My daughter has just that kind of luck, her teacher used to fly around the ridge of the circus tent. She walks the schoolyard in jeans and sandals. But in my mind, I see her swinging that trapeze in a glittery suit like there’s no tomorrow. She taught my daughter some great tricks on the schoolyard, which made her even more unforgettable.
Unforgettable because she’s diffferent.
Now there’s good different and there’s bad different.
I would have remembered the teacher with her circus background anyway. But if she only had experience as an acrobat, it would not have been good different. The circus experience on top of being the headmaster of a circus school for a decade, that’s good different.
The difference has to be an extra, on top of checking all the boxes. And the difference has to tell me something positive about you and how you work.
An acrobat has discipline to practice her tricks.
She must be precise and safety oriented.
She has guts to fly from one trapeze to the next.
She knows how to manage her nerves
She knows how to captivate people’s attention.
And from all the teachers in the school, it’s her I remember and it’s her I talk about on birthday parties.
So my question to you is: what do you have that sets you apart from the crowd in a positive way? Use that when you present! Make sure you are the one the audience remembers after a long long line of talented and ambitious researchers who pitch their projects. Make sure you are the one they talk about in their lunchbreak.
Special can also be really simple. A professor at one of my favourite universities wears bright red socks. Every single day. For a good decade now. Besides that, nothing special. The same brown corduroy pants, blue lambswool sweater, light blue button down shirt, glasses with small iron frames. The standard uniform for the white male professor in his late fifties.
Everybody knows him. Even a former minister of education became a fan. Of course, he is intelligent and he had a good vision on education. Also, he is friendly and approachable, but the red socks make him unforgettable. I have spoken to him just once. And from all professors I had long meetings with, I remember red-sock-professor.
I met him in the train years later and I greeted him like an old friend. He greeted me back with a friendly smile, clearly unaware of who I was. He seems used to unknown people greeting him this way. The red socks make his other characteristics more memorable. Had he been a dumb jerk, he would have been the dumb jerk in red socks. But since he was friendly, knowledgeable and intelligent, it made the good stuff stronger.
When you pitch, make sure you have something extra, that enhances the effect of all your other positive professional characteristics. What makes you unforgettable in a sea of talented researchers who pitch for a grant?
Do you have a side job as a hiphop dance instructor next to your PhD? Do you sell cheese on the market on Saturday? Did you sail across the world? Do you collect smurfs? Do you bake rainbow coloured cakes? It does not matter how big or small it is, as long as people can see it in their minds eye.
One of ‘my’ honours students is a professional gamer. He is introverted, hardworking and has excellent grades. So far, nothing special. But he has a Youtube channel where millions of viewers watch him shooting his virtual enemies in some game I forgot the name of. It shows me he has an entrepreneurial spirit, and discipline.
Over the last decade, I have seen thousands of honours students from all over the world. All brilliant, ambitious, driven to make the world a better place and eager to learn. But I still remember the gamer.
So my message to you is: use the stuff that makes you you. As long as it’s something positive that makes you special, on top of the requirements. Something that tells me about your character and your way of working. Something I remember you by. If you can surprise people it helps. Steer clear from clichés. You can put it on your cv, use it when you introduce yourself or even use a picture of it in your presentation to make yourself unforgettable.
And that PhD student from a technical university, who failed to mention his obsession with rollercoasters? Who came up with a great idea to make rollercoasters run both safer and more often? Who did not share how the most popular thema park in the Netherlands offered him 1 million euro for his idea? Which he turned down because he wanted to make the idea even better? He showed up for his pitch in a grey suit, his hair and his character flattened out to look more professional. He only talked about the numbers in his spreadsheets. We never heard from him again.
You want that winning pitch don’t you? I made you an e-book to help you on your way.
You can download it here