The elevator speech comes from the business world, and is based on the idea that you may only have the time it takes to get between a few floors to introduce yourself or talk about your work. This is an exercise designed to get you comfortable with talking about your work during these short meetings.
Here’s how it goes:
You have been at a party on the 10th floor and it is getting late. It is a party with lots of other artists, curators, and arts patrons. As you leave the party and walk to the elevator, you notice that there is a curator you met briefly at the party in the elevator. You really didn’t get a chance to talk with this curator, so you jump in the elevator. The elevator doors close and you have 10 floors to engage in a conversation.
Since you have met the curator before, ask about her/his work, which may prompt them to ask about yours. The idea is to be able to tell them something engaging and interesting about your work in a clear, concise way. Once a person shows interest, you can continue the conversation in greater detail.
One format for talking about your work is to answer the question, “So, what kind of work do you make?” with a casual description similar to what you already have written in your artist statement. Now this doesn’t mean you should come off as if you are reciting your artist statement word-for-word—that would just sound robotic. Instead, think of how you can relay this information in a social way. Say “I make X kind of work using X kind of materials.” Be animated and descriptive. Give the curator time to respond to your description.
Then, talk about the project or works you are working on right now. This lets the curator know that you are actually a working artist, and it invites the curator to engage in a discussion with you about your immediate interests. This can be invaluable, as the curator might have fresh ideas, resources, or texts that might help your project. Finally, if the curator is interested in your project she/he might ask to come to your studio for a visit.
A good way to end a conversation of this sort is to share business cards or an announcement for a show you are in so that the person you are talking with can find you again. If you don’t have something to exchange, you might have lost an amazing opportunity for yourself. If the curator seems interested, ask if she/he does studio visits, and let her/him know that you would appreciate the opportunity to show her/him your work.
It is very important that you practice this exercise a few time before it actually happens in real life. The more you practice talking about your work in a short, casual, and relaxed manner, the easier it will be to discuss your work with strangers whenever the opportunity arises. This kind of interaction will occur countless times in the course of your art career, and you want to be prepared to seize every opportunity that comes your way.
You can also get our popular book for artists which includes all of this information and more here.