As part of my Twitter takeover for the @IAmSciComm account recently I talked about the “Elevator Pitch” and how to communicate the importance of your science quickly and to a(n often) lay audience. If you’re not sure why you should spend time on your elevator pitch remember that networking is a huge part of science, getting your audience excited about your work can lead to collaborations, new opportunities and funding!
So here is a summary of what we discussed:
You may already know that much of my research is focused on genetics and disease - whether its rare diseases such as muscular dystrophy and cardiomyopathy, or heart function measures such as the ECG. They can be fairly easily related to problems that society can understand are important, but it can be harder when you’re trying to convince someone of the importance of your “basic” research question.
Sometimes the easiest place to start is to focus on why you became interested in the problem/question - if it got your attention maybe it will work for others too.
But what if there is no obvious “real world” application for your work just yet ... well then your first task might be to highlight how fundamental discoveries have led to important applications that can impact society - one example might be the identification of CRISPR sequences in bacteria. Most people have now heard of “gene editing” and “molecular scissors” or CRISPR-Cas9.
Although you may start with these examples of how fundamental research has led to great things, be careful not to claim too much of your own work just yet because of course often we don’t know what will come of our work at such an early stage.
What you can be sure of is that through your research you will collect information about how the world works and this will increase our knowledge allowing future work to build upon this, and this could in turn lead to important discoveries that impact society. A great example is the editorial written in Science Magazine in 1989 when the Cystic Fibrosis Gene was first identified:
So lets say now that you’re ready to put together your elevator pitch - well it’s a good idea to make note of who your target audience is. Whilst the approach is similar you may for example use more technical language if talking to a scientific audience.
If you’re thinking of how to break it down start with the ‘problem or question’ - again this is where your audience matters because you want them to see this problem/question as being relevant to them too.
1. Know your audience & what motivates them,
2. Link this to the big picture of what you’re working on,
3. Tell them what’s innovative about your work/how it’s trying to address the big problem,
4. Talk about the impact of your work & who will be the first to benefit.
And remember you’re not aiming to tell them everything, you just want to spark their interest enough that they will ask questions to find out more! ...and why not use your Elevator Pitch as an intro when presenting a poster at your next conference, or if you use Twitter use it to summarise your latest paper.
Most importantly keep in mind that you won’t be great straight away - it takes time and effort to find the best way to get your message across, so don’t give up, and remember to keep practicing!
(NB it’s also worth mentioning that not everyone will be interested in your research question however great your elevator pitch is - so don’t worry if you leave some people unenthused!)