Sunday, August 1, 2021

Writing an Elevator Speech (for Illustrators)

© 2014 Don Arday.

In addition to a professional bio and an artist’s statement, every illustrator should write an elevator speech and then memorize it. An elevator speech provides an intelligent answer to the archetypal question posed by acquaintances and your grandparent, “Now what is it you do again?” A good elevator speech can even provide the answer to “Now what is an illustrator exactly?” And a really good elevator speech can do it before the questioner has a chance to roll their eyes. All kidding aside, you will be asked these questions time and time again over the course of your career, so it only makes sense to have a well thought out answer prepared. Especially for those times you least expect such a question…like when you are riding in an elevator or you happen to encounter the creative director for a large ad agency in a bar.

What An Elevator Speech Is


First and foremost an elevator speech is a short and concise statement. In fact is can be as short as 10 seconds, or the infamous “in 25 words or less”. However, depending on the setting it can also be longer. An elevator speech is usually spoken in conversation, which may result in some verbal interaction.

By comparison, not exactly an elevator speech, and even briefer, social media such as Instagram limits bio statements to 160 characters. This compounds the challenge to state your case briefly.


Your speech contains chosen aspects about you, your activities, interests, and where appropriate, even your sentiments. Even the very way it is composed and presented can communicate how you think and view your profession.

Example: I’ve been an illustrator for 24 years, a graphic designer for 19 years, an art director for 6 years, a creative director for 7 years, a copywriter for 13 years, an educator for 32 years, an administrator for 9 years, and an author for 3 years. How old am I?

Example: I’m an illustrator who educates, a graphic designer who writes, an art director who designs, a typographer who illustrates, a creative director who writes, an illustrator who art directs, a writer who types, an artist who designs, and a teacher who learns. I could keep going if you’d like.

What An Elevator Speech Contains

All or some of the items below can be combined to form your speech depending on the position and vocation of the people you will have the occasion to speak it to, and the amount of time that will be available.

 A personal and or professional description of you.

Example: I recently completed my BFA Degree in Illustration at the Rochester Institute of Technology, RIT.

Example: I just relocated from Minneapolis to New York to illustrate entertainment and broadcasting commissions; my favorite type of work.

 An attention grabbing statement.

Example: I worked on an animation that just appeared on Saturday Night Live.

Example: I designed the latest edition of “The Winnie the Pooh” books for Penguin.

 A description of what you do.

Example: I mainly create illustrated characters that appear in various forms of print such as books and print ads.

Example: I create interpretive illustrations of subjects that are to difficult to be photographed like schizophrenia or indigestion.

 What is unique about what you do or the way that you do it.

Example: I produce illustrations for editorial articles that appear in medical journals and healthcare publications.

Example: My work is definitely unconventional as I illustrate on sheet metal rather than paper.

 A statement including your target audience.

Example: My latest commission had me working on settings and characters that were animated in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt children’s video books.

Example: Braintrust Creative, where I work, has me creating storyboards for retail market clients like Premium Outlet Centers.

 A statement referencing your clients.

Example: I’ve illustrated for Forbes, Business Week, The Atlantic Magazine, and others.

Example: I work on a variety of in-house publications for Bank of America and Merrill Lynch.

 A concluding statement of a goal or an aspiration.

Example: I feel a good place for me would be working for an advertising agency or television network like ABC.

Example: I eventually want to write and illustrate my own children’s books.

What An Elevator Speech Does Not Contain

 Long drawn out statements or stories
 Any type of criticism.
 Non-relevant information.
 References requiring further explanation.
 Commands or directives.
 Excessive background information.
 Excessive emotion.
 Swearing or slang.
 Mention of other artists for the sake of comparison.

Writing a Bio (for Illustrators)

A business biographical statement is yet one more credential in your arsenal of job and business documentation. Bios are an essential and necessary component that must be provided for many professional opportunities and situations. A bio serves as a formal, personal introduction that vocalizes your status as an illustration professional to potential employers and other parties interested in you and the work that you do. Bios are needed when applying for a job, posting on a blog, communicating through social media, etc.

© 2014 Don Arday
To write an effective bio you must know what your bio should be about and identify your purpose and whom the bio is intended for. You must also know the media or venue you are writing your bio for. A bio for a personal web page might be very different than a bio for a job application or a presentation to a professional society.

A bio can be formal, entertaining, professional, or secretively personal, and it may be necessary to write a bio as a specific occasion demands. It is not uncommon for bios to be customized for the need at hand. Regardless of what the purpose of your bio may be, there are certain given pieces of information that will form its basis.

Your Name 

Always introduce yourself, both on paper and in person.  Don’t assume whoever is reading the bio will have heard of you. In fact, assume that they know nothing about you. Use your true name. The name you want to be referred to for the rest of your professional career can also be included, but after your true name is stated.

Example: Elizabeth (Liz) Jamison although born in England, grew up stateside in Indianapolis. Liz attended the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) where she received a BFA in Illustration.

Your Profession

Not all of the places your bio may be seen, such as Facebook, will be directly related to your profession, so it’s important to quickly and specifically identify your field of business.

Example: James specializes in children’s book illustration; there are more than two-dozen of his books available nationally.

Third Person

MOST importantly, you must write in the third person. THIRD PERSON IS THE STANDARD STYLE FOR A PROFESSIONAL BIO. Though your bio is written in the third person, it can still be made to sound personal, familiar, and friendlier.

Example: Ron has been creating award-winning illustrations since 2009. This sounds less egotistical and more believable than: I have been creating award-winning illustrations since 2009.


A bio is not a novel. In fact it is a story of a professional life in 300 words or less. Start with what is essential to establish whom you are. Explain your relationship to your field is and what your career desires are. For a boxer, it would be his fight records and his physical statistics. For an illustrator it would be accomplishments that are relevant to the illustration profession. Extraneous details, in other words, information that is off topic has no place here. Due to the limited format of social network sites and online web hosting sites, an online bio will probably be even shorter with the most important information coming in the first 25 words. Also be aware that certain venues limit the number of words or characters allowed such as Twitter, which has a 140-character limit.

A less than 140-character example: Chicago born, and an alumnus of Northwestern U., Gary Miller has illustrated for Pepsi, Google, Reebok, and the NHL, with awarded success.


Be certain to highlight your most important accomplishments, Dean’s list, a juried national exhibition acceptance, etc. If an accomplishment is significant accomplishment, then include it. However, it is not necessary to repeat notable information that is listed on your resume.

Example: Sarah will have a solo gallery in the 2018 Armory Show.

An Attention Getter

If you have a special accomplishment then state it. Something you are, or can be identified with. If it is on your resume, don't expect someone will find it. Use an accomplishment to hold a readers interest, or to make a note. Illustrator’s who have some notoriety for a particular achievement will state it along with their name.

Example: Aldo Mere known for his excellent digital vector art technique has worked with John Lasseter at Disney...


It’s perfectly acceptable to include a statement or two that will project a bit of your personality. This can add some character to your written materials, which can in turn support the character of your visual presentation. It also helps to humanize you in a way that would interest a reader.

Example: When Don was three years old he knew illustration was in his cards, he couldn’t read the cards yet, so he relied on the pictures, from then on he was hooked.

Closing Information

A good way to conclude a bio is with contact information, short and sweet, such as an email or web address. You can’t assume that other materials that already contain your contact information will accompany your bio.

Example: Susan can be contacted at


Your bio should be well thought out and carefully composed. Your bio is a window that readers can look through to see what you look like. It is important that there be no typos or improper use of language. And you can’t always rely on a spell checker to catch all the mistakes. (See below.)

Example: Recently, Beth was also delited to here she recieved too awards from the Society of IIIustrators, there top metals. The sentence should appear as: Recently, Beth was delighted to hear she received two awards from the Society of Illustrators; their top medals.