The Most Common Pitch Meeting Mistake (That You Don’t Know You’re Making)
Blake was a big fan of Stephanie Palmer, a pitch consultant who helps creative people sell their work. She was a studio executive for MGM where she had more than 3,000 pitch meetings. You can sign up for her free course, “7 Days To Creating A Better Pitch For Your Screenplay” on her “Good in a Room” blog. It’s rare for us to republish a blog, but we think Stephanie’s advice will resonate for you:
Want to get better at pitching in an instant? Don’t make this extremely common mistake.
Seasoned pros and beginners alike, at some point in their pitch, tell the decision-maker what decision they should make.
To raise your game, when you are pitching your idea/script/project in a pitch meeting, don’t:
* “This will be a big hit.”
* “It has great international appeal.”
* “Everyone is going to want to see this.”
* “My project is a guaranteed moneymaker.”
* “It’s commercial.”
* “This will be #1 at the box office.”
* “The lead role has Oscar written all over it.”
* “This script will change the world.”
* “This project will inspire people.”
* “You’re going to love this.”
* “You’ll be laughing out loud.”
* “This is the best thing you’ll read this year.”
* “I’ve got a great idea for you.”
* “I have an amazing project.”
* “I love the story in this script.”
What’s The Problem?
Isn’t this just harmless self-promotion to communicate confidence and enthusiasm?
Not in this case. When you rave about yourself and your project, you’re intruding on the decision-maker’s turf by telling them what to think, how to feel, and what their opinion should be.
Imagine a couple circumstances where you’re the decision-maker….
Watching American Idol
An American Idol contestant gets up, and before she sings, she says to the audience:
“I just want to let you know that I love the way I sing this song, I think you’re going to love it the most out of all the performances tonight, and after I’m done, I know you’re going to vote for me.”
Or would you rather just have her sing and decide for yourself?
On A First Date
You meet your date at a coffee shop, and right after you sit down at a table together, he says:
“Before we get started getting to know each other, let me just tell you what a great conversationalist I am. I have some excellent personal stories that will make you laugh. I’m also terrific in bed and I’m confident that you’ll be in love with me by the end of the evening.”
Or would you just rather go on the date and decide for yourself?
The truth is that most decision-makers don’t want to hear your predictions about success, and they don’t want to be told how to think and feel.
* You say: “This will be a #1 hit movie.” They think: “Oh, good—you’re a fortune teller now. Can I get some lottery numbers?”
* You say: “You’re going to love this!” They think: “Really? I’m so glad you know how I’m going to respond.”
* You say: “I have an amazing idea for you.” They think: “You’ve concluded that your own idea is a winner? I’m stunned.”
Decision-makers want to decide for themselves–just as you do when you’re the decision-maker.
Communicate Confidence in Three Steps
I hope you can see that when you promote yourself and your work in a pitch meeting, it doesn’t demonstrate confidence. It just annoys the decision-maker.
Instead, try these three steps:
Your agent, your producer, other executives who have worked with you, can talk about your work and say, “This is the best script I’ve read this year.”
Validation of you and your work from a third-party is much more credible.
Here’s what communicates confidence: just pitching your story. No pre-qualifications, no “pumping up” the executive or raving about how great it is in advance. Simply tell the story.
Give the decision-maker the space to think, feel, and form opinions on their own. Let them be the judge. After all, they are.
- Jacqueline Lichtenberg
I put this on Google+ with the following comments:
This is a basic lesson in how to talk to people in general all the time. If folks on social media like Google+ would talk this way, the environment would improve. Have you practiced this in general conversation?
THIS IS A RECIPE FOR WRITING DIALOGUE! Ha! Who knew “pitch lessons” were dialogue writing lessons?? Characters must speak to each other, taking into account “who” the other character is and what their agenda is. Every bit of dialogue is a pitch.
Even beyond that, these directions are a recipe for standup comedy scripting.?
@Captain — This list of don’ts and do’s really is just about how to talk to anyone you meet, even if you have no idea who they are, for example, sitting next to you on a plane.
It’s something to practice dealing with supermarket clerks and neighbors down the block. This is just a partial list of what you teach your kids when you socialize them. Be nice. Be yourself. Don’t be pushy. Don’t be shy.
Put your head into the frame of mind where the OTHER PERSON’S needs, wants, sensitivities and objectives are more important to you than your own.
The mistakes listed here are just the kinds of mistakes any person would make if they’re nervous or lack confidence.
The one thing not mentioned is “aaaa” and “mmmm” and other noises between words, noises that convey no meaning. The worst offender is “you know” — because if that person already knows, then why in the world are you saying it and wasting their time? To waste someone’s time is to denigrate them.
Practice speaking to anyone at any time for any reason about anything. Just practice talking, with your eyes focused on the person not your shoes or the window. The most important lesson in talking is listening.
Practice listening to people until nothing in you cares a twit about who you are or how others respond to you. Listen until you FEEL the other person’s view of the world. Listen, then say something TO that person — not to yourself.
Pitching is the art of talking TO the exact person you’re talking to, not some generic producer.
You can’t make up the words before the conversation takes place. If you do, you’re talking to yourself. Ever watched a beginning actor trying to recite words instead of delivering dialogue?
Know your subject, then as required by the person who WANTS to hear what you have to say, say something that person needs to hear without insulting them.
Great article, and excellent comment by Jacqueline, thanks guys much appreciated. This info really appeals to me as a slightly pushy ‘ENTJ’. First I’ve got to complete my script, however obviously the aim is to have it produced so even though I already have a connection to an LA agent I need to know how to pitch my movie in such a way that they’ll be begging to buy it.
But for now back to the keyboard!
Thanks Jacqueline, Good to see you kicking up your heels. What do you think of Lincoln becoming a Vampire hunter? I love it. I never knew he was a bad ass. Fiction again brings more truth than non fiction.
Stephanie, you are so right. I think this article will spread far and wide and get a record number of hits. As soon as the word gets out, this website will be crashing. I think you can find a way to monetize this blog, most certainly. It’s universal. Every writer in every territory is going to want to read it. If it was an IMDB StarMeter, it would be blowing past Jada Pinkett-Smith and waving ‘see ya’. I could see how an A-list writer would want to repeat this as a mantra before the mirror. I feel it can reinvent our sense of what we are as writers. You’re going to write many great things in your lifetime. Your success will be so pleasing you will have to stop and chuckle on occasion. It may well be the best blog we, as writers, will see in our lifetimes.
Oh, and by the way, that’s a lovely blouse.
- Mike Rinaldi
Oh good, I only made one of those mistakes in my last pitch.
Stephanie: Great blog, as always!
Captain: 1. No. 2. Yes
Jacqueline: Once again, brilliant thoughts!
- Deb Stenard
Stephanie, this is so helpful. Even though I have practiced my pitch over and over again, I am usually so nervous in a pitch that I over-speak and come off sounding desperate! Any hints for how to appear as a calm, normal person that producers would want to work with and throw money at?!
PS Shane, I am an ISTJ and I make the same mistakes, as I am trying to access my ENFP side! (Hello Meyers-Briggs)
I love this.
After going through a round of casting this weekend, I realized again how much the pitch is to the writer as the audition is to the actor. Things to know:
1) We really want you to knock it out of the park. That makes our job easier.
2) We are not the enemy.
3) We brought you in because we believe in you.
4) We are not the enemy.
Thank you again for a great blog… and a great BOOK.
I took your free 7 day course this week. THANKS! it helped my writing, and I love your reference to” SAVE THE CAT”. It’s hard to pitch from South Carolina and I’m old, so I’ll eventually have to write good enough stuff to make somebody come hunt me. I will order your book, and take more classes with you in the future. Hi! Annie.
- Susan Modregon
Great article Stephanie.
WOW Annie! Thanks for that! I’m awed.
Stephanie went on about confidence enough to get my mind going about how am I gonna have the confidence to succeed?
I’m a great writer, but I’m not a suave, confident, flawless go-getter type. I get nervous. Especially when it’s SOOOooo Important. I have to force a smile and push while deep inside I’m shaking in my boots.
I’ve held on to the fact that I’m more confident in my writing than in anything else and told myself repeatedly this will be different.
But I also can’t hide from the fact that the STAKES ARE RAISED as high as they can get. The pressure is on.
I read #1 I was like not as scary.
I read #2 and #4 Oh yeah.
when you said “We brought you in because we believe in you”…
WOW! Revelation! Break into three Solution!
I just realized I shouldn’t be scared if I got to this point.
I got past the reader who gave a RECOMMEND. They chose my script out of numbers as big as the lottery. They must’ve read my beat sheet and treatment by now. They know a lot about the story and like it. They’re a lot like the audience who saw the movie trailer. They’re hooked and want to see more! They want to like it!
Before I repeatedly told myself they need you as much as you need them, maybe more. A great script can triple the millions invested. (my edge to feel less inadequate and try to come in on more equal terms.)
But I forgot something else Blake conveyed, we’re not opposing forces. We’re all artists on the same team to make a great story. back to “We are not the enemy”.
That will make it much less intimidating and hopefully I can go in being more myself.
Stephanie, I will definately look for your free course, “7 Days To Creating A Better Pitch For Your Screenplay” I hope I can do it from where I live. Free is a price I can afford.
I was wondering though… I saw a video about pitching the right or wrong types of producers and the guy demonstrated his example saying “I know you did this movie and it made this much and you did this and it made this much. My movie is right up your alley. I’m here because your the right producer for this script not because I’m throwing stuff up against the wall and seeing if it sticks.” It led me to think of including movies similar to my hook, story, and theme and stating their numbers in my pitch to imply my script might do as well. Is this good practice in a pitch or is it too close to fortune telling? btw “um” and “and uh” were ones I came across working on the phone.
- John Roane
You need to branch out. I loved your book. As a practicing Periodontist (day job) out hunting for referrals, your book is right on target. I’ve read it twice and will so so again this weekend. Writing is my avocation and I used your advice a few weekends ago at a writers conference. The agents have stopped looking at their watches and started looked at me.
- Jacques Lapointe
Thanks for the tip! most writers or “pitchers” always try to create hype and excitement for their product, but like a ‘Cadillac Man’, sometimes pushing too much kills the sell. Modesty has its price!
A book I’ve read many times and made me understand a lot about communication is “Winning with People” by John C. Maxwell. I recommend it… without insisting. ;-)
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I appreciate this topic being discussed . I am writing a biopic that will be structured like “Citizen Kane’, so my story will jump right out there with a narrator and montages. I’m doing this because I have so much exposition to bring forward. TWO QUESTIONS? 1.Do I tell the person I’m pitching about the model for the underlying structure? 2. Has anyone ever done the BEATS on Citizen Kane?