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Julie K Silver
Julie K Silver

2009 Elevator Pitch to Change Your Life

90 seconds that will make your year!

Ask anyone if his or her career has the makings of a compelling book and you'll start hearing some amazing stories. This is true for anyone....consider the plumber who has access to master bathrooms. Think he's just fixing the pipes? I'll bet he's got some great stories to tell. Or, the flight attendant who smiles and says, "What can I get you to drink?" Think she's just interested in serving you your liquid of choice? I doubt it.

I'm a writer and writing instructor. For years I've been teaching doctors, nurses, psychologists and other healthcare professionals how to get their books published, and what I've learned is that everyone has a great book or two in them.
Many folks think that those of us in healthcare are very serious and not terribly creative, but they'd quickly change their minds if they sat in the audience during Shameless Pitches--a 90 second oral summary of a book idea presented to a panel of literary agents and editors at the Harvard CME course that I direct for healthcare professionals called Publishing Books, Memoirs and Other Creative Nonfiction (

Take the case of Jill Grimes, a family physician who is a pleasant woman with an infectious laugh. When the bell rang and the course attendee before her was cut off from finishing his overly long pitch, Jill strode up to the podium and began by introducing herself. She called her book about sexually transmitted diseases "Stirrup Tales" and as you can imagine had everyone laughing and smiling by the time she finished, just as the buzzer sounded.

One editor, impressed with Jill's book idea, immediately offered her a contract. Stirrup Tales is now a new release from Johns Hopkins University Press that is re-titled Seductive Delusions: How Everyday People Catch STDs (check out the very sexy cover on or other online booksellers).

Shameless Pitches is essentially what a lot of editors (and business executives) call an "elevator conversation." Meaning, that you have a short time, perhaps the length of an elevator ride, to convince someone that whatever idea you have is worthwhile. In this fast-paced world, most professionals don't have a lot of time to listen to new ideas. Plus, if they are in a position to publish a book, buy a product, or invest in whatever you have to offer, they likely hear many "pitches" from people. The pitches get old fast, especially since they tend to be long winded and unfocused.

In a Shameless Pitch, course attendees are taught a formulaic way of presenting their book idea, which works for many other important ideas as well. Here's what they learn:

Begin with who you are. This is important, because the listener will pay more attention if he or she understands who you are and how you bring expertise to this idea. For example, when Sarah Allen Benton, a young woman in her early twenties walked up to the microphone, she looked like someone in a twenty-something sitcom. Pretty and polished, she began with this opening line, "Hi, my name is Sarah and I am an alcoholic."

The room immediately silenced, and the audience began to listen intently. They knew that her book idea was going to be about alcoholism, but this wasn't going to be the "ho hum" alcoholism that those of us in healthcare know so much about. Sarah's one line introduction and her obviously tender age, told us that this was going to be a heart rendering story and we waited to hear more:

"The name of my book is Hindsight: The Past and Present Reflections of a High-Functioning Alcoholic"

Ten seconds into the pitch, she had grabbed our attention and told us exactly what she wanted to write about. The second line of her pitch was her thesis, and we all understood it immediately.
Sarah continued, "I am a female high-functioning alcoholic, which is an underrepresented class of alcoholics. We are harder to identify because our external successes mask an underlying demon. I was able to drink alcoholically for 12 year and still managed to graduate with honors from college, get my master's degree and then to excel professionally as a therapist."

Sarah went on for another minute or so and then concluded with, "I am here only because I was spared, and my purpose in writing this book is to spare others from the denial and dangers of alcoholism."

Very few of the brave souls who participate in Shameless Pitches get a standing ovation, but Sarah walked off the podium to thunderous applause as her colleagues stood and saluted.

Today, you can see more about Sarah's publishing journey at her website Her book, re-titled as Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic: Professional Views and Personal Insights, was just released.

If you have a book idea, want to start a new company, have something to sell or simply want people to really consider what you have to say, try the "elevator conversation" approach. Begin with something about who you are and why you have expertise about this topic. Next, summarize your main point or thesis. Continue by offering a few details. Aim for a powerful conclusion. And, do all of this in 90 seconds or less.

Then, get ready to write your book or start your business or fulfill whatever dream you have!

About the Author
Julie K Silver

Julie K. Silver, M.D., is an assistant professor in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School.

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