Nora Murphy 2014-02-12 14:24:39
An elevator speech is not about telling your entire story in one breath. It’s about capturing the attention and interest of your audience so you can start a conversation. Useful websites like ElevatorSpeech.com and the Harvard Business School Elevator Speech Builder discourage making rote speeches and instead suggest using a core concept that will connect with the audience at hand. In Session 704 at the 2013 CoSA/SAA Joint Annual Meeting, panelists shared situations in which they had to make elevator speeches as well as the effective tactics they used in crafting a speech that stuck with their audiences. Breaking It Down in the Break Room: A Serendipitous Pitch Gone Right One day while working part-time at the Social Law Library in Boston, Elise Dunham found herself chatting with the executive director about her project to process the library’s archives, which had been partially inventoried several years earlier. The look on his face expressed both intrigue and confusion. The director was excited about the project and asked questions that made for an excellent conversation about “More Progress, Less Process” (without actually diving into the complexities of the topic). As the conversation ended, the executive director asked her to write a summary of the project for a report to the Board of Trustees. She tested her elevator pitch, and hopefully planted a seed that will grow into an appreciation of and resources for the Social Law Library archives. Unexpected Treasures in the Creek Tribal Archives Deidra Suwanee Dees wove a story about preserving treasures in the Creek Tribal Archives. Many years ago, a fire broke out in the home of Chief Calvin McGhee, where many records documenting the tribe’s history had been kept. Other items had been damaged because of their storage conditions; they had been kept in attics or outbuildings, were baked in the sun, or were eaten by bugs and rodents. Dees worked to fill the void left by the lost records, leading the effort to work with people or organizations to obtain originals or copies. She also asked the tribe’s records committee to invest in preservation methods by purchasing a freezer. Thanks to her elevator speech, they purchased a portable freezer to use to preserve old and new archival treasures. Digital Curation MadLibs Carolyn Hank avoids using archival jargon, instead opting for terms that are familiar to the public and convey the same sort of ideas. This led her to create “Mad Libs for Digital Curation.” (Mad Libs is a word game where one player prompts another for a list of words to substitute for blanks in a story, before reading the story aloud). Hank thinks of the best verbs, nouns, adverbs, and adjectives to engage her audience. Hank also plays a “Six Degrees of Separation from Digital Curation” game when advocating. She asks those who are unfamiliar with digital curation to give her a research, teaching, or learning area and explains how that area in six degrees or less relates to the lifecycle management of digital or borndigital content. Archives: The Elementary Answer When Stacie Williams worked at a public library, six-year-old Gabrielle had a very clear idea of what she did. But when Williams went to work in special collections, Gabrielle asked, “What’s an archivist?” Williams knew she could not explain finding aids, provenance, or other complicated topics. Instead she told Gabrielle that archivists take old stuff and tell stories with it. She said, “Let’s build a collection of Gabrielle. We’ll gather a princess poster, an American Girl doll, artwork, workbooks, and lots of alphabet cards. We’ll put all of these things in a box and it would tell people what kind of little girl you are. These are the types of stories we could tell.” Now Gabrielle knows what archivists do. Just Calling It an Archive Doesn’t Make It an Archive Dan Horvath uses different pitches for different situations and audiences, whether he’s talking about his job or his institution. Each pitch has a similar approach; he mainly works to ensure that the person he’s talking to doesn’t feel ignorant. Horvath wants them to know he has an incredible job in a cool profession. He talks about his job caring for historical records of the software engineering institute at Carnegie Mellon, a federally funded research and development center that deals with software and security. When developing an elevator speech, Horvath feels it’s important to be aware of your audience, tailor your pitch, and avoid the appearance of a canned speech. Archives as a Service Harrison Inefuku has been working to instill in the faculty at Iowa State University the benefits of the school’s institutional repository. He pitches his work as a service, providing the basic information faculty need to get started. He notes that the repository provides free and open access to scholarly work. The archive increases the visibility of scholarship and citation counts, and helps satisfy openaccess mandates from federal and other granting agencies. Inefuku also stresses that individuals can submit materials to the archive, and he will handle the work of gaining copyright clearances and putting materials online. The idea came from a department chair who noted, “It’s a service-oriented position, and Harrison is providing a valuable service for my faculty.” The Power of Peer Pressure Mary Manning described an imaginary encounter with her university president who approaches her while she’s serving syrup at a pancake breakfast. She’d say, “I work in the archives, which documents the history of our university. It’s used by researchers, administrators, and the media. As glad as we are to have researchers in the reading room, many would like to see materials online, and we have put a lot of stuff online. But I’m really excited about digitizing the campus newspapers. We’ve identified some units on campus that are interested in collaborating, and potential donors. Many institutions have put their newspapers online, and they’ve proven to be popular resources for researchers, administration on campus— particularly development and alumni affairs—and alumni.” At that moment Manning would hand the president her card . . . Most likely covered with syrup. A Stranger Will Tell Your Story If You Don’t Jill Severn’s duties at the University of Georgia include collection development for grassroots volunteer political organizations. One group is Freedom University, which started when the university system of Georgia decided not to admit undocumented students, and professors established a program to teach collegelevel classes to these individuals. It was important work, and the group has talked about saving their records but hasn’t done so yet. Severn has developed the following response. “If your cause matters now, it should matter later. You stand on the shoulders of past activists because someone saved their stories, their actions, and their voices. Documenting what you do is not just about inspiration, it’s about investing in the future for your cause. The path you take, the battles you wage and win, and the mistakes you make are useful for people who come after you. Work with an archivist who can give you advice about what to save and how and where to save it. You will have to do some work in this relationship, but you will have rights. If you ignore your records, strangers will tell your story based on second-hand information.” What’s an Ar-ki-vist? Living in Hawaii, Helen Wong Smith spends a lot of time on airplanes. When she tells people she’s an archivist, they say, “Oh, an ar-ki-vist,” as though she can’t pronounce her own profession. She explains that libraries have published materials and archives typically have unpublished, unique materials. Smith also talks about using records for reasons other than why they were initially created. Sugar plantation records are traditional corporate records but can be used to study genealogy, the impact to the land, or climate change. We don’t know the potential uses for archives so we don’t impose subject headings. Thus, archivists need to be subject experts about their holdings to share information about their contents and strengths. Do You Come Here Often? I’m a Digital Archivist. Dorothy Waugh talked about elevator pitches as professional pickup lines. Her aim is to capture another person’s interest, explain why they should be impressed by what she does, and leave them intrigued enough that they’ll call her. Waugh uses a story to explain. “A friend dropped her iPhone in the bathroom, and in one horrifying instance realized she had dropped all of her digital photos down the toilet. Photos on a smart phone are just one example of the increasingly digital nature of all our records. And toilets are only one of the obstacles facing the preservation of digital material. Additional challenges include the extraordinary pace at which hardware and software become obsolete and are no longer usable. There are difficulties with designing policies and practices to help us look after these digital records that will stand the test of time. The sheer volume of material being created raises issues about how we back it up and store it. There are ethical implications of preserving and providing access to these digital records. As a digital archivist I navigate these challenges and prevent our precious digital records, our beliefs and discoveries, our successes and failures, from falling down the metaphorical toilet.” We know why we love our jobs and what makes our jobs important. It’s up to us to effectively share those feelings whenever we meet an inquisitive coworker, an intrigued stranger, or a curious youngster. Develop and practice your pitch, and the next time you’re in an elevator (or at the park, grocery store, bank—wherever), you just may strike a chord with a future archives ally or a budding archivist.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.