Pitching

elevator

Image courtesy of Sean Benham
On a side note: This is my 50th post on this blog. As most of you know, I don’t get too excited about things like this, but it is nice to look back over the six months I have been working on this blog and see what has transpired since then. No matter how many visitors, retweets, FB shares, and so on that I get, I am in awe that anyone would think I have anything even remotely interesting to share. Thank you for putting up with my rants and incoherent rambling. I appreciate you all. Really.

Today I did elevator pitches with my students and I thought they did a really great job. I decided to do those instead of a traditional presentation for a number of reasons, but mostly because I feel it is more realistic than a lecture style speech. For those who are not aware of what an elevator pitch is, here is the basic situation.

Imagine you have walked into an elevator and standing there is the CEO / President / Manager of the company you would like to work for or with which you would like to do business. As the doors close, you have one minute to pitch yourself or your idea before the doors open again and you lose your opportunity of a lifetime.

In my classroom, I take on the role of the boss and I interact with the students as we role play the situation. We do this in front of the whole class and I also video record it for giving feedback. Students must only use what they would normally have on hand in this situation. No PowerPoint presentations. No handouts. Mostly, the students only have a business card and maybe a pen or something small to use as a prop. I give each student a number and students must be ready to go one after the other until we get them all done. I keep them on time by using my phone as a timer, beeping when they must finish. Every student today finished on time. Today, we had 15 students and we were done in less than 20 minutes! Do THAT with a traditional presentation!

Students are asked to prepare the speech ahead of time and can write it up and ask for guidance along the way. I will not listen to it ahead of time, but if they type it up, I will give them overall feedback. The structure of the speech goes something like this:

  • Remember you aren’t sitting around waiting for this person to arrive, so you might be surprised to see them. Have something prepared to ‘break the ice’ before starting your pitch. One student today said something like, “You’re so-and-so, aren’t you?  I saw you give a speech at the conference last month. I really enjoyed it.”
  • Introduce yourself and your skills and your project. Don’t sell it too hard and you don’t need to give too much information. Remember, the purpose is not to sell it then and there, but to open the door to meeting with this person later on when you can present in more detail. Leave them curious and interested to find out more.
  • Tell them what you want and why it would be good for them. It is all about them, not you.
  • Finish with an invitation  / ask permission to meet later.

Okay, okay. It isn’t THAT realistic, but the method of delivery certainly is. Here are the reasons why I think that way:

  1. Students are required to leave room in their pitch for the other person to interject, ask questions, or give opinions. This makes it both a speaking and listening task along with a smattering of sociolinguistics mixed in there for good measure. Students need to use the language well enough so that the other person can join in the conversation.
  2. While somewhat formal, it is still conversational. This is a tough task for ELLs to handle. They need to manage the differences between spoken and written language along with formal and informal speech.
  3. It helps students be more concise, which translates well into what I am working on which is summary writing in academic English. Students pull out the salient points and leave the receiver of the information clamouring for more.
  4. The communication is short and, while it can be planned out, it still be must be navigated since the conversation could shift depending on the interlocutor.
  5. You can’t always rely on visuals, so you need to be more creative in explaining things. This again can add support to the student’s writing.
Looking over the video afterward, I am more convinced than ever that I am going to continue to use this both as an instructional aid and for formative assessment. I could use it as a summative speaking assignment, but I would feel awful if a student stumbled due to being tired or was having a bad day. I believe it should only be used for feedback in this case.

Have you ever used elevator pitches in your classroom before? How did it go for you? Is there anything you would add to this? I would appreciate your feedback. Thank you.

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6 thoughts on “Pitching

  1. Yes! I love them. Sometimes if I have a good group I will have them be the boss. This is fun as have to show that they can listen and ask the appropriate questions. I only add that part for “good” groups though.

    Note: By good I don’t just mean language. Can they interact well with one another? Are there any bullies? If they have a nice vibe this works well, if not it can get dicey!

  2. Haha. Way to have confidence in your voice, Nathan. You have valuable things to say. You should know that and believe it.

  3. Because of class size this semester, I had to cancel students presenting their research papers…but this idea sounds like it would be a great substitute. What kind of prep did you have them do? What guidelines did you give? How did you assess them? Was it one on one or in front of the whole class? Sorrt about all the questions.

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