How Do I Pitch an Idea That Actually Gets Heard?

Glad you asked:

by Adam Dachis

Dear Lifehacker,
I have good, sometimes great ideas from time to time but I don’t really know how to get anyone to listen. Usually I start and I can see there attention fade away after a few minutes. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, or how to keep people interested. What can I do to make my pitches more interesting and get people to actually listen to them?

Pitch Imperfect

Dear PI,
Making a great pitch only requires an understanding of the person you’re pitching to, a knowledge of the pros and cons of your own idea, and a lot of practice. Not one of those three things is hard to come by, but if you don’t have much practice pitching well it can seem a little daunting. Pitches also vary in length depending on the situation. Generally speaking, you start by making a short pitch and then, if you do well, you’ll have a chance at a longer one. First, let’s go over all the things required to make a great pitch and then look at how to actually give it.

Know Your Audience

Generally speaking, you can assume a couple of things about your audience (i.e. the person or persons you’re pitching to):

  1. They’re busy.
  2. They hear a lot of ideas on a regular basis and most of them are bad (or irrelevant to them).

As a result, people who hear pitches regularly have often lost their hopefulness and optimism in regards to new ideas. They know there’s a chance you’ll have a good one, but they also know that chance is statistically slim. On top of that, they’re busy and hearing an idea that has a good chance of being bad isn’t an exciting prospect.

In many cases, you have the cards stacked against you. This upsets many people because it’s intimidating and feels unfair, but it’s important to sympathize. The pitch recipient wants to hear a great idea more than you might think. They love great ideas, but don’t necessarily expect them. It’s important to understand their position so that understanding comes across in your actual pitch. Consider what it must be like to hear bad ideas several times a day when you’re worried about getting things done so you can get home to your family (or other aspects of your personal life). Imagine taking the time to hear a bad idea and realize you not only wasted your limited time but also now have to give someone bad news. Even if the pitch only lasted five minutes, there’s a fairly high emotional cost with being the bearer of bad news several times a day. Nobody likes being that person because it’s stressful. You wouldn’t like being that person. When someone says “sure, pitch me your idea,” they’re willing to risk that for you. To return the favor, it’s important to understand that situation and tailor your pitch accordingly. (How you actually do that is something we’ll discuss a little later on.)

 Aside from this general assumption, specifically who you’re pitching to matters. Are you pitching to someone who can instantly write you a check and make your dreams come true, or to a lower-level executive who simply vets ideas on a regular basis? Perhaps you know the person, or even work for them. Take your relationship and their abilities into account. Clearly state what you hope to gain by making your pitch and do not ask for anything they can’t provide.

Read it all

This is, quite simply, the most helpful article we’ve read all year, regardless of what kind of idea you’re pitching where – and, you’ll notice, we’re at the end of the year. Even the comments are helpful. Read this! Read!

A Whole Lot of the Universal Lot

TVWriter™’s longstanding friend, Angelo Bell, has been having some meetings lately and wants us all to know what they’re like:


Monday I returned home after a visit to the NBC-Universal Lot. Building 1230 to be exact.

That makes 2 visits to the building in 4 months, to be really exact. 

This time, I was at NBCUniversal Television (comedy) with Marcus Shawn Williams pitching a single-camera half-hour sitcom, INTERNS, an idea Marcus proposed to me and I helped him fine tune and clarify the premise. The pitch went well. We meet two engaging guys who responded favorably and asked lots of questions. They even asked for more examples of what a sample episode would look like.  I feel good…right now. Soon, however I will either feel much much better or it’ll be back to the drawing board. We should have an answer in a few days.

The thing that comes strongly to mind, however, isn’t the pitch  as much as the fact that this is my second time “in the room.” My suggestion to YOU reading this is, when someone starts touting their services ask them, “Can you get me into the room?” and then ask for examples. By teaming up with my peers I’ve gotten two different writers in to pitch to a major network. I hope this is proof that I know a little bit about this thing.

There’s a lot of talk about how to be “good in a room,” and this and that about the room. Mostly though, I find that people are very vague when they talk about how the hell do you get into the room in the first place. Take it from me, there are no set paths. Everything works and nothing works. You have to find your path and work it from every angle.  You can read my blog about  ”Being Good in a Room” for more details and my personal story.

The other thing I’ve learned about being good in a room is that there are no fricking steps once you’re in the room. There’s the introductions and the pitch. The pitch is broken down into a Q&A session and perhaps the closing, but it’s still the pitch because you are actively selling your idea the entire time. It must make others feel smart and useful to try to break a pitch meeting down to five, six or seven steps, and then quantify their steps by adding that “each step may or may not happen.”

Just be yourself. Practice. And above all, know your story.

Good luck, dood. We’re on your side. (Which we know is only moderately better than saying, “We got your back,” but, hey, what we mean is that we believe in you.)

Afraid of Pitching? Hey, Aren’t We All?

Moviebytes.Com is one of our favorite web sites. Lotsa info on contests and such. But did you know they also have, like, some solid info about the writing-to-sell process? We didn’t either. But this makes us glad we found out:

Quit Bitching,Start Pitchingby Joey Tuccio

You’ve spent YEARS writing your script. You’ve outlined it, you wrote it, you rewrote it, you turned it in for feedback, you rewrote it AGAIN. Now what? As my company dives full force into virtual pitches, I learned that A LOT of writers do not know how to pitch. And some are blatantly too scared to even try! Paralyzed by the thought that they actually have to talk about their script with a live person. I think some writers get a little too comfortable in their solitude of writing. It really is a shame that so many writers spend so much time writing their script but are too afraid to praise it and pitch it to people.

Here is some friendly advice to help you conquer your fears of pitching, or simply to make your pitch even better!

  1. Start with the logline AND genre of your story. Why genre? A brilliant producer once told me that if a writer doesn’t start with their genre, it will be unclear how they should interpret it. If a writer is pitching a story that sounds slightly funny, a producer might feel too awkward to laugh because it could very well be a drama. Alleviate the stress and say it up front. Also, think of ONE movie out there that resembles yours. This could really help an executive visualize your story immediately and have a better sense of it. DON’T START a pitch with So, what are you guys looking for? What would you like me to pitch? I have this, this and this. Be confident in your pitch. You have their attention right off the top, so the quicker you can get into the pitch, the better. If time allows, you can quickly say at the end Oh, by the way. I have a comedy too about (logline).
  2. Pitches should be 2-3 minutes MAX. Have you ever had a friend that just goes on and on about a story and half way through all you can think about is What are they talking about? I wonder what I’m going to eat later? Wow, he got so fat. Don’t let their minds drift. Usually around the 3 minute point is when a mind might start wandering.

There are 4 more points. Read them all.

Note to MovieBytes staff: This is hugely helpful. Hope you do more, similar pieces. For reals.