Heritage Wednesday::The Elevator Speech

A Heritage Elevator Speech? Yes. If you are a professional, a small-business owner, an academic, an artist or a dreamer, you have inherited a culture that is short on time yet ravenous for great ideas. The elevator speech is what bridges the gap between innovators and their supporters. If you are fortunate enough to encounter an interested or strategically placed person who can propel you on your path, you need a hook, a compelling and SHORT story to engage them in your vision. These interactions are often the result of chance social encounters with friends of friends, colleagues at professional conferences or all-staff meetings at work. At best, you may get a 1-4 minute audience with this person, so make it count!

Elevator Speech Opportunities

“So, what do you do for a living?”

I have heard it said a few times by artists and academic-types that the sales-pitch feels like the hardest part. “Why must I sell people on my idea when it is clearly something that: will inspire others / help the greater good / is intrinsically valuable”. Yes, your idea may be all of those things, but no idea is helpful without the support of other people. It’s a condition of being born a social being. The truth is, if you have a degree, a job, or you have friends who support your endeavors, then your inner-salesperson is alive and well. We sell people on ideas of who we are, what we are capable of, and even convince companies and institutions to believe that we are ambassadors for the best interests of an academic discipline, department or product line.

If you dislike the “sale” then that is an indicator that you approach the sales moment with the sensibilities of the inner artist, or academic etc, that is to say, you may be approaching the sales moment with the portion of yourself that prefers to be alone and simply do the work, rather than drum-up support for it. That frame of mind is good when creating or writing, but does not directly serve the proliferation of your goal, project or idea. You will need to free your inspired salesperson self to share your idea, or it will remain small and undernourished, and will eventually wither and die young, never having received support from those who could help it thrive.

Overlapping interests are the bounty of the elevator speech

“No kidding? I have always been interested in that! Let’ set up a meeting time to discuss this further. I’d love to help you in any way I can…”

Approach the following exercise with the passion of the artist, the honed expression of your inner academic, and the tact and extroversion of your inner salesperson.

Elevator speeches should be customizable on the fly, so this requires you to really think about your project, ideas or goals, and think of as many possible applications or collaborations that you would ENJOY pursuing. This refines your thought process about the project, and cultivates a flexible approach to describing your idea.

If your networking goal is to meet as many allied people as possible, then your elevator speech goal is to craft as many versions of an introduction.

Now that you know the “whys” of an elevator speech, let’s discuss the “how”.  There are five dimensions to the elevator speech. They cover the points most likely to interest the listener, yet leaves them enough time to comprehend the information and ask for more if they so choose.

  1. Who am I and what is my research / project / initiative?
  2. Why is this new fangled thing better that what already exists? What does your offering give that has never been offered before?
  3. What makes your approach/ project/ initiative/ research so important, notable or special?
  4. What are your desired outcomes / goals?  What is your vision?

 More on STEP 5

After the sales pitch, the rest is up to the listener / audience. You can make a quick introduction, but the buy-in cannot be rushed.  After you finish your elevator speech, make eye contact, smile, take a deep breath and relax your shoulders while counting to 5.  By the time you compose yourself, you will be ready to listen to their response, and answer any questions.

Remember, this is a conversation, and questions signify interest and active listening, not necessarily criticism (remember: critique is good); so receive their questions as guidance toward the clarification and manifestation of your goal. No idea is created in a vacuum.

Give the listener time to digest and respond to your “speech”. Let them begin to sense the greater implications and importance of your work. If you give them time to respond, inevitably, they will respond with thoughtful questions. Keep your answers concise. Less is more. The “less is more” speech is composed of the prize nuggets that makes listeners want to seek more information. This is salesperson-ship at its best! Your brilliant idea enhanced by a refined presentation does all the work!


Kudos to You!

Congratulations! This was a long post, so if you’ve made it this far, you’ve already primed your inner salesperson to do you proud. The hardest part is writing the speech, so once you’ve written the first draft. Say it aloud, practice it, test it on your friends and family, coworkers, and your boss (if appropriate). When you can improvise alternate versions and feel comfortable with the process, you’re ready to take it into the field…

I thought I’d share my revised elevator speech with you as an example, so here it is, in outline format:

  1. Who am I and what is my research / project / initiative?
    1. My name is Shawndel Fraser and I am an Environmental Psychologist. I am building a creative and healing arts retreat for women survivors.
  2. Why is this newfangled thing better that what already exists? Why is your project / goal / idea unique?
    1. Where most retreats cater to luxury consumers, yogis, or spiritual seekers, The Blue Dome is a retreat for women who wish to hone new emotional, physical, psychological, spiritual tools to transform limited and limiting beliefs about past intense experiences.
  3. What makes your approach/ project/ initiative/ research so important, notable or special?
    1. The Blue Dome is a restorative and safe place where women create community; they repose in physical, emotional and psychological comfort, and take part in creative and healing art activities that help them realize one thing: survivors don’t simply survive, they Artfully Transcend. Any survivor has the potential and ability to transcend all types of violence and circumstance.
  4. What are your desired outcomes / goals?  What is your vision?
    1. My goal is for the women to realize during their stay, that their past traumas were divine lessons in disguise.
    2. My vision is that they will come to learn that their survivor status is actually a call to contribute in global healing though their unique expression of leadership in their everyday lives.

I hope this is helpful, do share your elevator speech should you feel so inclined. I will offer constructive critique if you do!



The Right to Look is more our duty than a “right”

Book Cover: The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality by Nicholas Mirzoeff

“RSVP for the Book Launch for Nicholas Mirzoeff’s
The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 5:30 pm at 20 Cooper Square, 5th Floor, New York, NY

Space is limited and reservations are required. To RSVP, please visit: http://bitly.com/nicholasmirzoeff.

Register to attend a reception celebrating the publication of The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality (Duke University Press, 2011), by Nicholas Mirzoeff, Professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, NYU.
In The Right to LookNicholas Mirzoeff develops a comparative de-colonial framework for visual culture studies, the field that he helped to create and shape. Casting modernity as an ongoing contest between visuality and countervisuality, or “the right to look,” he explains how visuality sutures authority to power and renders the association natural. Encompassing the Caribbean plantation and the Haitian revolution, anticolonialism in the South Pacific, antifascism in Italy and Algeria, and the contemporary global counterinsurgency, The Right to Look is a work of astonishing geographic, temporal, and conceptual reach.”This event is free and open to the public.


I studied with Nick during a semester “abroad” at NYU, yes, venturing beyond the 14th street divide counts as abroad for many New York City graduate students! (joke). That spring, I took a class in visual culture called “Modernity and Climate Change” in the Media Culture and Communication Studies Department. The class was simply amazing, with the range of discipline and perspectives represented. Our group conversations were candid, intense, exciting and enriching. Nicholas was a confident leader and didn’t overly direct the conversation or derail fruitful trains of thought.

I invited him to speak at the Ninth Annual Nature Ecology Society Colloquium where he delivered a talk “Islands of Justice: Imagining Climate Change. He made a big splash with they way he integrated images, and audience assumptions and cultural readings of climate change images and information, specifically that of islanders around the world whose lives are changing at the prospect of climactic shifts and sea-level changes.

He was a truly welcome addition to our roster, a major coup, I might add, and  he represented the start of a rich relationship between NES and NYU. I found him to be an engaging speaker, brilliant thinker, witty, real and personable!

I definitely recommend that people who grapple with visual studies and / or use digital media (as a theoretical foundation, for data collection, analysis or presentation) should attend. If you tell him I sent you, it’ll elicit a smile!

Let me know if you decide to go, I’d love to hear about it!


Seek and You Will Find Yourself

The past few days have been professionally and personally challenging. I am apparently at a transitional phase in life where all prior supports, concepts of self, modes of communication, methods of harnessing personal power and attachment to friends all fall away and crumble to the ground like some fine talcum powder. In the confusion before the dust settled, I felt confused, like I was walking around coated in post 9/11 debris, horrible to see, yet much worse to experience. Shaken to the core that my personal d-day had arrived, the end of all trust, I couldn’t give in to the fatalistic thoughts because life must marched forward to its own tempo, despite the worries that clouded my tiny energetic speck of the universe.

The dust seems to have settled and I am easing into this new phase. I’ve learned some wonderful lessons with the help of a few masters. El maestro don Juan, Carlos Castaneda’s teacher taught me how to release self-importance when dealing with petty tyrants. They are a necessary step on the warriors path to knowledge and a life of impeccability. While there is no easy way to summarize don Juan’s teachings, I can say this. when you open a Carlos Castaneda book, prepare for the teachings to appear in your life. Every time I revisit these books I forget, I wind up breathless in an energetic lesson like this one, and ultimately I leave stronger for it. Consider yourself forewarned. 🙂

Another recent teacher is National Geographic’s Cesar Milan and dog Roscoe. Together they demonstrated that patience, a willingness to improvise and trust in the new will allow you to overcome, to push through and ultimately transform the mind-controlling fear. There is a better life on the other side of the fear threshold. Click here to watch the full episode, or watch the short clip below.

And tonight, after a long, productive day at school, working on my research, meeting about the Nature Ecology Society and just all around feeling effective and lucky to have a daily life filled with activities I sincerely enjoy, I reconnected with a power song of yesteryear, sweet reggae music by Freddie McGregor “Seek & You Shall Find”, which I included at the top of this entry.

The lyrics to song inspired this blog post, bolstered my train ride home at 11pm and overall made me feel like all of my dreams are possible; not only that they are possible, but that my dreams are my future reality, that they are already mine, already true. All I need to do is show up and be present when the time comes. For those of you unaccustomed to the island lilt of my people, I’ve excerpted some of the lyrics below:

I can see my blessings coming…in these troubled times we gotta be strong! and as sure as the sun shines, I’ve gotta get it cause it’s really mine, won’t stop won’t give up the fight, I’ll do it with all my might, right now cause… Jah Jah will do it. If you seek then you will find it (x2). Mankind knows not the minute or the hour, so  do the best in life….the things you wanna achieve in life is there for you right now, I know that!

Some think to themselves, there’s no hope there is no solution to these major problems created by man, oh yes, but as sure as the sun shines, I’ve got to get it cause it’s really mine, don’t stop, don’t give up the fight. Do it with all your might, my people. Jah Jah will do it, just seek then you will find it. Mankind knows not the minute or the hour, so  do the best in life….the things you wanna achieve in life is there for you right now, I know…

Be wise now children and listen to the words of wisdom, in these troubled times we’ve got to be strong…

A Haiku Mind, A Haiku Life

My Feeling Thinking Friends,

Toward growth, spiritual and emotional progress I write today of the poet, Sonia Sanchez. To me, she epitomizes the Beautiful Spirit which feeds her fantastical mind, loving heart and grounded views, that is, she IS the Haiku Mind personified, living a Haiku Life to inspire in us all, the Haiku Mind.

“A Haiku Mind: the way of looking at each other, the way of looking at the beauty in nature and transferring that looking [to the] the beauty in ourselves” (Sonia Sanchez, minute 3:22 —3:32)

She has taken up her mantle of artist, poet, seer, counselor and griot (pronounced: gree-oh) to share with us the way, the path, the methodos for beauty, creative expression, peace, personal productivity and overall health & well-being. It is through Her chosen art form, the Haiku which “…is three lines,  five–seven–five,  seventeen syllables  involved there, it will give us a moment of beauty, a moment of time, a moment of something so excruciatingly beautiful that you just stop for a minute, and it catches your breath, period”.  (Sonia Sanchez, minute 1:32–1:56)

(Here is the video, please do watch this lovely interview)

On April 26, 2010, Ms. Sanchez appeared on the Tavis Smiley show, and she offered us just that, moments in which we can and may pause to catch our breath in pace with her silken phraseology,  lyrical lilt delivered in her precise, crystalline, velvet-tinged voice:

“The beauty of the haiku is that it is NOT simplistic, the beauty of the haiku…is very complex. It reaches all the complexities of our life on this earth. Peace – thats a very complex idea, Peace…We can’t get it as human beings. And so what I am trying to do, is to tell young people, I teach them how to breathe before I teach the Haiku…that one breath, that one breath because the haiku keeps you alive, it keeps you going. If you learn how to breathe the heaiku, you learn how to breathe., and if you learn to breathe, you’re much healthier” (Sonia Sanchez, minute 3:57–4:33)

Check out her new book: A Morning Haiku

Concept to Content or Vice Versa?

My Dearest Thinkers,

I am currently working on the design concept and information flow for the host website for my research project, Myths of Nature in post-WWII National Geographic Car Ads.  My ultimate goal for this visual project is to create an engaging, jargon-free website to interest regular folk to decode the covert messages in ads they see everyday. The New Media Lab group is academically and technologically diverse, so it was both a boon and a challenge to present a draft of my project during the March 2010 meeting.

In that meeting, I presented elements of the visual project while verbally describing my plans for its future. However, I gleaned from the few comments and puzzled expressions that my presentation and project did not meet my goal to engage non-expert audiences!  This was an important moment that caused me to reconsider the purpose, content and scope of my visual project. The visual project is its own entity! It is NOT a summary of my research findings or methods. It should be a vehicle for my main goal: to encourage the decoding of everyday advertisements.


Bright Idea, Shawndel!Eureka! I think I’ve got it!

As I blog this right now, I realize that my project is streamlining itself!!! I love experiencing, reading and writing about the process of process; That is, letting moments, ideas and experiences work on and through me. For that reason I must share that blogging this entry, right now, has caused me to realize that in order to engage people in decoding ads, then I should create that opportunity and space for them to do so! Brilliant simplicity! I just need to reinterpret the methods that I will use for my research to web-friendly text and images.  Within a nicely designed website, I will provide sample car ads with a brief “tutorial” of sorts. Site visitors will be free to explore!

Recent Inspiration

Tutorial: Blue Velvet

Wading through the sea of visual research, my Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff introduced my class to Vectors Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular. Vectors in an E-journal that unites schorlars, technologists and designers on projects to create technological projects which embody a newly envisioned relationship between form and content in academic research.


David Theo Goldberg on BLUE VELVET from Andrew Jakubowicz on Vimeo.

In the current issue, we viewed the project Blue Velvet which blew my mind! The website is BRILLIANTLY interpretive of original research by David Theo Goldberg and Stefka Hristova.  The design / form by Erik Loyer – that is the colors, iconography, interface functionality, animations and navigation ALL match the content and topic: Hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans, Louisiana on August 29, 2005.

Symmetry of form, content, intent and poetics.

The attractive design, engaging navigation rules and animations, and video interview with David Theo Goldberg has caused me to hone in on the idea of an aesthetically pleasing, functional, form and content appropriate website which allows INTERPRETIVE opportunities for users.

The Revised Form of My Project

To ground this blog entry, Blue Velvet was a multi-year collaborative project with technical experts and professional web designers; Even the range of projects available in the Vectors Journal is of varied levels of beauty, technical expertise and symmetry of content to form. So, I am now purposed with creating a beautiful, simply designed website using Adobe Dreamweaver cs4,  OR www.squarespace.com in conjunction with PowerPoint or Adobe Flash and Illustrator to present sample ads with tutorial to make available the opportunity:

  • to learn a few visual analysis techniques
  • for visitors to decode a few ads
  • to share their thoughts on the ads
  • to send ads to me or to friends / colleagues

Additional functionality will ensue after this portion of the project:

  • I will create a personal brain to be used as a web navigation tool / website index that shows relationships between the web content
  • The ads will be linkable to the Personal Brain and Dipity Timeline

Thanks for reading!


Shawndel N. Fraser

Be your own Paparazzi

Just imagine, what would the world look like if this young person, so talented, brilliant vocalist at just 12 years young, were to be afraid to share his non-traditional singing voice with his peers? The talent show might have been a lot less spectacular, I wouldn’t be blogging on it because I wouldn’t have had an epiphany-scented moment simply because the video would not exist.

I’ve struggled the past few years to birth my having a unique writing voice or style. I feel the urge to bear down and push, yet the fear keeps me from bringing forth this other expression of life that I have within me. My colleague and friend, she of indomitable courage, the Afrosapien CityPerson named Adeola is a fierce advocate for STYLE; That is, personal style from how we dress to professional showmanship.  She sent me Nietzsche’s treatise On Style #290 which I inserted below:


“One thing is needful.—To ‘give style’ to one’s character—a great and rare art! It is practiced by those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses of their nature and then fit them into an artistic plan until every one of them appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye. Here alarge mass of second nature has been added, there a piece of original nature has been removed:—both times through long practice and daily work at it. Here the ugly that could not be removed is concealed, there it has been reinterpreted and made sublime. Much that is vague and resisted shaping has been saved and exploited for distant views:—it ismeant to beckon toward the far and immeasurable. In the end, when thework is finished, it becomes evident how the constraint of a single taste governed and formed everything large and small: whether this taste was good or bad is less important than one might suppose,—if onlyit was a single taste!— It will be the strong and domineering natures that enjoy their finest gaiety in such constraint and perfection under a law of their own; the passion of their tremendous will relents in the face of all stylized nature, of all conquered and serving nature; even when they have to build palaces and design gardens they demur at giving nature freedom.— Conversely, it is the weak characters without power over themselves that hate the constraint of style: they feel that if this bitter and evil constraint were imposed upon them they would be demeaned:—they become slaves as soon as they serve; they hate to serve. Suchspirits—and they may be of the first rank—are always out to shape and interpret their environment as free nature—wild, arbitrary,fantastic, disorderly, and surprising. And they are well advised because it is only in this way that they can give pleasure to themselves! For one thing is needful: that a human being should attain satisfaction with himself—whether it be by means of this or that poetry and art: only then is a human being at all tolerable to behold! Whoever is dissatisfied with himself is continually ready for revenge: and we others will be his victims, if only by having to endure his ugly sight.For the sight of what is ugly makes one bad and gloomy.”

This young person’s interpretation of Lady Ga’Ga’s Paparazzi really took the song to a stylistic and  melodic new level, and made it something worthy of the grand piano way beyond the vocal capabilities of the original chanteuse.

Add to his style the content. He chose to reinterpret, play and sing the hugely popular song, Paparazzi by Lady Gaga, a song adored by millions. It is not an easy task this, but it would seem even now that his brilliant performance essentially predicts his future – one wherein he fearlessly presents his own STYLE and VOICE to grand applause. Such siren-song will only endear him to audiences, for it caresses across the tympanum.

I posted this video today because my “search” for my voice must end at some time, somewhere, someday in someway. I am choosing today. Henceforward I will exercise my voice so that it may grow to be formidable, compelling, exciting and awe-inspiring. I choose to be my own paparazzi.


I am my own paparazzo

Taken by paparazzi for my facebook photoshoot

Why do academics “em-boring” things?

Dear Thinker-Feelers,   

 How many of you attend classes, conferences, artist talks, readings and the link, only to be distracted by the rumpled, mismatched dress of the presenter while being bored senseless by the lackluster powerpoint presentation and lack of engaging verbiage and audiovisual accompaniment. These avoidable faux pas only serves to distract our audiences from our content and visually undermine the expert standing  that we work so hard to attain within our respective fields.  I say that this is a condition of academic adulthood. We have forgotten how to have fun, and we do a great job training students to do the same.   

I wonder, how can we challenge ourselves

Stylish Dress while leading an multidisciplinary, interactive multimedia Conference Day

Stylish Professional


How can we challenge ourselves to craft conferences, lectures and presentations that would be interesting to our students, or friends and family and colleagues in different academic disciplines? One suggestion I have is to shape craft research questions that are amenable to data collection and analysis using technologies and methods and collection sites that engage more than the visual cortex.   Let us not fear different approaches to interesting ideas. What about the Dance Your PhD  contest from Science Magazine? Why aren’t there more unique programs like Brooklyn College’s Borough as a Classroom  which demonstrates the real world applicability of lectures and reading via field trips for experiential learning and group bonding?  And why the heck don’t we academics dress elegantly and stylish when teaching, or attending and presenting at conferences?      

Academics and other professionals who take themselves and their work too seriously, are ADULT adults. 

The reality is that most of us have become proficient at “de-funning” this life long process we embarked on – the privilege of seeking answers and inventing new ways of delving into THE most intriguing questions that we can think of; the honor of spending our days, nights, weekends and summer vacations engaged in conversation with people who are similarly enraptured with and “expertised” in related topics. People with whom we can explore topics at levels of theoretical abstraction  or scientific precision, conversations that are not ‘par for the course with our loved ones’.  Is this a sign that we should aim for general understandability? Should we be able to talk passionately about of favorite subjects while being understandable to the greater majority? I offer a resounding (((YES!))).  I think that our sometimes masturbatory use of abstract concepts and scientific terminologies prevent us from sharing ideas or discussing our work with people outside of our discipline or education level.    

 Questioning our choices and thinking about options:

  • If we be schlubby dressers, who  lecture AT students without the benefit of the dynamic multimedia of their everyday life, doesn’t this in effect show that we already do not care about them, their  world outside of our disciplines, our classrooms, the world in which our students live when they are not in our classes?
  • How then to interest students in what you have to offer? Even if it is to refute the accuracy claims of commonly used opensource media such as Wikipedia, etc., we must incorporate those things which are relevant and interesting to students. If we make the conversation accessible and participation will likely follow. The world  has changed. The privileged mediums for transmitting information now includes Twitter feeds from favorite and Facebook posts of NYT Online , news articles.   Wikipedia is the choice du jour for quick research projects and many of us likely receive term papers with Wikipedia citations. What to do then? Is the use of Wikipedia information sub-par research or is the student’s vetting of the information more the concern. Either way, it is a conversation that is grist for the mill, WITH our students.

 Any other ideas? A couple of my esteemed colleagues and I discuss these and other issues at length. In our everyday, travels, we strive to spread the message both verbally and by  example. You can visit their blogs via the links below. I also wonder how many of you made it to the end of this posting…hmmm 🙂