Elevator Pitches for Researchers – How to “sell” your big ideas

An elevator pitch is your chance to quickly “sell” whatever you’re selling. It’s based on the idea of – if you were in an elevator with a very important person, and you only had the time until you get to your (or their) floor to pitch your idea, what would you say?

It forces you to distill all your selling points into one elevator ride’s worth (we’ll say 1 minute). And it’s not just for sales. If you’re a researcher, you need one just as much as an entrepreneur.

Poster presentations, networking sessions, in line at Starbucks – these are all places where you only have a few seconds to make an impression.

What do you do?

What do you say?

That’s what we’ll get into here, but specifically for researchers like you.

What you’ll learn in this post

• What an elevator pitch is and why you need one as a researcher.

• Lines you can use and preparation you can take to customize your elevator pitch.

• The right mindset to carry with you at all times so you’ll make a great impression when you meet a key person.

Scenarios where researchers need an elevator pitch

  • In a public place, how would you approach an expert in your field and introduce yourself? 
  • At a conference, how can you promote your work to other attendees while you are away from your poster
  • At a job interview, how will you answer “tell me about your research”?  

Anywhere, anytime, you never know who you’ll meet. If you have a 30-second and 60-second version of your pitch, you can make a powerful impression.

And your life may completely change!

Here are six tips for making that first pitch, as a researcher. 

Tip #1: Prepare and practice to keep it short and sharp

How can you explain the value of your work to someone in just a few seconds? Try this phrase pattern: 

“My (work/project/research) aims to (do something) to try to help (people) with (problem) so that they/we/you can (achieve something).

Prepare this one line, and then practice until it’s automatic. Rehearse in front of the mirror and with your colleagues. Remember it like your country’s national song.

Here’s an example of a real-world elevator pitch by a researcher at a medical conference: 

“My study aims to find possible connections between prior incidence of cardiovascular disease and current kidney complications, to help improve diagnosis and prevention.”  

The researcher gave this pitch while he was away from his poster and getting a coffee. He spotted a well-known senior journal editor in his field.

He approached this important person, smiled naturally, and introduced himself. He gave her his one-sentence elevator pitch, invited her to come listen to his poster talk, and handed her a small printout of his poster, with his business card attached.

Now THAT is great preparation!

Tip #2: Make your mission statement  

Notice that “your work” can just mean the research project you’re presenting at that one conference, or it could mean your entire life’s work – your overall mission statement. 

For such a mission statement, you can use the same type of pattern we used earlier for elevator pitches:

“The aim of my (work/research) is to (do/explore something) to try to help (people) with (problem) so that they/we/you can (achieve something).

Here some real-world examples of mission statements: 

“I help final-year postgraduates at university to land their dream job, through careers counselling and by training them to write outstanding CVs and attractive job cover letters.”  (mission statement from a university research careers counselor) 

“I research and develop ways to deliver effective online training for researchers at laboratories and hospitals, to help them save time and increase their research impact” (mission statement from an instructional designer) 

Tip #3: Approach others with a positive frame of mind 

You have just a few seconds to start the conversation. Good (and bad) impressions are formed by other people very, very quickly —  and these first impressions of you often stick with the other person. 

Here are three quick statistics from recent research into human behavior:  

  • people can think up to 30% more clearly when they’re in a positive mood 
  • your positive mood can actually trigger a chemical change in the other person
  • 90% or more of human communication is non-verbal 

Take several deep breaths before you approach someone, or they approach you. Smile gently as you greet them. This will start things off on the right foot.

Sure, it’s not always easy to look and feel relaxed and positive. But try to approach each conversation with a positive mindset.  

Tip #4: Think about what you can do for THEM 

Key when approaching interactions with other people, especially in a professional setting, are probably asking themselves, “How can this person help me or my mission?”

Think about when people approach you on the street or in an airport. Isn’t this usually the case? They want something, and you’re probably inclined to say “no” and resent them for taking up your time.

Make it about them, not about you. It’s a basic principle of sales and marketing.

We all have goals that we’re trying to meet, or an agenda that we are trying to fulfill. By understanding this basic reality of human nature, you can move the conversation in a positive direction.

Try to think about the other person’s position and how your work can benefit them.

Some real-world examples are: 

  • (speaking at a job interview): “So these are some of the professional and personal qualities I feel I can offer your laboratory team and your research projects.” 
  • (talking with a prospective funder) “I believe it would be worthwhile to fund this research, because it might advance the field in the following ways…” 
  • (talking with a fellow conference attendee) “…and that’s what my talk is about. So how about your talk? Where can we listen to it? I’d like to tell my colleagues about it.”

Tip #5: Leave them wanting more! 

The absolutely key, critical, never-to-be-forgotten aspect of conversations and interactions with colleagues is this:  

Always try to leave people thinking, “I’d like to deal with that person again in the future.” 

Even if you can’t deliver what the other person wants at that particular moment – or even if the interaction was just a casual conversation or introduction – try to always be empathetic, kind, and positive with others. This will ensure that a person will want to meet with you again and will make time for you.

Good things will happen in your career if you maintain this mindset when interacting with colleagues. 

Also, don’t be afraid of disappointing someone when you first talk with them. This is hopefully just the start of an ongoing interaction, not the end!

Instead of reflexively saying “yes” or “I agree” to everything, instead try to use phrases like “I completely understand,” or “I see what you mean.”

And if you can’t do something that someone asks, it’s okay to politely decline or defer by saying, “I’m not sure. Can I get back to you later on that?” This frees you from over-committing, but also leaves the door open for future interaction.  

For example:  

That’s a really great question, and I’d like to give you a good answer. May I ask for your business card or connect on LinkedIn so I can contact you later to talk more about this?

Tip #6: Elevator pitches work in many places, not just elevators

Elevator pitches and mission statements also work wonderfully well in other situations: 

  • your CV and your LinkedIn profile (put your mission statement at the top, just below your name) 
  • job interviews (list some of your career achievements, each as its own elevator pitch) 
  • social gatherings (when people ask, “So what kind of work do you do?” give them your mission statement) 


There’s an old saying in Zen: “The most important person in the world is the person standing in front of you now.”

Are you ready to engage with the most important person in the world? And when you want to communicate your science sharply and memorably, check our full range of researcher services.

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