Verbal pitching: tell me more

Posted: March 9, 2012 in pitching

We were pitched in at the deep end: 3 minutes to talk about your project to 9 strangers – before the first coffee break. We went round in turn. We were asked to notice what stood out for us. For me, it was humour and pithily delineated character: ‘a mortician in the wrong job’;  ‘Alan Partridge without the charisma’ – thank you, Michael.


What I noticed about my own verbal pitch was how nervous I was – and unprepared. Maybe there’s a link there. Usually, I’m quite confident at making presentations. Years of standing up and being unpopular at conferences, or teaching writing classes, have given me that confidence. Why was it so nerve-wracking to be presenting to 9 people a project close to my heart?

I felt out of my depth. Here were producers who’d aired dozens of documentaries for major broadcaster, someone who was an AD (assistant director) on Torchwood, etc. Argh!


You are going to feel out of your depth. Get used to it. If you only ever do things within your comfort zone, that’s a recipe for stagnation.

So what to do to get over it? The usual: prepare, prepare, prepare. I never went into a new classroom without at least an outline lesson plan. Years of practice mean that you can get to do it off the top of your head. To start with, though, rehearse, practice on a friend, prepare. If you know you are going to have to give a 3-minute presentation, time it. If you don’t know how much time you will have, perfect your 30-second ‘lift pitch’ and another 3-minute one for when they say: tell me more.

I didn’t know I was going to be doing a 3-minute presentation first thing in the morning. I could have guessed. What else would we be doing at a pitching workshop? As the trainer pointed out, there is no such thing as ‘just a workshop’. Deals are made by bumping into somebody, through a friend of a friend, or because somebody thought of you and passed your name on, because when somebody asked: what are you working on? you were ready with your answer.


Practice the answer to that question till it trips off your tongue

what got noticed

Participants noticed personality, projection, and body language; clarity, character and comedy.


Be approachable:

  • make eye contact
  • project the sort of person you’d go up to at a party where you didn’t know anyone. That doesn’t mean pretending to be an extrovert if you’re not. If you’re shy, smile shyly and admit that talking to big groups makes you nervous. People warm to warmth and honesty.
  • speak clearly, slow down and don’t cover your mouth. It’s really rude to people with hearing difficulties, and it makes you look shifty.

What is it?

Be really clear, in your first sentence, what it is you are pitching. Think charades: is it a book, film, tv series? Then answer the questions: how long? how many? what format? what genre? Your audience needs to know this up front, so they can get a fix on it. Too much detail before they know what it is will leave them floundering.

Clear images

If you can nail your target audience with a pithy phrase, ‘SAGA louts’, or conjure a vivid image of your character, ‘leather cat-suit’, then you’ve got them on your side.

Who are you?

One of the participants was an AD on Torchwood; another had his film script forwarded by Lord Putnam to Ridley Scott; a newly formed animation studio, with a 20-year old just- graduated animator, had been commissioned by E4. I sat up and took notice. But none of them had volunteered this information in their pitch: it had to be drawn out by the trainer – like pulling teeth, she said. Modesty may be a virtue in private life, but it doesn’t cut it with commissioners.


What is it about you that will make them sit up? Put that up front.

what they need to know

After we’d all said our bit, the trainer fed back. Commissioners need to know:

  • what is it?
  • who are you?
  • can you deliver?

None of us answered those three questions fully. We got lost in the detail before we’d said the most important thing. We forgot to blow our own trumpets. We were unconvincing.

The next session was on written pitches.

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