The Elevator Speech

Church Station Street Elevator

From Flickr user brunoboris - used under Creative Commons license.

As soon as you start library school (or maybe before) people will ask you— “Why?” Besides asking why you specifically are going to grad school to get your MLS they will ask questions like: “Why does a librarian need a master’s degree to check out books to people?” or “Why do we even need libraries?”

If you are a first year student or a veteran librarian you better have a good answer at the ready—you are representing libraries and the profession to the “outside” world with your answer. We can echo reasons to employ librarians on this blog all day long— but the people who need to understand the worth of libraries and librarianship don’t read this blog or any library blog and they may not even go to the library.

Step one in changing their mind is to have impactful, well thought out talking points for these situations. Because an “Um….I like books and um….it’s not just the Dewey Decimal System” kind of answer isn’t going to cut it. A great way to be prepared for impromptu conversations about libraries is to develop an elevator speech. An elevator speech is a quick pitch (about as long as an elevator ride) that sums up why a product, service, idea, or institution is worth the listeners time, money or patronage. On The ‘M’ Word – Marketing Libraries blog Kathy Dempsey shared a success story in which a library t-shirt and an elevator speech made a guy rethink his stance on libraries. Dempsey’s experience is a perfect example of why we all need to be prepared to talk up libraries whether it’s at the reference desk, on Twitter, or at the grocery store.

In the Bloomberg Business Week article, The Perfect (Elevator) Pitch,  Aileen Pincus provides a very brief and informative process for developing an elevator speech. The article also links to an instructional slide show on elevator speeches. I would definitely recommend checking out both resources to jumpstart your speech writing.

Keep the following tips in mind as you work on your elevator speech:

  • There are a lot of hot button library issues—have separate elevator talking points for as many as possible. Also, be prepared to jump from topic to topic while still keeping your overall interactions brief. You may need to talk about LIS education, eBooks, and digital literacy all at once—but you still may only have a couple of minutes of attention from your listener.
  • The Bloomberg Business Week slide show “Crafting an Effective ‘Elevator Pitch'” urges the reader to “Be Specific” and “Know Your Target.” By knowing your target you can provide relevant examples that will be meaningful to them specifically. For instance, for years I’ve urged my grandmother to use the library to borrow the books she likes to read. When I do, she tells me about her system of buying books from the used book store. My library pitch has gone in one ear and out the other with her. Last weekend I told her that libraries offer free internet access. This got her attention. Libraries do a lot of different things for a lot of different people. Figure out what will impact your listener and be sure to touch on that.
  • Make notes for yourself after you give your elevator speech. Evaluate what went well and what didn’t after each interaction. Less than stellar library conversations are learning opportunities. Make notes on what you wish you’d said so that you’ll be prepared to discuss those items with clarity the next time they come up. If there are questions or comments that stumped you, find a way to address them in your pitch.

You aren’t going to graduate from library school and automatically know how to talk about libraries. A good library elevator speech is a process—it takes work. So why not start now?

14 replies

  1. Great post! I have to admit, I need to work on my elevator speech. I think I’m so used to my SLIS bubble that when I step out of it and talk to people about what I do, I get flustered. I say the stuff that makes me sound like I’m getting a master’s for nothing.

    Many people don’t know what librarians even do. Even those who are regular patrons don’t always know because the people they interact with aren’t always librarians. Now I’m going to think about my librarianship pitch…


  2. I’ve been thinking of my elevator speech since the first class I had in the fall semester last year when I started library school. I still don’t have a really good one, but at least I’m getting better at saying more than, “uh….” I think it is really important for library professionals to have a really good answer because if we can’t explain why librarians and libraries are important, then how can we convince anybody else.


  3. When people ask me why I am a librarian, I tell them something like this:

    “I was a consultant for a few years, and while I liked training people and working with a diverse team, I didn’t like the hours or the travel. One day, I was reading US News’ list of ‘Hot Jobs 2008’, and one of the jobs profiled was Librarian. I thought, ‘Hm, I like books.’ But when I went to the University of Illinois to look at the program, I learned that libraries are often the first place where people can access technology, especially if they don’t have it at home. Even though libraries are changing, for the time being the library fits that role. Every day I meet people who are applying for jobs, who need help using a mouse, who have no other way to access the information they need, and I know that I’ve made the right choice in my profession.”

    Elevator speeches can also be used at interviews. You should always be ready to sell yourself, in my opinion. Think about what you are passionate about and speak from your heart. And practice! Elevator speeches should be able to be rattled off without pause. 😀


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