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No elevator speeches for artists please

February 16, 2011

I recently read,   The Elevator Speech by Greg Peters, an article for artists on how to present themselves quickly with a 30 second sound bite. This business technique may have grown from the speed dating trend, where you have to make clear to the person sitting across from you in less than a minute just what it is you do.

Viewed within the paradigm of artists as aspiring business men/women, the article is good. The useful part of the concept is that it gets you clear in some very concise statements about just what it is you do.  And you can communicate it if caught off guard without your cards or in another spontaneous encounter with someone who may be interested in working with you.

In my experience, however, having a prepared statement about what you do has some disadvantages as well. This is especially true for those of us who are active across abroad range of creative work. For instance, I have written a book on creative approaches to activities for people with dementia, I decorate period instruments, and I am a fine artist and graphic designer. OK, that could be a good elevator speech, but it is only about what I Do. And certain aspects of this would be less interesting to one sort of potential client than another.

I tend lately to try to communicate what it is I care about. And then I present whatever projects I am engaged in as an expression of that.

If you are only concerned about presenting what you do well, you are already approaching the other person narrowly- as a prospective client. Personally I turn off when someone is coming on to me just to sell somehing or to get ahead.  If, on the other hand, you genuinely share what your passion is, there is a likelihood that it will connect with the same place in them, and you will meet as people. In my experience there is much more potential for collaboration between two people who share a cause than between two people looking for how someone else can be of use to them commercially.

Also, I challenge the model that artists have to conform to current business marketing practices. I don’t think they work for most of us. We should be using our creativity (and we are!) to create more playful, out of the box, awesome, amazing ways of bringing our creativity into everyday situations.

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12 Responses to “No elevator speeches for artists please”

  1. Aletta Says:

    Sarah,
    I have always been turned off by elevator speech admonitions. The predatory nature and the lack of interest in the other person makes me cringe. agree with you about using our creativity to engage people in conversations and to elicit curiosity about our work. Much more enjoyable for everyone whatever the outcome.

    • szoutewelle Says:

      hi Aletta,
      your site looks really friendly and inviting. I appreciate the work you are doing and will bookmark it.
      Even though I spend a lot of time here knocking the commercial model artists are being forced into by the consumer oriented society, I am not at all against making an income from one’s work when possible. I am just advocating for artists to try as much as possible to do this on their own terms- listening to their inner sense of values.
      Shortly I am launching a small project myself, half commercial half non profit. And I am sure the tips on your site could be a help to me.
      thanks.

      • Aletta Says:

        Hi Sarah,
        Thanks for your kind comments. I think you present a balanced view of making art from the inner drive, and being paid for it when it creates value in then eyes of the beholder. I support your advocacy 100% for working from inner values and using that same source of creativity to be recognized.

  2. Meltemi Says:

    And exactly what is wrong with…?
    “Hi, I’m Phil Kendall and I’m a visual artist.  I produce artworks that I would love you to have a look at. Here’s my business card which will take you straight to my website where you can see what I do. I could talk for hours about my art, but seeing for yourself is better than thousands of my words.  Please take a look for yourself at my website when you have a minute please then send me some feed-back via its contact page “

    • szoutewelle Says:

      Dear Phil, Thanks for commenting. Nothing at all is wrong with ‘Hi, I’m Phil Kendall’etc.
      I went to your site and enjoyed your brightly colored work and can see that you are making an honest effort to market your work as a product. Within that context a quick sales talk fits fine.

      But my blog is for artists like myself who have not been able to find their passion or purpose within the commercial world. We are mostly made to feel that we are the ones at fault for not being better business people. But I contend that there are many other sides to being an artist in the society. So on this blog I try to write about how art and market do not fit together. And about alternative ways to approach art and making an income, ie new directions in art making and art exhibiting like guerilla art, craftivism, working as an artist in healthcare, using creativity to build community etc.

  3. jo allebach Says:

    I don’t like the idea of the elevator speech but sincerely want my – from my heart and soul – paintings to sell. Using my creativity? I wish I knew what you were suggesting.

    • szoutewelle Says:

      Hi Jo, I really liked your painting of the plums on the page About the artist.

      If I were selling my art like mad using my creativity, I could give you a list of what to do. But I am not generally a good seller of paintings, and anyway, that isn’t my goal right now.

      However, I am inspired by several artists who have managed to find creative ways to market what they do while keeping their integrity. None of them are painters, though. Keri Smith and Michael Nobbs both use the internet and their books to create a community following and they are making an income from that.

      If I were to put energy into selling my paintings and drawings I would look around me and see what art trails I could join locally. I would volunteer as an artist at schools to help kids understand art, I’d loan my paintings to hospitals and nursing home to brighten up the rooms. I’d organise a sort of Tupperware party but with art, I’d start some walk in painting workshops. All my effort would go into the things that move me, which are: creating community and connections to people through my art. And then my paintings would sell as a side effect.
      I know this because when I lived in the states, this is what I did in Pittsburgh and I never had any trouble selling. It just happened naturally as an extension of the other stuff I was doing.
      Good luck.

  4. Marguerite Says:

    I read about elevator speeches back in the eighties, in a book about investing. The idea behind an elevator speech was to be able to capture the essence of a subject in the amount of time that you would normally have while riding an elevator.

    It wasn’t necessarily meant to be a sales pitch. The idea was to be able to understand the business you wanted to invest in, or to explain that business to someone who was not familiar with it and do it in a short half dozen sentences or so. The idea of the elevator speech was to force you to know your subject well enough that you could summarize it in a way that would make sense to someone not familiar with it.

    Using that as a guide, it should not be too difficult for an artist or other creative person to speak about what he/she does in a way that is understandable to someone not familiar with the field. Done right, it can provoke an interesting conversation. We don’t have to act like real estate agents trying to farm listings.

  5. Liza Paizis Says:

    This is such an interesting topic. I had not heard of an elevator speech literally until about an hour ago. I have been a successful self-employed artist for 20 years, yet one thing I have always struggled with is succinctly and eloquently describing the very unique artwork that I do.
    I can certainly see the merits of such a speech, if one really did have to articulate one’s creative work in a nutshell to a potentially captive audience. After all, opportunities like that come to pass, not to pause! Thanks for this thought-provoking post…


    • Thanks Lisa. I think my point was to try to lift artists out of the current marketing trends, since making art and selling products are based on such different value systems. And I agree with you, there are certainly merits in getting a short few sentences together to describe what you do.


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