Tag Archives: MLA 2016

The Elevator Pitch

By Margaret Greaves, Skidmore College

The phrase “elevator pitch” is intimidating. A year out from MLA in Vancouver, writing this piece from my new office at a college I love, I’m still so afraid of the phrase that I found it challenging to start typing. (I even Googled “elevator pitch” to make sure I haven’t fundamentally misunderstood the term all along.)

Because the elevator pitch intimidates most job candidates, there’s a built-in tendency to sound intimidating when we give it. This is a mistake. As we’re always telling our students, write and speak for your audience. You can’t predict how tired, excited, bored, or hungry the members of your search committee will be when you walk into the hotel room, but you can count on two things: most people like to be entertained, and most people don’t like to feel stupid. Above all, your elevator pitch should be clear. It might even tell a story. And it should never be so inflated, esoteric, or lengthy that your interviewers can’t follow you.

Each audience is unique, so if you have multiple interviews you’ll have to put in the work. I interviewed for eleven jobs in three fields, which meant I wrote three distinct elevator pitches. (To prevent confusion, I kept a folder for each job: it included the job description and all of the materials I’d submitted to that particular place. Reviewing the folders was a more soothing hotel lobby activity than playing word games on my iPhone, which suddenly took on loaded significance.) I say “wrote” because it’s a good idea to memorize the organizational scaffolding of your pitch, if not the words themselves. But after I wrote the pitches, I reworked them until they were conversational. Many candidates, I’m sure, don’t write them down at all and probably shouldn’t. It’s a matter of personal style; writing them down helped me to learn them, but I also had to work not to sound rehearsed, or, worse, bored by myself.

For me, these were the three most important prongs of the elevator pitch: short, organized, and down-to-earth.

First, on length. The committee is interviewing you as a colleague. No one wants a colleague who monologues at meetings and makes everyone stay late on a Friday afternoon. Prove that you won’t be this colleague by keeping yours under 60 seconds. Mine were 40-45 seconds, but I could do them in 30 seconds if I saw anyone getting glassy-eyed. The interviewers can (and will) ask you a follow-up question if they want to hear more. Be enticing; it’s better to play a little hard-to-get with your research than to bombard them.

Second, on organization. Here’s the structure I used in all three versions: an attention grabber that introduces the topic in the broadest way possible (the best I’ve ever heard was from a friend who opened with, “My project began with the word ‘failure’”); a statement on periodization and region; a one-sentence version of the argument; one specific, concrete example that also demonstrates the project’s methodology; and a closing statement on the significance of the research. You can accomplish all of this in 45 seconds; you can even do it in 30 if you write an airtight version.

Third, don’t make anyone feel dumb. Make sure to explain each turn in your complex ideas, and each potentially obscure term, without highlighting the fact that you’re explaining concepts. This might sound like occult advice, but we do this constantly when teaching. In fact, it helped me to think about my elevator pitch as though I were explaining my research to my students. How can I interest them without alienating them? How can I seem both intellectually intense and approachable? And above all, how can I activate their passion for my narrow subject? This last part was the most important for me. After all, why else do all of this?



MLA 2016: ATX

As we get closer to the MLA 2016 Convention in Austin, TX, some of you must be excited but also nervous about interviews you have been invited to, papers that you will deliver or figuring out which panels you would like to attend, as because of time constraints, cannot attend them all. Among all the concerns that you might have, here are only a few suggestions to enjoy your time in Austin to the fullest and see what Austin has to offer.

With its rich options in cuisine, there is an abundance of local restaurants and food trucks for Tex-Mex restaurants and street tacos, Austin’s foodie culture offers a wide variety of cuisines from around the world, many of which that are conveniently located in the downtown metropolitan area. For a list of nearby restaurants and coffee shops, as well as B-Cycle Stations, you can use this map.

There are a lot of things to see if you have the time in between sessions. The Harry Ransom Center (HRC) at The University of Texas at Austin (UT) is mostly for the archive lovers. With its unique exhibitions and extraordinary collections of Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Gabriel García Márquez, among many others, HRC invites those that would like to enjoy rare manuscripts, books, and visual materials. Here is the information on how to view the collections. Also located on the UT campus, the Blanton Museum of Art holds exhibitions that the art lover would not want to miss. Admission to Blanton is free on Thursdays.

For those who like to remain active during your travels, The Boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake is highly convenient, particularly for the conference attendees who will stay in downtown hotels. The trails along the Colorado River span through miles and miles of breath-taking scenery and offer a scenic view of downtown Austin during your morning jog or evening walk.

If you are coming to Austin with your little kids, Thinkery Kid’s Museum has science exhibits, play spaces, and free admissions on Wednesday nights. You will need to take a cab, Uber or Lyft to Thinkery from downtown.

For the music lovers, Austin lives up to the claim that it is “the live music capital of the world.” You can find live music almost every night of the week in just about any genre you could think of. Luckily for MLA attendees, the first week of January is “Free Week,” which includes a number of free concerts in Austin. After a long day of intellectual conversations, unwind a little by stopping by a local pub (or many) to listen to various bands and their eclectic tunes with fellow academics.

Finally, do not forget to stop by the Graduate Student Lounge located in 10C, Level 3, Austin Convention Center to chill and participate to our event on Friday, January 8, 5:15-6:30 pm to talk to our distinguished speakers. The Lounge will be open for you to take a break, relax, and practice your interview skills through the questions in our Fish Bowl throughout the conference!