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?