Archive for December, 2012

Notes on Coaching the 90-Second Elevator Pitch to Youth, Part One

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Spurred initially by the WSJ article “”The Most Awkward Meeting: New Elevators Sort Employees, Foiling Manners And Face Time,” one of the skills that I have been coaching and promoting is the 90-Second Elevator Pitch. During my visit earlier this year to Singapore Polytechnic, I introduced the exercise using the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch fold-out card as a starting point. At that time, I learned it was critical to keep myself (the one providing the instructions for the exercise) separate from the one receiving the pitch (so I had the teachers get involved as the listeners). We then conducted a brief 90-second elevator pitch exercise in the June YCISL workshop.

This week, I had the opportunity to include it in the middle school elective I am offering. The students are 11 to 13 year olds. Two weeks ago, I introduced PostIt brainstorming exercises, the last of which was ideas to make their school better. This week, I had them select one of the ideas and elaborate on it so that it could become a 90-second elevator pitch – to the school principal! They have two 40 minute weekly class sessions to work on this then they will present in the third session. This entry includes a description of what we did in the first session, and I will update later on our progress and results.

We started out the session by watching three television commercials on YouTube. I started out with the VW-Star Wars (child in a Darth Vader costume) commercial. Students then chose the Keyboard Cat’s Wonderful Pistachios Commercial, and the ShamWOOHOO commercial (a parody of a real commercial – but this was a great choice as it emphasized the main ideas for the next part). Television commercials are of comparable time lengths and almost definitely contain an attention-grabbing component. And by having students suggest a couple to watch, I hoped that this would activate their attention.

I then listed six words that I wanted them to write separately on PostIt notes: Grab, Problem, Solution, Opportunity, Who, Ask. I extracted these terms from the Garage Technology Ventures’ “Writing a Compelling Executive Summary” – except I substituted “Who” for “Team.” These words were guides for the content they had to create. There was  no particular sequence that they had to follow. They could fill in PostIts as the relevant thought came to them.

When they had created their notes on each of the PostIts, they were instructed to play with the sequence and consider the flow. They naturally asked whether they should start with the Grab. We then thought back to the commercials we had watched earlier, and discovered that the Grab did not have to go first. Thus, they were to experiment by reading to themselves various sequences of the notes.

They then took turns doing a stand-up dry run (90-second rule enforced). They were welcome to just read from their notes. Like with working on a jigsaw puzzle, we were checking out how the pieces fit. Feedback from the audience was welcome (at least when I work on a jigsaw puzzle, I usually ask for help/another perspective). Yes, kids can be cruel to other kids (especially classmates) but it is better in this case to get the criticism early (fail fast, fail early) – because there are many options to make the presentation work better and each student did not have time to become too attached to a particular approach and therefore take negative feedback to heart and become discouraged. This reminds me of a couple of books I read in which there are passages describing how a comedian would try out new material in a small, practically informal, group setting first before using it in a production setting. They will return next week to polish their presentation.