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The Scientific Elevator Pitch

The Scientific Elevator Pitch

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Short presentations seems to be increasingly popular at conferences. I was fortunate to give a Lightning Talk” at the 2012 useR! Conference in Nashville, and was invited to give a “Blast Presentation” at the Brain Development Conference organized by NeuroDevNet this week.

The lightning talk was five minutes long, and I thought that was short until I gave a talk yesterday in the presence of a large red ticking clock counting down the three minutes allocated to a year of my work. At first I thought such a short talk would be the easiest, after all there is less time to say something silly, but in fact it is far more difficult than a ‘regular’ talk. Having a bit more time gives you an opportunity to really tell a story, whereas a three minute event suggests you should not blink because before you know it you are rolling off the stage.

The challenge in the three minute variant of public speaking is that you are forced to tell a story that resonates with anyone in the audience, whether or not the person is familiar with your area of work. In short (no pun intended), these talks are elevator pitches for your research. From an educator’s perspective I love the concept. If anything, it forces people to extract the most important take-home message and present it. The interesting thing you do see with these events is the divide among the presenters, with some engaging in highly detailed technical jargon and others sticking more to a story-telling approach. I understand people will often just take a regular talk and summarize it to fit three minutes. However, I like to take this as an opportunity to introduce my work to the wider (scientific) community without the jargon. How often do you get a group of people excited about your work without it being remotely close to their own area? People have a short attention span, which gets exponentially shorter as the amount of jargon increases. Where you lose half your audience in a long technical talk, in three minutes you can capture a new audience,… provided you tell a story.


Christine Buske is a former academic who left science at the bench, and now considers herself a woman in tech. She is a frequently invited speaker, and enjoys talking about career transformation (particularly leaving academia for the business world), tech, issues around women in tech, product management, agile, and outreach. She is a proud Canadian resident, and qualifies as a “serial expat”.

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