With the three-minute thesis competition fast approaching, it’s time to answer a question. It’s the one question every Post-Grad student dreads.
“So. What’s your thesis about?”
Whether it’s asked by your lecturer, your office-mate, a fellow student or a well-meaning aunt, you have one of two options: either babble inarticulately for half an hour, explaining why it is important to study hypochondriacs in the nineteenth century who aren’t even real while gesticulating wildly and dropping such names as Foucault and Proust (who have nothing to do with your research anyway, but you’re hoping for a glimmer of recognition from your audience), or simply shrug, smile in a blasé fashion and say something like “oh, you know. Books. ”
It’s the same thing when you meet an employer, be it at an interview or an expo, and they ask you one of those questions: ‘So. What can you offer our company?”
With this in mind, it’s time to look at a third option: The elevator pitch.
The set-up is simple. Imagine you are standing waiting for an elevator and the employer/thesis supervisor/paying tyrant of your dreams comes and stands next to you. You introduce yourself, and as the doors close, your companion asks you THE QUESTION. You can see what button he’s pushed, and it’s only a floor away. You have thirty seconds, at most, to answer THE QUESTION and get his attention before he walks out those doors and on the way to his next appointment. What do you say?
- KEEP IT SHORT. Obviously, you’re not going to be able to say everything. You’ve got thirty seconds to pique their interest, and hopefully get a second interview. Around 30 -40 words is the ideal length for an elevator pitch. Remember you’re in a working elevator that is moving, not trapped in one with someone with all the time in the world.
- SAY WHAT THEY NEED TO KNOW. If you’re talking about your thesis, they don’t need to know that the last source you used was a medical text from the eighteenth century about gout, and if you’re talking about your skills, they probably don’t need to know that you play a mean game of foosball. Instead, focus on the basics: what exactly you’re researching, or what exactly you have to offer. Focus on what makes your research (or yourself) stand out from the hundreds of other people they’ve shared an elevator with.
- NO IFS, ANDS, OR BUTS. State your object clearly. If you want a historic (not fictional this time!) example of how to do this, I present this man: William Pitt the Younger. Prime Minister of England during the French Revolution, committed abolitionist, mathematical genius and great speaker (and when they call him The Younger, it’s not just because his father was famous before him – he was only 24 when he took office). In one of his speeches, he was asked by a member of the opposition to say, with no ifs, ands, or buts, why they should keep pressing for the restoration of the French monarchy. Pitt’s answer was simple:“The restoration of the French monarchy, I will still tell the honourable gentleman, I consider to be a most desirable object, because I think it would afford the strongest and best security to this country and to Europe.”A perfect elevator pitch, complete with old world civilities. He then went on to give a speech containing no less than 10 ifs and buts, just to make fun of the opposition. See? It can be done!
- PRACTICE. This is the most important part. Rehearse your pitch – tell it to friends, family, and your reflection in the bathroom mirror. Get it so that you know it, and so that you can adapt it to your audience, which is the tricky part – if your pitching your thesis to your lecturer, you might want them to know that you’re using her book as the basis for your proposal, but if it’s an employer, they might be more interested in the scholarship you’ve gotten to do it.
So – put it all together and see what you’ve got…
“Last year I was given a research scholarship to study how global warming affects the population rate of tuatara and other endangered reptiles. I’m looking for the next big challenge and I think my skills fit your company.”
“I’ve been Treasurer of my Science Club for the past three years on a casual basis, using my degree in accounting to help balance their books. I’ve got experience in this sector, and I’m up for the next step.”
You can actually say a lot in fewer than forty words – you can even defend the war in France! So, think about what skills you have, just in case. You never know who you might share a lift with.