Let’s face it: writers are known for writing. But when it comes to pitching, the performance aspect can strike fear in even the most talented writers. And I would know… I’ve heard over 5,000 pitches. Though your characters and story may be airtight, it could be a hard pass for your project if you can’t pitch them in an engaging way. Today, I want to share with you my top five strategies for how to be more charismatic and engaging in any room in order to set yourself up for successful pitching:
1) Prepare like your career depends on it. (Hint: it does.)
This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many writers under-prepare before sitting down with buyers and producers. If you think you can “wing it” in the room, think again. Pitches are high-stakes opportunities that can change your career. These situations often induce a fight-or-flight response in the brain, which means you won’t be thinking as clearly as you would if you were completely calm. This is why it’s so important to fully prepare, no matter how experienced you are.
To make your pitch sound more natural and write it all out as a monologue, then convert it into bullet points and practice off the bullet points. This will give you room to improvise a little and seem more spontaneous. Then, practice. Practice until you can pitch your show backwards with your eyes closed. One successful showrunner friend of mine (who’s sold multiple pilots every year and has had three series on the air) wouldn’t dream of going into a pitch meeting without practicing it a minimum of 30 times. Practice until you are sick of the sound of your own voice. Practice in front of your friends, your reps, and your significant others. Your career could depend on it.
2) Try positive visualization.
This may sound ridiculous, but there’s solid science behind this technique. When you take the time to visualize a positive experience in detail, your brain pumps out feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, which help you relax and signal confidence and charisma in your body language and microexpressions. Before going into a meeting, take five minutes to visualize a time when you felt particularly loved, valued, or strong. See yourself leaving the meeting feeling like you hit a home run! You did an amazing job, gave it your all and feel enthusiastic about what you delivered. Then, sit back confidently in the room and reap the benefits of this mental shift.
3) Keep it conversational.
A great pitch is a conversation, not a dry laundry list of characters and scenes. Even though you’ll have prepared within an inch of your life, be willing to go off-script and stay in the moment if an exec interrupts to ask you questions or expand on an idea. Don’t panic; all the preparation you’ve already done will go on autopilot and you’ll be able to segue back to the points you want to make. Remember: when buying new projects, execs take into account both how great your idea is and how pleasant (or painful) it might be to work with you. Don’t forget to be a human being.
4) Start with a personal anecdote.
I also like to call this a personal nugget, because anecdotes are the gold in your life.Your chances of a buyer connecting to your material are much higher if they can first connect to you. At the very top of your pitch, make sure to include your “inspiration story” of why you were drawn to this project. This should cover what sparked your interest and excitement, and why you are the perfect person to tell this story. (Hint: make sure to include why you are the only person who can write this. If someone else could write it almost as well, it’s probably too generic.) Dig deeper until you have an inspiration story that’s not only personal, but also reflects your voice and vision for the show. Again, you’re not just pitching your material. You’re pitching yourself.
5) Capitalize on confident body posture.
One of the worst things you can do in a pitch meeting is to make yourself small and project insecurity. Your mother was right… standing up straight is important. In a pitch, the right kind of posture can convey confidence, which gives you a leg up from the beginning. We’re not going for arrogant here, but a little confidence can have a big impact. Stand or sit in a way that takes up space (think arms uncrossed or leaning back in your chair). This will not only trigger confidence-boosting neurochemicals in your brain, but will project confidence outwardly to the people you’re pitching to. Social Physiologist Amy Cuddy does a great 20-minute Ted talk on the whole posture thing… check it out here.
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