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During SCALE 15X last weekend in beautiful Pasadena, California, the Red Hat booth was visited by hundreds of attendees, all looking to find out more Red Hat and the projects with which it works.
Many times, the questions were specific: "what's the best platform for managing virtual machines?" Or "how does CentOS fit within the Red Hat universe?" In those instances, we had more than enough knowledge in the booth to get the right information to those folks. The more tricky conversations, though, were the ones where the questions were far less specific, including the dreaded "So what is Red Hat?"
On one level, talking to people about Red Hat is as easy as reciting a Dun and Bradstreet article. But to do it without sounding like a pretentious jerk or an emotionless drone can be difficult. I mean, the person standing there across the table doesn't want to hear a press release, nor do they want to a long, rambling explanation either. They want to get an answer that's short and succinct and natural-sounding.
Enter the elevator pitch.
Elevator pitches are set-length messages designed to convey a lot of information in a short amount of time. They may seem kind of gimmicky, but they are really a very useful tool for focusing your community's message into a coherent and unified package.
On the OSAS team, we have already put together a collection of such elevator pitches, and events like SCALE were a big part of why. We can't send the entire team to such events, and while one of us might be an expert on one project or two, it's hard to expect full knowledge on all of the projects with which we work. Knowing a project's elevator pitch is not the same as being an expert, of course, but it's enough to provide an answer for anyone asking, hopefully enough to get a conversation started.
When you put such pitches together, its a good idea to have variable lengths of message, to fit the circumstances the message is being used. Setting these up is not terribly hard, you can start small, like this 25-word elevator pitch for CentOS:
The CentOS project is responsible for the production of CentOS, a consistent Linux distribution derived from the Red Hat Enterprise Linux codebase and other sources.
Which can be built into a 50-word message:
The CentOS project is responsible for the production of CentOS, a consistent Linux distribution derived from the Red Hat Enterprise Linux codebase and other sources. The CentOS Project also establishes CentOS as a leading community platform for emerging open source technologies from projects such as OpenStack, Project Atomic, and oVirt.
All the way up to 100 words:
The CentOS project is a community project that is developed, maintained, and supported by and for its users and contributors responsible for the production of CentOS, a consistent Linux distribution derived from the Red Hat Enterprise Linux codebase and other sources.
CentOS provides a base for community adoption and integration of open source cloud, storage, network, and infrastructure technologies on an operating system derived from Red Hat Enterprise Linux sources. CentOS is a leading community platform for many open source technologies from projects such as OpenStack for the cloud, Project Atomic for container management, and oVirt for virtual machine deployment.
You might be thinking to yourself that such messaging might be unnecessary for your project, since you know your project like the back of your hand. And while that may be true for you, it might not be for other members of your community. And, even more troublesome, the message that they have may vary quite a bit from yours, which could lead to confusion to the recipients of your explanations.
A single unified message makes life a lot simpler for your community. Streamlining your current message not only makes present-day conversations more consistent, it also makes things easy to change if, in the future, you need to update your project's message to accommodate for new features and use cases.
Pitches like this may seem hokey, but in a growing community, they can make spreading the word more effective.
About the author
Brian Proffitt is a Manager within Red Hat's Open Source Program Office, focusing on content generation, community metrics, and special projects. Brian's experience with community management includes knowledge of community onboarding, community health, and business alignment. Prior to joining Red Hat in 2014, he was a technology journalist with a focus on Linux and open source, and the author of 22 consumer technology books.