The Elevator Pitch in the Composition and Literature Classroom 

During the spring semester, I taught three freshman composition courses, and even though each course was a little different, I had all three do a proposal essay as one of their paper assignments. I have done this type of assignment before, and typically it’s been hit or miss with how well students do with writing their proposals. For the most part, I tell them to think about a local issue that they would like to propose a solution to, usually something either at the community or university level that affects them on a daily basis. These, I have found, produce the best results.

Today, though, I want ti briefly tell you about an assignment that I tried for the first time this past semester. When working on their proposals, I had students create an elevator pitchon their overall proposal, telling them that the pitch must contain the problem and the proposed solution. It turned out that this assignment was one of the most useful assignments of the semester for the students because it made them think about their arguments in a way that they had not, to that point, thought about them. Specifically, it made them slow down and think through their argument for their proposals. After doing this for the proposal essay, I am thinking about having students do something similar for most of my essay prompts.

An elevator pitch, quite simply, is a 60-90 second presentation (the length of an elevator ride) to someone who does not know your argument or proposal. Within that 60-90 second timespan, you must connect with the person you are speaking to and relate to that person why your argument or proposal matters. The elevator pitch, while presenting your argument, also works to help you establish credibility with an audience, selling yourself just as much as selling your idea. Through this, and because of the short length of time, the elevator pitch must be concise and to the point because nine times out of ten the listener will not remember the details of your pitch but he or she will remember you and the impression you made.

The text book I used last semester, Writing Today, presents seven key points to the elevator pitch.

  1. Introduce yourself and establish your credibility
  2. Grab them with a good story
  3. Present your big idea in one sentence
  4. Give them your best two or three reasons for doing it
  5. Mention something that distinguishes you and your idea from the others
  6. Offer a brief cost-benefits analysis
  7. Make sure they remember you (Writing Today 224)

It must be noted that the book provides the genre when talking about the proposal essay. Below, I will discuss ways that this can be tailored to other essay assignments as well. After wathcing a video of example elevator pitches and discussing  how each met or did not meet the criteria above, I provided students with the following prompt. They had to complete this assignment for homework, typically over a weekend.

Here, post your elevator pitch for your proposal. Post it as a video. Use your phone, webcam, or other device to record your pitch and upload it here. The pitch must be 60-90 seconds long. Write the pitch out and use it as a script. I am looking for three things in your pitch.

  • Identify the problem
  • Why should we care about the problem
  • What is your proposed solution

Along with these points, think about giving an example of the problem and possible background on it. For an example, look at page 225 in Writing Today. As well, look at this website for some tips. 

You may post either a video or audio file with your script. You must post both.

At first, students were very unsure about the assignment. They expressed apprehension and nervousness about recording themselves. I told them that I would be the only one listening or viewing the pitches, unless I asked their permission to share them in class. That is part of the reason I had them write scripts as well.

imageAfter they completed the assignment, I asked the students about their experiences, and their responses were very telling. Most told me that they recorded and rerecorded their pitches numerous times, either because they messed up or because they noticed, more importantly, flaws in their argument. Having students write, and partly read from, a script, made them think about the words they chose and how they organized their argument. Most said that reading the script made them realize where their arguments didn’t possibly make sense because they had to audibly say what they had written. For most of them, they appreciated this aspect of the assignment. While it was not a shock to hear students say this, I was very excited that they picked up on this aspect of the assignment and realized the importance of working on the clarity of  their arguments.

Next semester, I am thinking about doing a similar assignment for my essay assignments in my composition classrooms. The criteria for each elevator pitch will change slightly, but each one will require the students to state, in one to two sentences, their individual arguments. As well, they will provide two to three sentences describing their supporting points. This type of prompt would work in the literature classroom as well. I will let you know, after I do this in the classroom, how it goes.

Have you used elevator pitches in your classroom? If so, how has your experience been? As usual, let me know in the comments below.

Johnson-Sheehan, Richard and Charles Paine. Writing Today. 3rd Edition. Boston: Pearson, 2016.

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