Warming Up The Room

The first part of the pitch is the bit that nervous writers always want to zoom past.  Resist the urge to shake hands and launch into the story.  Your pitch, you see, actually begins long before you start the official pitch.  First, you need to warm up the room.

This is not something you can necessarily practice ahead of time.  I’ve had pitches where most of the meeting was connecting on a personal level – also known as chitchat.  I’ve also had pitches where (I am not kidding) the person I pitched to sat down with a thud and waved an angry hand in my general direction.  Most meetings fall somewhere in between.

But while you can’t script chitchat the same way you can outline a pitch, you should still walk in with a game plan.  Here are the steps:

1) As soon as you discover you’re having a pitch meeting, find out as much as possible about the company and the person with whom you’ll be meeting.  The Internet is your friend… but your friends are your friends, too.  Ask around.  Everyone knows someone.  Get as much of the inside scoop as you can.

You’re not just looking for general information, you’re also looking for a way to connect to this person.  What do you have in common?  Have you seen their movies or read books they’ve edited or agented?  If not, get cracking.

2) Once you’ve found a point of commonality – you’re from the same state, you went to the same college (that’s a long shot but a huge connection, so don’t forget to check), you both love mysteries, or you truly loved something specific about a project they worked on – you can figure out what kind of conversation you’d like to have.  It’s okay to be Fan Girl if it’s genuine: “I just want to let you know how much fun it is to actually meet you.  I loved “Maybe It’s Me” – it was so inventive and funny, and at the same time very joyful.”  I could then mention that I met Julia Sweeney when she did her one-woman show, and voila, we’ve launched a very pleasant connection, because everything I’ve said is true.  And it’s a conversation I would genuinely enjoy having, so if anyone knows creator Suzanne Martin, hook me up!

3) If you come up blank, or if your meeting gets changed to someone new at the last second, don’t panic.  Instead, look around their office.  You’re looking for something that you connect to, something that piques your interest.  Ask a question.  Be interested in them.

4) Finally, when the actual conversation happens, enjoy it.  Listen.  Connect.  Trust that they will let you know when it’s time to launch into your pitch – which they always will.  That’s their job.  Your job at this moment is to warm up the room so that when you do start to pitch, it’s a natural progression of your relationship.

This isn’t the Olympics.  No one is judging.  And anyway, you’re good at this.  Relax, have fun, get warm.

Next: Prep their listening.

How to Pitch

TV pitching season is swirling around me.  In all the chaos, I find that even I have to remind myself the basics of how to pitch.  Here are the stages of a pitch meeting:

1) Warm up the room.  Watch for their signal to begin.

2) Prepare their listening.

3) Tell them the single most important element of your project.

4) Listen to their response.

5) If invited, give them the highlights of your story, chronologically and briefly.

6) Create an opening for their input and allow a real conversation.

7) Clarify follow-up.

Every meeting you take will have these elements in it.  You need to be comfortable and confident with each stage.

I’ll take each one separately over the next couple of weeks, but for now, I leave you with the idea of reframing the pitch in your own mind.  You are not out there to sell.  This is not about you against them.  Sure, you’re putting on a bit of a dog-and-pony show, but at heart you are honestly sharing a project you love in the expectation that they will love it, too, and want to play with you.  There’s a great energy that comes with that – and it is a completely different energy than the one that comes with desperation or salesmanship.

There is joy here.  Have fun!