Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Introducing Elevator Speeches into the Curriculum

Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Introducing Elevator Speeches into the Curriculum

Article excerpt

The concept of Information Management (IM) is still not widely understood. As educators we need to find ways to help students explain what IM is to potential employers, future colleagues, and social contacts. One approach is through encouraging students to develop elevator speeches, concise statements of what one can do, such as could be communicated in the time it takes the elevator to travel a few floors. This paper describes how the idea of students developing elevator speeches is built into the curriculum at the University of Sheffield. It discusses the potential value of the activity, giving full weight to likely objections and issues. It argues that, scaffolded correctly, introducing elevator speeches can improve employability and be a valuable integrative and reflective activity in the curriculum.

Keywords: elevator speeches, employability, networking, careers, Information Management

Introduction

Students studying the BSc in Information Management (IM) at Sheffield say that other students frequently asked them to explain what IM is. They say that if the person who is asking suggests that it is "something to do with IT" they tend not to try and disabuse them, because "it is too complicated to explain." Awareness of IM as an academic subject is low in the UK because it is not studied at any educational level below university. Sometimes people make a connection to librarianship. But, of course, although there is a historical link, this is only a starting point for understanding IM itself.

Most disciplines and professions have the same problem: the public image of the profession differs from its real character (Abbott, 1988). Arguably, however, given the increasing emphasis on collaboration and networking in the workplace, the ability to explain your expertise has never been more important. Developing an elevator speech is one technique for individuals to improve their explanation of who they are and what they can offer.

This paper explores critically the potential value of the elevator speech within the university curriculum, drawing on practical experience and theoretical considerations. After explaining what an elevator speech is and locating it in a cultural context, the paper outlines how students at Sheffield are encouraged to compose a brief, personal speech that explains what they have learned on a favorite module, built around the ability it has given them to solve a classic organizational problem. The paper explains why we see this process as a deep learning experience in itself and goes on to show how the elevator speech fits current thinking about the nature of modern careers and the value of networking. Although students may not yet have the actionable knowledge to ground their stories in an entirely convincing way, we argue that starting to work on them during their studies establishes a useful way to present the professional self. The objection that it reinforces a failure of theorization in IM is evaluated and issues around student motivation discussed. The contention of the paper is that, framed and scaffolded appropriately, the elevator speech is a useful learning process and addresses a genuine need to explain the subject.

Elevator Speeches in Their Cultural Context

An elevator speech is a statement of who you are and what you can offer, brief enough to make a point in the time you might travel with someone a few floors in an elevator. Books (e.g. Howell, 2006) and web sites abound explaining how to fashion your elevator speech. Typical advice includes that it needs to have a hook to intrigue the audience. Practice is recommended, to make the speech feel natural and to be memorable and sincere. Stories are often a building block for the speech. It is suggested that jargon is avoided.

It is important to reflect on the cultural and historical context in which the notion of the elevator speech has come to the fore. A good starting point for this is to think about the social construction of expertise. …

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