How to give an elevator pitch (firehose session)?

In the previous LAK conference (LAK’14); I was one of the demo participants. I presented the dashboard (see 5 min. description video) I’ve created which visualises the analysis of the SoLAR’s LAK dataset through the automated meta-discourse parser, XIP (or see 1 min. overview video).

All the demo and poster participants required to overview their work in 60 seconds with a single slide in a “firehose session” which is basically the same thing with an “elevator pitch”. More than 15 people lined up in front of all the conference participants to SUM UP (!) their research with one single slide in 60 seconds. Well, it is tough. Why? Because you worked hard on your stuff and you’d like the rest of the world to know every single detail of your endeavour. But these sessions are great to actually sell your work. Yes it is kind of marketing and advertisement. Think the TV ads… They are short, interesting, attractive, to the point and aim to get attention of many customers while underlying the key messages briefly but effectively.

First, it sounded a bit scary to me talk just under a minute in front of hundreds of people. Well, what if my tongue twists? Then it means losing 5 seconds!? Then what? I’ll probably hear that buzz in the middle of my speech or I’ll speak crazily fast to make the wasted time up. Well for all these reasons you should spend time for preparing yourself to the pitch fully. First of all, you need a narrative. Write your narrative down and rehearse it as much as you can (at least 15 times, which is just 15 mins.). Here are some tips for writing up your narrative:

  1. As I said, you can’t describe your research fully. So, think on the key messages. What would you like them to remember from your talk?
  2. I suggest not to use any jargon at all. Time is limited and you should nor puzzle your audience with the complex terms that they might now have heard.
  3. Don’t just talk and talk! Try to involve the audience. For example, you can start your pitch by asking a question such as: “how many of you ever used/heard/tried/etc. …”
  4. Try to connect your audience with empathy. Try to answer the question of: “what’s in it for me?” in your pitch. Why they should come and talk to you further? Empathise their needs and focus on those. How can you help them? How can your work be valued by them?
  5. Once you discovered the problem that your audience might also experiencing then offer your solution.
  6. And call them for action to speak with you more.

To show you an example, I’m writing down my narrative from last year.


(WHO ARE YOU?) Hello everyone! I’m Duygu Simsek, I’m a 2nd year PhD student at The Open University, UK.
(WHAT IS YOUR IDEA? WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH?) and I work on whether learning analytics can be used to improve academic writing.
(CONNECT WITH EMPATHY) We all write to communicate our work in the academia. We all review the literature, trying to make sense of it, critically analyse it and then deliver our thinking to the rest of the research world. Whether we are a research student, or a post doc, or a professor as part of research routine we all need to write in an academically sound way! We sometimes find it challenging and imagine how hard it is for our undergrad students to produce a good academic piece.
(OFFER A SOLUTION -BE MEMORABLE & GRAB ATTENTION) So wouldn’t it be great if there was a tool that could help us to improve our writing that gives you a visual feedback and lets you to make sense of the literature?
(CALL TO ACTION FOR THE AUDIENCE) If you are interested to hear more about this work and if you’d like to see your paper analysed by a machine like this come and see me at the DEMO area with my poster so that you can dive in the world of automated help!


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Once you are done with the narrative then think about the slide. You have one slide to tell your story. So try not to create something text heavy! Well if you can, don’t even insert any text except your name and title. Do you have a nice caricature that summarises the overall idea? The go for it. It doesn’t have to be serious. Don’t forget, you might loose some of your audience who will look to your slide and miss your key point; therefore try to add a simple figure or diagram that summarises the research. Try to make your audience to listen what you are saying so they can talk to you in detail following the pitch. 

Well good luck and in case you have more suggestions, simply comment 🙂

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2 thoughts on “How to give an elevator pitch (firehose session)?

  1. According to an old story, the famous rabbi and scholar, Hillel, was asked by a non-Jew to explain the Jewish religion while standing on one leg, i.e. in a very short time. His succinct answer at this early fire-hose session has survived for a couple of thousand years. That’s the sort of impact to aim for!

    1. Hi Rebecca, thanks for sharing the story. It is a very good anecdote to exemplify what sort of impact we actually aim in such a short time.