How to Give an Elevator Pitch When You’re Still a Student

“Elevator speech” seems to be the buzz word in library school right now. Even the papers we write for our intro class have to be distilled into elevator speeches for our Google Hangout sessions with our TA and classmates. Of course, since we’re required to talk for 3 minutes, we had better be riding the elevator in the US Steel building when we talk. (Even in New York City, the average elevator ride is only 118 seconds – a good minute short of our little spiels.)

But while we can now give elevator speeches on all sorts of information theory (really? I’m going to need this?), no one really tells a library student how to talk about themselves.

Business articles abound on the elevator pitch, which makes sense since it started as a sales tool. But for students, especially MLIS students, that can seem a world away. I mean, what library do you know that has more than, say 10 floors? And that’s for an academic library. Most public libraries are on 1-3 floors. You might not even need elevators.

Obviously, the point is to make your point, and fast. Here are some tips aimed at library students to be ready next time you find yourself face to face with a potential contact (like at a conference).

1) Start open.

Being a student, chances are good that whoever you’re talking to has a lot to offer you besides a job. Listen to them, find out what they do and how they do it. Find out where you can fit in. If you have this kind of time, it’s awesome. This is also the end goal of the whole elevator speech process – a real connection.

2)You’re awesome. Don’t be afraid to say it.

The caveat being, of course, that you need to say why you’re awesome. Are you a genius with metadata? Do you have deep knowledge of databases? Do your children’s programs leave kids anxious for the next one? Are you great at getting the word out about library services?

3) Don’t just say – show.

It’s an old rule for writers, and it stands for elevator speeches too. Sure, you might think that you’re a web genius, but can you cite a web design project you’ve been in on? Do you have a class project that included planning a major library service deployment? Those are hard artifacts that can help you prove your point.

4) Don’t drop the ball.

If you can find something to interest the other person, you might find yourself in a good conversation. They might ask about your skills, and you might be able to ask about their current and future projects. Great.

Offer your business card (you do have a business card, right?), and ask if they have one (they’ll often hand you one as a reflexive response). Then keep track of it. Follow up with them, reminding them of where you met and what you talked about. Continue the conversation.

In the end, you’ll at least end up with a contact who knows your strengths – an invaluable resource to begin with. If you talk to the right person, your strengths might fit their needs, and you might end up with a job lead. Which brings me to…

5) Practice.

Either way, know what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Practice it, but remember that it’s a conversation as much as a speech – you’ll have to adjust it based on your audience.

And relax, they’ve all been in your shoes. It’s a unique advantage for us – our bosses have been where we’ve been, and they probably want to help us out, even if it’s not with a job.

To Conference or Not to Conference

(Definitely conference)

I recently attended a convention for my state’s library association as a student photographer. It was quite the experience. I got to spend 4 days mingling with the leaders in librarianship, making connections, getting advice, and generally getting to know the real-world state of the profession.

The biggest surprise? That we photographers were the only 3 students at the conference.

I know that conferences can be an expense that just doesn’t seem justifiable when you’re a grad student eating ramen, but they do have value, even if you aren’t presenting.

Speaking of which…

1) If you have something to say, present it.

Poster Session PaLA 2013Whether you have something you think warrants a whole session or if you just want to prep a poster, make it happen. There’s a lot of information in your experience that other people want to know. You can at least ask if the conference organizers will let you (for ALA Annual, you can still apply for poster sessions until January 17, 2014 – look here).

2) If you can provide a service, see if you can trade it.

ALA Display SessionTo get to the Pennsylvania Library Association annual conference, I listened when a little bird told me that they were looking for students to photograph the event. I am, at best, a hobby photographer (I had to borrow my camera from my roommate), but I asked about the requirements, and was brought on board. Just for being willing to ask.

3) Bring business cards. Lots.
And make sure they say you’re a student.

PaLA Bowling This seems like a no-brainer, but I went through 150 in 3 days, and I didn’t get to go to all the networking events I wanted to. And when people saw I was a student, it opened up conversation – “Oh, I went to Pitt!” “When do you graduate?” “What track are you studying?”. I got lots of invitations to visit libraries to see how they do things, and lots of tips and tricks. People feel ok telling a student things they might never tell a colleague. They might even invite you bowling. Go figure.

4) Smile.

Seriously, look like you want to be there. This isn’t a homework assignment – it’s actually kind of fun. There are opportunities to network, sessions to listen to, exhibitors to schmooze… but there are also unexpected moments of fun (check out these snapshots from the Performers’ Showcase at PaLA). Being willing to participate and to have fun can go a long way toward having a positive experience – and making others remember you in a positive light.

Performers Showcase Mickey

Performers Showcase Dancing

Performance Showcase Ill Stylin