Perfecting Your Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch can help you summarize your project and its strengths to funders, supporters, and potential collaborators in 15 seconds to one minute. Having a well-rehearsed pitch can bring about great opportunities for your next artistic endeavor. Jackie Battenfield and Aaron Landsman, Professional Development Program Leaders, offer some tips for preparing your elevator pitch.

So what is an elevator pitch? The term “elevator pitch” comes from the advertising world. It is a pitch that sells your idea or product to someone in the time it takes to ride an elevator. Imported to the milieu of the arts, it is a brief oral statement about you and your work. It can be general or project specific. Once you hone your elevator pitch, you can use it at parties, meetings, networking events, or any other situation where you have a brief opportunity to get someone interested in your work or your project.

Length Fifteen seconds to one minute.

Getting started Jot down three basic points you want to get across in response to the questions, “What is your work like?” and “What do you do?” Now spend some time figuring out how to make those points in a way that you feel good about, in one minute. Don’t forget to include obvious details like the title and medium of your project, as well as the juicier stuff like why this project is so important to you and what it’s really about. If you’re having trouble, start with the most basic, concrete details—is it a series of paintings, a dance piece, an installation made of wood chips and string?

Some general tips:

  1. An hour a minute. In theater, a rule of thumb is that, for every minute of stage time in a play, you need an hour of rehearsal time—and that’s when the script is already written. So think about spending at least an hour on this. Don’t just repeat your pitch 60 times; it’s more a measure of how long you should concentrate to get to something good.
  2. Make it sound like you. Your pitch should balance professionalism, authenticity and enthusiasm. It should sound like you, not your idea of how an artist is supposed to sound, or like other artists around you might sound. If you are naturally effusive and bubbly, use it; conversely, if you are reserved and thoughtful, you can draw people to you by your compelling silences and carefully chosen phrases.
  3. It’s normal to be nervous. ‘Um,’ ‘uh,’ and ‘well,’ are used commonly enough that if they come out of your mouth during your pitch, your prospects are not doomed.
  4. Test-drive your pitch. Before putting it to the test in a high-stakes professional situation, try your elevator pitch out in informal conversations. See how people react. Try to notice when people tune in or out, when they become curious and start asking questions, and when they seem confused. Tailor your pitch accordingly. Your pitch will change as your work changes, and as you find yourself using it in different situations.
  5. Different situations require different versions. A constantly evolving elevator pitch will make you feel more interested and invested in what you are saying. In fact, you might have several minutes’ worth floating around in your brain. Over time you’ll become an expert at recognizing what each situation demands.

More tips for nervous speakers Your work is obviously important to you. Your nerves—those clammy palms and tongue-tied feelings—just mean you really care. Here are some ways to work with that nervous energy and turn it to a force of good.

  1. Note where the nerves manifest in your body. Next time you feel tension creeping in, take note of those places. Just feel them. Don’t tell yourself to relax, that will increase your tension. Bring your awareness inside your body and see if you can breathe into the tension. If you find yourself in the middle of an attack of nerves, you can always take a moment to collect your thoughts, even when you’re talking to a fancy person at a cocktail party.
  2. Feel your feet on the floor. When you’re standing in front of someone, or a whole group, just feel your feet on the floor, and maybe softly bend the backs of your knees. This is a way to check your nerves and get rooted to the ground, without having to do anything that is visible to the listener.
  3. Do a warm up. Before you get to the nerve-wracking situation, massage your jaw, go for a run, do yoga or any other activity that calms you down.


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