As a communication scholar, of course I understand the importance of making sure folks are “getting” my message. I also believe that communicators need to be as clear and concise as possible, in order to avoid any sort of confusion.
With that said, when I was on the job market as a grad student at UMD, I thought the best way to describe my research stream was to show it visually. And so, I created this venn diagram:
To me, this was a clear representation of how my two areas of research (PR and Health Communication) tie together into my dissertation project, which in turn was how I talked about the work I hoped to accomplish in the future. I actually opened my job talk with this visual, and then went into further detail about the different areas on each side of the venn and the various projects in these areas. I even paid out of pocket (a tough thing to do as a broke grad student, trust me!) to print this diagram out in color in order to give it to those who came to my job talk.
Now as a junior faculty member, when I give advice to grad students, I suggest creating something similar to this in order to visually show where your research is coming from, how it leads to your diss, and where you see it going. For me, this was a great conversation-starter piece about my work, and it seemed to go well for me in the end, as I was soon after offered my job here at VCU.
PS – In terms of elevator speeches, we have our PR students practice this all the time, so it is definitely something engrained in my field. However, another variation of this that I found to be interesting and fun was to ask my fiance what he tells people when they ask about what I do/what I research. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at his answer!