I know some philosophers find telling laypeople that they are philosophers or explaining what philosophy is tiring. On the other hand, some philosophers give a veritable conference paper to the simple question, “What do you do?”
I know some people reading this will bristle at this sort of business-y advice, but a 90-second elevator pitch is a fantastic way to quickly and succinctly explain what philosophy is and why it’s important to lots of different audiences in lots of different situations.
Here are 5 key components to creating a powerful 90-second pitch:
- Talk about what you do, not what you are: most people won’t know what an epistemologist is, but they will understand a description of what epistemologists do.
- Use plain language: please don’t pepper your speech with technical phrases like supervenience, heuristics, or ontology. Unless, of course, you'r trying to alienate your audience. Seriously, how many people in gen pop know what you're talking about?
- Keep it conversational: try not to sound like you’re standing at a lectern, and instead think more along the lines of chatting with someone waiting to get their tires rotated.
- Make a connection: help your listener make a personal connection to what you do qua philosopher.
- Invite questions: the best way to invite questions is to first ask questions of your listener.
All kinds of people need to know and understand the value of philosophy—not just people who read “The Stone” or who take philosophy classes, right? Otherwise programs are cut, parents dissuade students, and the general public begins to see philosophy as an exercise in navel gazing that society can ill afford.
I would wager that university governing board members who vote to eliminate philosophy programs and departments have never taken a philosophy class nor had anyone explain to them exactly what it is philosophers do or why the discipline is important.
Now, admittedly, if you’re at a top tier school this won’t be of much concern to you. But, whether or not you have an elevator pitch and execute it might impact your colleagues teaching at state or regional universities. As Peter’s Uncle Ben said, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Explaining what philosophy is, what philosophers do, and how it may relate to your audience doesn’t have to feel burdensome. In fact, it should feel like a privilege. So, how do you explain metaphysics, epistemology, consciousness or, consequentialism in chance daily encounters, to your plumber, the person next to you on a plane, your mechanic, or the woman at the bus stop?
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