Last week, I went to a workshop that was entirely dedicated to pitching. It was in a business setting, and the goal of the workshop was to help small business owners pitch a service to a big company. A few days before, at YALC, I also learned how to pitch my book to a literary agent. Weirdly, these two seemingly different courses coming from two very different environments had MANY things in common.
As artists, we are not usually very good at pitching our ideas. We might feel like it reduces our projects to a “business” blurb. We might get lost in the details. Or we might feel like it’s a skill that is too difficult to master.
I think that there’s a lot of advantages to learning how to present our projects, ideas or results to a varied kind of audience, from a prospective investor to a random crowd.
So today I’m going to give you 5 pitching tips that I learned from the workshops I went to.
Tip #1: Short and Sweet
Have you ever had a conversation with someone where they went on and on and on, to the point where you thought “Get to the point, god damnit!”. This is exactly what you DON’T want someone to think during your pitch.
Whether you are pitching a story, a piece of creation or a future project, concentrate on making your pitch as short as possible. Training here is key: how can you simplify your pitch and make it short and sweet? Practise different lengths, from one sentence to a few minutes, so you are always ready to pitch no matter the circumstances. I personally write my pitches and practise different versions, because it helps me remember when I have to deliver them.
Try to avoid too many details. You haven’t convinced the person in front of you yet that they need to hear more. Lead with the “hook”, the thing that makes you/your project special. Place the important information early, for example “My book is a YA science fiction novel” because these are the information that the other person is likely to want to know before anything else.
Tip #2: Research and Personalise
Talking about the person you are pitching to, who are they exactly? You should never pitch to someone that you haven’t researched before. Know their name, what they do and what they are interested in.
For example, if you are pitching a play to a theatre director, research what kind of plays the theatre has produced before, what kind of stories this person is likely to enjoy and what budget they have. If you pitch your book to an agent, make sure that they are representing that kind of book, that they like that type of story and that they are currently accepting submissions. You’d be surprised by the number of people who don’t do basic research before talking about their project. It wastes everyone’s time!
Once you have some information about the person you will be pitching to, introduce some details that are likely to interest them. For example, you can say “I’ve seen on Twitter that you are looking for this type of painting for your gallery, which is why I’m talking to you”. A little goes a long way, and the person will appreciate that you did your homework.
Tip #3: Work on Your Confidence
Confidence is the number one skill needed when pitching your project to someone, and unfortunately this is when a lot of artists might fail. I get it! When I pitched my novel at YALC 2019, I was far from confident and I’m pretty sure it was obvious. I’ve been working on this book for so long that I know every struggle, problem and imperfection of it. Even if I’m an extrovert, I feel really shy when it comes to talking about my projects, and I always feel like I’m boring the other person.
If that’s your problem too, fear not! It is possible to raise your confidence and (at least) appear like you are very relaxed pitching that project. The key? PRACTICE.
And I mean: REALLY practising your pitch, repetitively, in front of other people. It could be friends, family or other artists. Anyone who is kind enough to listen and give you feedback. Your pitch must become so automatic that your inner insecurities won’t interfere with it. Know this: the first time you pitch your project, the pitch will probably not be very good. But the more you do it, the better you’ll be at it, and the more confident you’ll feel. So, before going straight to the “big” person to pitch, practise with “less important” people and perfect it.
Tip #4: Demonstrate the Benefits
This is the section of the pitch where your inner saboteur might scream “Stop bragging!”: saying why your project is the best and why they should choose it. Many people have issues with this, because they don’t want to come across as arrogant, and simply skip it. It is a mistake because this is the most important part of your pitch, from the point of view of the person you are pitching to. They want to know WHY they should choose YOU!
Demonstrating the benefits of your project doesn’t have to be arrogant or pretentious. Think of it as another “saving time” tool for your pitch. If you talk about how the person in front of you would benefit from working with you or on your project, you save them time. They can quickly decide if the benefits are worth investing their time or their money further. You can absolutely stay factual and you don’t need to make up anything.
Some examples: “my play would very cheap to produce for you”, “my book features diverse characters, which is unusual for that genre”, “my previous work has been featured in this respectable publication”. It’s not bragging, it’s true!
Tip #5: Ask Questions
There’s a common misconception about pitching that says that you are the only one who has to talk. This isn’t true. At some point in your pitch, it’s a good idea to ask questions to the person in front of you, even if it’s just to check if they are following you. For example, ask if this is the kind of project they are usually producing. You can also ask what they are looking for exactly, or what their current interest is.
You learn a lot by asking a few simple questions, and it will help you reframe your pitch depending on what they reply. Asking questions will also change the tone from other people pitching, who might talk non-stop for ten minutes. It will show to the person in front of you that you care about what they need and want, and are not just there to shove your project down their throat. I find that asking questions helps evolve the conversation from a formal pitch to a real discussion, and it makes it much more interesting!
Are You Ready to Pitch?
I hope that this article has been helpful. Don’t forget that the most important part of pitching is to practise a lot beforehand. You won’t get a perfect pitch at first. Get feedback, try again and refine as you go.
For more tips and ideas for your pitch, I recommend this video from author / writer / producer Marc Zicree. I find it very useful!
If you would like to practise your pitch with me and/or talk about your current project, you can now book a coaching call with me. I can help you practise, point out the issues, suggest variations and help you raise your confidence level. It’s easy and there’s no commitment!
Céline is an author and podcaster passionate about helping fellow artists reach their potential and live a happy, balanced life.