Monthly Archives: December 2016

When is a pitch not a pitch? When it’s over before it’s begun.

Here’s a depressing insight about pitching from an experienced TV insider:

“You know that ten minute chat before the pitch starts, that bit when you talk about your flight and the traffic and the kids. That’s the pitch. That’s when the commissioner is working out whether you are someone they can do business with.”

So the crucial decision is made during the small talk.

Good chat, smiles = let’s hear what you’ve got.

Bad chat, frowns = let’s get this over with.

It seems a pretty dumb way to do business, so what can we do about it?

If you are pitching: think about your chat. I don’t mean rehearse it or try to be someone you’re not. Both will ring false and that’s a terrible impression to make. Instead, do your homework about the person you’re pitching to and ask a conversational question about some piece of work they’re likely to be proud of. So, for example “how’s [XXX] doing, I’ve seen some great reviews.” This gives them a chance to feel good and some of that good vibe will rub off on you. It also shows you’re interested in what works for them, not just pushing your own agenda.

If you are being pitched to: I’m tempted to say “grow up”. But let’s be honest, most of us like working with people we feel comfortable with. It’s called “in-group bias”.

But can you think of a better way to let unconscious biases flourish than to allow yourself to be swayed by pre-pitch chat? And can you think of a better way to undermine diversity than to ignore an unconscious bias in favour of people who look or sound like you?

Before the pitch try saying to yourself “Whether I like this person or not has no bearing on the quality of his/her idea.”  Better still you could say to yourself “If I don’t feel comfortable with this person it maybe because he/she sees the world differently to me. Maybe their idea will push me out of my comfort zone.” 

Just by acknowledging your own biases, you’re half way to beating them.

Does this kind of pre-pitch chat happen in other industries? How does anyone else deal with it?

Also useful – 6 Questions Any Pitch Should Answer  and Pitch Perfect.

Image from

Hey, I’ve got a great story…

Now, I’ve bought fifteen seconds of your attention. You’re hooked by the promise of a great story, with action and heroes. But why do stories work on us like this?

I’ve just finished two days storytelling training with a large media company and I’ve never known sessions to go so well. These were all professional storytellers but it was like everyone instinctively got it and still wanted to learn more.

Now I think I know why. So let me tell you a story…

Think of a time when you were new in a job. You settled in to an established order and tried to follow what people around you were doing. But then you found problems you couldn’t resolve, things that didn’t make sense. Surely there had to be a different way to do this? You tried, but nothing worked at first. You kept trying. Gradually a shape emerged from the chaos. After a lot more trying, you established a new and better way.

I’m describing the classic hero’s journey, from Homer’s Iliad to Homer Simpson. I’m also describing the way our brains make sense of a confusing world: assemble evidence, spot things that don’t fit, resolve problems by finding a new theory. It’s thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Or…

Act One: the world has an established order but something doesn’t fit

Act Two: the problem can’t be ignored, you have to act

Act Three: through trial and error you realise what needs to change

Act Four: you struggle to put this new knowledge into action

Act Five: a new order emerges where everything makes sense

And we all live happily ever after. At least, until the next problem emerges.

This is the story of Hamlet, Jane Eyre and Breaking Bad, and it’s the story of your day at work too. It’s the story of anyone trying to make sense of their world. This is why storytelling works – for professional writers or anyone who needs to communicate with passion about their work. We tell stories in the same way as we make sense of the world and our own place in it. This is why, a few seconds in to any conversation about work, I find myself telling stories to make my point.

“All of our storytelling theories have one thing in common,” writes John Yorke*, who has studied dozens of them. “All revolve around one central idea: the incomplete is made complete, sense is made.”

“Storytelling is the dramatisation of the process of knowledge assimilation.”

So long as you remain curious about the world or determined to change it for the better, you will be hooked by stories.

I think, therefore I am… a storyteller.

*Into the Woods, How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them, by John Yorke

Click here if you’d like to watch the storytelling training I delivered last week.