So you’ve decided to go to a pitch festival (aka “pitchfest“) for writers.
But before you go, there are a few things you should know.
In my most recent Hollywood pitchfest experience, I was surprised at how many participants were woefully underprepared. Considering the amount of resources and time it must have taken for many of these people to travel to Los Angeles for the pitchfest, this hit me hard.
In fact, I found myself doling out advice to many participants who seemed to have little or no idea how to prepare for their pitches, let alone a two-day marathon—a pitchfest, if you will.
So I’m going to pass on some of that advice to you to help you make the most of your own pitchfest experience. While this advice is specific to going to a pitchfest, it also applies (mostly) to virtual pitchfests or anyone pitching a story to an industry professional—movies, TV, books, scripted, unscripted, pitchfest or pitch meeting.
1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Know Your Story
Start by learning your story inside and out. It may have been awhile since you dusted off that script or pitch. Over time it’s easy to forget important details—especially when you’re put on the spot.
Be sure to write, polish and print out a one-sheet to give to every person or team you pitch to. A one-sheet is essentially your pitch, synopsis and contact info put into writing on—you guess it—one sheet of paper. You can read more about the one-sheet here.
Have these at the ready for networking purposes. You never know who you are going to meet or where that relationship will take you in the future, even among the fellow pitchfest attendees.
NOTE: Business card finishes are not all created equal. For instance, while glossy business cards may look spectacular, matte business cards are far easier to write on with any type of pen, and thus, they are more useful.
2. Do Your Homework
You don’t want to waste time pitching to someone who isn’t interested in your type of project. That’s not a good use of anyone’s time. Instead, do your research first:
- Find and pitch to companies who are interested in your type of project, format or genre. Don’t just guess, check out their websites and IMDB.
- Research how similar, successful projects in the same genre/format been pitched in the past. IMDB and Box Office Mojo are your friends here.
- Try crafting a “hook” into your pitch that dials into that company’s mission statement or core focus. Remember looking up the company website? That’s where you should look.
- Don’t stop refining your pitch! Use nonverbal responses you receive from each detail of your pitch to improve or alter your next pitch. (I once derailed an entire pitch because I mistakenly used the word “shenanigans” instead of “petty squabbling” in my opening statement. Needless to say, I never used that word again after that.)
3. Dress Respectably
This should go without saying, but it still needs to be said. Groom yourself, dress professionally, smell nice and grab a breath mint or two. This doesn’t mean you have to dress up like you are going to fancy dinner (don’t do that, btw), but simply that you want to show the professionals you are pitching to that you respect their time, you respect the process, and that you put conscious time and effort into what you do.
In short: you don’t want to be “that guy” or “that lady” that executives dread.
4. Don’t Be Robotic
I know it can be very challenging pitching to strangers. You’re taking this beautiful, highly personal story that’s trapped in your head and trying to explain it in a way that doesn’t sound completely ridiculous or insane to someone who could potentially change your life forever.
However, if you want the best possible chance at selling your story at a pitchfest, it’s critical to be enthusiastic, friendly, emotive and passionate when conducting your pitch—all while pretending you are acting natural. That’s why practicing your pitch is so essential to great delivery. Even if you’ve pitched your story a thousand times, it’s important to keep your energy up like it’s the very first time. You want to show your pitch recipients that you love your story.
That means DO NOT:
- Use monotone voice like you are reciting verbatim from memory (even if you are);
- Avoid eye contact, greetings or human interaction (even if you want to);
- Read from a notecard or prompt sheet (just don’t).
Which leads us to our next point…
5. Sell Yourself
When you pitch, you aren’t just selling your story, you’re selling yourself. On more than one occasion, it is the personality and enthusiasm of the pitcher that sells the company on their project—or, at the very least, enabled that storyteller to move onto the next stage of their relationship with that company.
I know this can be especially challenging for many writers who are introverts and socially shy or awkward. Well, this is where you learn to grow.
Need help? Try taking a public speaking class, practicing your pitch to your friends, or even signing up to take a workshop on pitching. Also be sure to check out Good in a Room on pitching a feature film, TV show, or unscripted reality show.
6. Lead the Conversation
Remember that when you go in to deliver your pitch, it’s you in the spotlight, not the individuals you’re pitching to. This is an important distinction because many writers open their pitch like this: “I have ten scripts. What do you want to hear?” If the executives knew, they wouldn’t be at the pitchfest! Besides, it’s a weak way to open that not only reduces their confidence in your storytelling abilities, but also hurts your ability to “sell yourself” (see #5, above).
Instead, jump right into your pitch with confidence and gusto. Afterward, be sure to be proactive in providing a one-sheet and asking for contact information, such as a business card.
7. Concept First, Details After
Don’t make the mistake of diving into the details of your story without getting a crystal clear concept out of the way first. This is essential. When giving your pitch to a complete stranger (who knows nothing about your story yet), start by giving them the big picture. Once they’ve locked that down, then move into more detail from there. If you can’t give the audience a grasp on what the overall idea of the story is, the details may come across as an incomprehensible mess.
Besides, having a concept that absolutely kills may be enough to sell your story, meaning weaknesses in the execution may be more easily overlooked.
8. Have a Backup, or Two, or Three
There’s nothing worse than having your pitch shot down right at the get-go. This happened to me and my pitching partner on our very first pitch on the very first day of the fest. A quick “I’m not interested in that” made our blood run cold. Fortunately, we had prepared a handful of backup pitches as well. Not only did these backups salvage the pitch session, but we received a read request for both of the alternatives we pitched.
The moral of the story? Come prepared with a backup…or two…or three.
9. Network, Make Friends
Remember those business cards we had you make all the way back in #1? Well, here’s where you use them.
Networking with fellow writers and storytellers should be one of your primary objectives when you go to a pitchfest. For many writers I spoke to at the Fade In Hollywood Pitch Festival, many hadn’t even thought of this. However, several writers like me and my pitch partner had quite a bit of downtime, so we devoted that time to networking and building future relationships.
Besides the obvious benefit of building your professional network, there are a few other not-so-obvious benefits to making nice with your fellow participants. For one, sharing valuable pitching techniques, nuances and experiences can help you and your new contacts pitch more effectively.
Also, one of your new friends may be scheduled to be pitch to the same company as you at an earlier time, meaning they can offer valuable insight into how to target your pitch. For my own experience, this influenced how my pitching partner and I customized our pitch to the company, resulting in a read request for our script.
10. Get in the Right Mental Space
This is a frequently overlooked aspect of preparing for a pitchfest. Putting yourself in the right frame of mind to accomplish your goals, absorb feedback, and process events that are happening faster than you can say “pitch festival” is important to getting what you want out of the whole process.
Don’t Pin Your Future on the Pitchfest
Maybe you’ll sell your story, maybe you won’t. Just as nailing your pitch won’t necessarily lead to sale, bombing a pitch (and it happens) doesn’t mean your dreams are forever shattered. Either way, your life isn’t over. You will have good pitches and you will have bad pitches. The important thing is to do your homework, deliver your best, and if you don’t sell anything this year, try again next year.
Set Reasonable Goals
Go into the pitchfest with a purpose. That is, don’t aim to sell your story because you probably won’t. Instead, aim to get read requests. Getting one of these busy professionals to read your story is the biggest hurdle. And even if they don’t like your story, they may like the cut of your jib. In that way, it’s important to think of these pitches as not necessarily a way to sell your project right then and there, but rather as opening a door to a relationship that could potentially result in a sale later on down the road.
It’s Not Always You
Not all pitchfest attendees will be interested in your project. This isn’t necessarily your fault. Some people are “checked out” before you ever get face-to-face them. Often, they may not be in the market for what you are selling or are simply a filling in as a warm body. It sucks, but it happens. And it’s not always because of you.
Hopefully, these tips on maximizing your experience at a pitchfest will help you feel more confident and prepared for the upcoming extravaganza. Pitching is hard. Talking to strangers is hard. Pitching to strangers is even harder. But with practice, preparation, and a little bit of luck, maybe your pitch will be the one that sells.
If you want to read about the pitchfest experience from the other side of the table, check out Manny Fonseca’s article here.
Break a leg, pitchfester!
Have any additional pointers you’d like to share? We’d love to hear ‘em.