Wednesday, 18 July 2012

What’s in an elevator speech?

One of the themes reported to have been running through the recent SLA Conference in Chicago was to have your elevator speech prepared.

This may seem a daunting proposition to many.  What should you include?  How can you avoid making it sound cheesy and canned?  When will you be able to use it?

If you have ever had someone say to you ‘What do you do?” and been stuck for a simple, clear answer, then you’ll understand the need for a short, prepared sentence or two to explain.  The alternative is either saying “I’m a librarian” (irrespective of whether you work in a library, a knowledge centre, or somewhere else), or going into a long winded explanation of some of your daily tasks (while watching your conversational partner glazing over).

So, what does an elevator speech look like?  Here are some examples that could suit various different kinds of library & information roles:
  • I help people find the right information, from books, journals and online databases, to write better assignments, as well as training them to use the resources more effectively for themselves
  • I use a range of subscription-only sources to provide business information and analyse it to create insights the (consultants, lawyers, etc) can use in their client work, either to develop new business or provide better services to existing ones
  • I organise the organisation’s own information so people can find it more quickly and easily, and help people share the knowledge in their heads so they don’t have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ all the time
  • I support people with all sorts of things – from introducing kids to the joys of reading via storytimes and helping people find the information they need, to helping elderly people create their first email account or job seekers submitting an online job application
The key thing is to focus on the benefits to the user of the work you do for them, not to try and explain the detail of how you go about doing this.  Unless the person you’re talking to is a librarian themselves, they’re unlikely to be interested in a detailed explanation of Boolean searching or how you constructed a taxonomy! 

Another SLA Chicago attendee, Neil Infield, also blogged a while ago about a workshop he'd attended on creating an elevator pitch.  While being focused on a pitch for a business, it is well worth reading for some extra tips on how to craft a good message.
Prepare something short, outcome/solution and benefit focused, and have it ready to go next time someone at a party asks you “so... what do you do?

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