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Taking Up the Elevator Speech

Creating an elevator speech infographic (image courtesy of the ALSC Public Awareness Committee)
Creating an elevator speech infographic (image courtesy of the ALSC Public Awareness Committee)

I admit it. I’ve been known to hide under tables when someone was looking for a volunteer to give a speech. Sometimes I’ve also relied on strategic exits. And then there’s my patented deer-in-the-headlights look that makes it clear to all concerned that I’m not the one who should be chosen to give that important presentation. And so, when the words “elevator speech” started being bandied about ALSC committee meetings last year, I have to confess that I at least mentally stuck my fingers in my ears and dived for cover. You see, I do not do speeches. Not with a goat. Not in a boat. Not in the rain. Not on a train. And no, not in an elevator, thank you very much.

Early this September, however, I signed up to take the Everyday Advocacy Challenge. By doing so, I committed to completing eight consecutive Take Action Tuesdays on a back-to-school theme, collaborate with other ALSC members also taking the challenge, write a post for the ALSC blog talking about my experiences, and nominate another ALSC member for the next round of challenges. Nowhere, I was certain, did I commit to giving a speech. And then, we came to the Week 2 challenge. I opened my email, excited for the task ahead, only to find the dreaded word, “speech,” right there front and center: I had to write, and presumably someday deliver, an elevator speech. After some heavy-duty procrastinating, during which time I cleaned my tables within an inch of their lives and weeded the entire 500s section, I finally sat down to tackle this chore, and discovered…it really wasn’t so bad.

You see, in my eagerness to avoid the whole business, I had never actually read the ALSC material on elevator speeches. In fact, there is an amazing infographic on the ALSC site, as well as some handy how-to tips. Writing an elevator speech, as it happens, just meant me thinking about who I help and how I help them in the library, and then talking to folks about it. This wasn’t hard; this was just a helpful structure for doing what I do anyway. I may not be great at speeches, but when it comes to soap boxes, I’m a pro. While I doubt I’ll ever be in an elevator with New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, my ultimate boss as a New York City public school librarian, there will doubtless come a time when I am speaking to parents, other teachers, or my principal when having these speeches will come in handy. At the very least, I now have several answers ready the next time I get that annoying “aren’t libraries becoming obsolete” cocktail party question we’ve all come to know and dread.

Today’s post was written by Eileen Makoff, the librarian at P.S. 90 Edna Cohen School in Brooklyn, for the Advocacy and Legislative Committee of ALSC.

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