear explanation of its meaning (this is known as ‘glossing’)
- ‘gloss’ any names (of, for example, people or places) which might be unfamiliar to someone who does not already have prior knowledge of your topic
- be short enough to hold your listener/reader’s
Three sentences is an ideal length to aim for here; this should be enough to sum up your topic, and a good elevator pitch will provide enough information that your audience feels equipped to ask a follow-up question. It’s worth bearing in mind too that a written elevator pitch might differ from one which you use in a spoken conversation.