Kevin’s favorite elevator pitches use graphics to tell a story

When we first came up with the idea for the Elevator Pitch Challenge the idea was to videotape all the entries at a big meeting of researchers who get funding from us. But there’s always someone who has to be different, someone who doesn’t play by the rules. In this case it was the folks from USC. And I loved what they did.

Several researchers at USC did pre-recorded elevator pitches, videotaped on location at USC by their videographer Ryan Ball, next to a bank of elevators. But it’s how they did those pitches and livened them up that I really liked.

As someone who spent many years in TV news I loved the little edits that they threw in to help make the pitches visually more interesting. OK, so I know that you are not likely to have access to clever computer-generated graphics when you are explaining your work to someone in a grocery store or at a party, but who cares – this was a creative approach and one of the points about the Challenge was for researchers to think in creative ways how they can explain their work.

My favorite was Toshio Miki’s pitch because he began with a simple question; “Did you know stem cells can cure liver diseases? Yes they can.” Right away I wanted to know more. He then builds on that by talking about using human placenta cells that he says are “safe and clean as a newborn baby”, what a great verbal image, and then adds in a charming graphic that shows him throwing the cells at an obviously very sick cartoon liver that immediately perks up and looks well.

It’s a wonderfully simple and clear explanation of his work, supported with some clever graphics. And he does it all in 31 seconds.

In fact all the USC pieces came in almost dead on 30 seconds, or even under in a few cases.

Gage Crump was another favorite because he shot his in an elevator and clearly did it all in one single take, talking directly to the camera. Not an easy thing to do when explaining complex basic science. But Gage did it in a wonderfully engaging manner.

The USC team also employed a clever use of words printed on the screen to support the scientists in what they were saying. Done poorly that could have been distracting but instead this increased the effectiveness of the pitches – and I’m thinking in particular of the one done by Songtao Shi.

These pitches could easily stand alone without graphics. They are all good, clear explanations for the work being done. Adding the visual elements makes them even stronger and perfect for use in social media and online. And that’s ultimately the test of a message, how well does it connect with the audience. These will be able to connect with audiences anywhere and that’s why they are among my favorites.


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