Friday 20 January 2012

Life's a Pitch

My mind has slowed down dramatically, although perhaps it’s always been slow. Not sure how I used to be an A+ student when I really struggle to hold a conversation these days. I find myself having full conversations in my mind of what I should have said, or even just a funnier punch line. If first impressions count, I’m doing a terrible job. I do remember being able to give snappy quick replies to people but those days are long gone. Am I out of practice after spending the best of four years holding conversations with toddlers who just laugh when I try to talk politics with them? Oh no, I remember, I never was any good at that. Sadly, I can’t blame the children. I might have a very logical mind and a creative flair, but as I’ve pointed out in a previous post, I could never do stand-up. In fact, I could never rule a country; unless my speeches were all prepared and rehearsed beforehand, I would most likely stutter, never mind answering all those press questions. Actually, perhaps I could rule a country…

Yes, sorry, back. I was busy imagining what I would do if I ruled the world. Probably start telling writers what they should be writing about rather than worry about the state of the economy, health and education.

The reason I worry about how I present myself to others is the fact that I’ve recently had two rather interesting experiences: networking and pitching.
Surely we should all be brilliant at both really. What are they if not selling yourself and an idea? And unless you want to appear to be someone you’re not, then just being yourself should suffice. That’s the problem really; I’m socially awkward.

Generally, I’m not a shy person and feel that I do a good job at approaching someone I’ve not met before and start up a conversation. But that’s where it all goes wrong, the content of the conversation. It’s possibly a fear of that awkward silence and in my attempt not to have those gaps where suddenly the other person remembers they need the toilet or another drink that I start to blurb. I ask stupid questions, make silly remarks or just go off on an unnecessary tangent boring myself, never mind the other person. I should have accepted the gap. The gap is a natural part of any conversation where it allows the other person to gather their thoughts too. Maybe if I allow for the gap to happen, they might get a chance to talk too thus continuing the conversation, but now, I’ve lost them, and I just want to dig a hole and hide. Thankfully, there are always those with whom the conversation flows, the gaps go unnoticed and the night is a success. So here’s a tip to myself, and others: networking is about finding people you can build relationships with, and unless it’s a natural process, it’s not going to happen. So note to self, take a deep breath and let it flow.

When it comes to pitching, I take it like a job interview, and just like the interviews I’ve had, unless I know inside out what I am talking about and in fact am passionate about the job I’m up for, I won’t cut it. I’ve had some really good interviews in the past, some that felt more like conversations between friends, but the pitches I had a few months ago were nothing like that. They were in fact terrifying. It all came down to one thing though, I didn’t have any good answers, I clearly hadn’t done my homework and didn’t know my story or characters as well as I should have. I went in for the experience and came out enlightened. I knew what I had to do to make this programme 10x stronger, and I found out that if I’m going to play this game I need to learn how to pitch. Having an interesting story to tell with strong characters is definitely a good start, but knowing the audience, why it’s different, interesting, and most of all, why it needs to be made will get you a lot further. Knowing who you are pitching to though, will also make a huge difference.

That could have been the worse pitch, but really, it’s when you (and by that I mean me) find yourself in front of a producer and decide you’re going to pitch them a script. You blurt it out and then realise you haven’t thought this through. Now remember how I said at the start that my mind has slowed down and my memory just fails? Well, having not prepared this at all, and in fact not even looked at the script for a few months, I blanked on the ending, the most important part of the script. The whole story built up to this one point and I could not remember a thing, one single detail! Of course, as I sat in the train home that night, I could have pitched it to any stranger. I knew it inside out, but pressure or time limitation makes me draw a blank, the kind of blank that I have when bumping into someone I know well unexpectedly and suddenly don’t remember their name – yes, that’s happened twice.

If like me you’re getting senile a lot earlier than expected, then make sure that you pause. There is no need to rush through conversations and pitches. Take your time. If you know there’s a chance you’ll be pitching to someone, prepare. The blurted out pitch I did? There really was no reason why I should have pitched at all. I could have just had a friendly chat and then approached him again at a later time with a stronger pitch. You rarely get those chances twice so don’t waste them.

Here are a couple of useful links on the do and don't of pitching:

  • First Impressions by Jeanne Veillette Bowerman on her column Balls of Steel for
  • Preparation and Pitching - a list of must-read links on the subject compiled by Lucy V Hay on her blog

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