There’s lots of great advice on pitching all over the internet. I took my lead from the wise words of Elliot & Rossio, and followed their pitching strategy for a presentation I had to make to Working Title a couple of years ago. This approach really worked, and although I didn’t get the gig, I was complimented on the style of the pitch.
Prior to this, I had the usual pitch meetings with execs, chatting to fellow writers or boring your friends down the pub. The Elliot & Rossio approach made me more aware of preparation and presentation, and gave me added confidence in my overall technique.
Last year, before going to Cannes, me, Tim Clague and Suki Singh practiced our pitches with each other. This was only the second time I had met Tim, and my first time meeting Suki, so the experience was weird, and I nervously stuttered through my pitch. However, it helped me focus on where the key details of the pitch needed to improve, and once we were in Cannes, I relaxed into a more calm and confident manner to present the story.
Basically, I think you learn something new and useful with every pitch you attend. Each pitch is individual because of who you’re pitching to, where it’s being held and what kind of response you get while you pitch. This visual response, or ‘vibe’, can be disconcerting or invigorating, depending on how your panicked mind decides to read the situation.
If it’s a one-on-one situation, usually the person will give you his/her full attention; nod, grunt and laugh in order to encourage you along in the pitch. If it’s to two or three people, then you may get a variety of encouragement, flat face response or head down taking notes. The flat face response can be disconcerting and damaging to your confidence. If someone takes notes, well at least they’re paying attention and writing something down.
The flat face response is a killer, though. It’s only natural to think that the pitch is going down the toilet when the person’s expression registers absolutely no emotion whatsoever. And when they don’t respond to a joke or a lighthearted remark, oh boy: eject, eject, eject!
Yesterday, I had to pitch to a committee of six people. I hadn’t pitched to this large a number before so it was an interesting experience. Afterwards, I felt that the pitch had not gone well because I received a lot of ‘flat face responses’, and the vibe was not good. However, later I was told that the pitch was well received, and that I got a 9/10 marking from each committee member. This led me to think about the individual psychology of the people sitting there as they listened to my pitch. Perhaps the ‘flat face response’ was more in evidence because there was six of them, so they didn’t have to make the effort of making me feel encouraged or whatever.
There were two members that showed more interest than the others, and naturally, these were the people that I made the most eye contact with. I always try to include everyone in the pitch and make eye contact throughout but when the others have their head down or give you the dead eye stare, then it’s only human to seek out a more friendly face.
The only bit of advice about pitching I can offer is that preparation is the key. I lay out what I want to say, and practice saying that over and over, until the structure and content is jammed into my head. When you’re pitching, the vibe can throw you in different ways, so you’re always going to forget something or skip a small piece of detail but that’s okay because it’s good to improvise and keep it fresh whilst still remembering the key details of what the pitch is all about. There’s usually a Q&A at the end anyway, so you have the chance to cover the cracks.
So, I learned a lot yesterday. The pitch is not yet in the bag, it has to go to a second stage (sheesh!) but feedback has been good, and so the worst is over. By the way, this opportunity came about because they had found my website, and liked what they saw, so invited me in to pitch for their project. Nice!