Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pitch 101: Step 1 - The Mindset & Selling Points

What follows is the start of a series on how to pitch your product to other people. It doesn't matter if that product is a book, a game, a film script or your business, pitching is a critical skill and knowing how to do it can easily separate you from the rest of the competition.

Before we get into the first component of Pitching, there are some ground rules. Not many, don't panic.

I. You're not always 'on'. One of the big hurdles for people, especially when they're new, is that they think anytime someone asks about what they're doing, they have to launch into some well-rehearsed and stiffly-acted presentation, with broad gestures to invisible powerpoint slides. You don't. You don't. I repeat: You don't.

There is a valuable skill in knowing when you have to give a formal description, and when you're just explaining your material over a burrito to a bunch of friends. To better determine when you have to be on, ask yourself two questions:

a.) Do the results of this situation lead my product one step closer toward publication, or is this just chat?
b.) Did this situation arise because it's organized to be about my product, or did we come to the topic of my product through conversation?

If you answered "yes" to the first half of either question, then you're on. If not, be cool and relax, and talk in more relaxed ways.

II. There isn't a 'perfect', just 'moving forward'. Many people freeze when they think about talking about their product because they often want to give the 'perfect' answer to whatever question they just heard, as answers are like Highlander or the One Ring and there's a definite top to some pyramid. There isn't. And every time you think so, you're hurting your own cause in major way.

You didn't get asked questions because people are testing your sense of perfection - you got asked questions because the book/game/script/whatever interests someone else.

All you have to do in those moments is move the conversation forward. Just like flirting. Just like a job interview. Just like the weird conversations you have waiting in lines. Move things forward, keep the momentum alive.

Each of your answers, as long as it's positive and/or constructive in somewhat about the question, moves things along. Hopefully to the next question. Hopefully forward to other questions that maybe the interviewer didn't prepare in advance. It should be, at its best, organic, just like conversation.

Which leads to the third rule of pitching.

III. It's a conversation, not rocket science. A good pitch is talking. A bad pitch is silence. A good conversation is talking. A bad conversation is silence. A good time is talking. A bad time is silence. See the point I'm making here? If you're still talking, you're doing it right. And it's only ever talking.

Sometimes yes, it's talking while standing or while sitting or while in front of a room, but it's only ever talking. They're not going to ask you to describe a part of your product while performing brain surgery using celery and a spatula. You aren't going to have to calculate re-entry velocities for a Martian space probe, you won't have to defuse a bomb in the basement of Fort Knox. You're having a conversation about something you're passionate and knowledgeable about.

Load those three rules into your brain, digest them completely and practice them often. Yes, often. At whatever stage of development you're at. Just started writing today? Then this is what you have to look forward to. Did you just write 'The End' on it? Then this is the next step.

This is the Pitch Mindset. Well, technically, this is my pitch mindset and I'm hoping it becomes your pitch mindset too. It can be, with some practice. Not always easy practice, if you're like me and you catch yourself kicking your own ass or you go into a situation with the expectation of epic failure, but with practice, you can change that, and lubricate those creative ideas in this special I-can-do-it-sauce.

Just like GI Joe, this was half the battle.

For the next half, we better take a look at some of the actual words you can use, unless you're pitching telepathically. (If you are, we should talk, or mind meld or use the Force or whatever) The other stumbling block for people is what to actually say.

Seriously, it's like the words evaporate from the folds of your brain or something. I know. Your palms get all sweaty and your stomach gets all queasy, just like that time in eighth grade when you saw Karen in Home Ec (I may have said too much there), and then when you try to talk, your brain makes the jump to lightspeed and you end up runningallthewordstogetherlikeyou'regoingtorunoutofairortimeorsomething. And then you stand there exhausted and panting like you just performed in a bad musical.

Remember this sentence --  
When in doubt, talk about the shiny.

The "shiny" is what makes your game unique. It could be mechanics you use (no one else uses seven-sided die like this), it could be your plot (epic battle as a robot version of Duran Duran!) or it could be the way you're going to distribute copies (When you buy a six pack of Suddso Beer, you get a free download!)

Now, this means you have to find your shiny. So break out the legal pad, and let's get to work. Here's the Shiny Detection Questionnaire:

1. What are you most excited to talk about when you're asked about your product?
2. What do you think is the best part (so far) of the development process?
3. Where did you struggle, and how did you overcome it? (The overcoming part is CRITICAL)
4. What are you excited to do next with your product?
5. Name up to 3 things/scenes/beats/moments your game/book/script has that you're proud of.

Write down all your answers. Try to get them into sentences, but if you can't, phrases are good too.

The answers to those questions are called "Unique Selling Points" (USPs), and you can reward yourself for receiving the same amount of knowledge as one semester of marketing in college! Hooray college credit!

You're going to want to cobble together a TON of Unique Selling Points. You shouldn't repeat information, but they don't always need to be cookie cutter sentences. Here are some USPs for a script I wrote last year.

  • I coined the euphemism "cunty deposit box"
  • You actually meet two cat burglars who burgle cats.
  • For ninety minutes, you practically drown in a weekend with the main character, Jared.
  • It's a movie about drug dealers that isn't inherently racist. 
USPs are the currency you spend in your pitch to entice people to buy your product. You give them USPs, they give you currency. It's a wonderful economy.

I strongly strongly recommend you practice USP development as often as possible, at least until you exhaust all your shiny resources (go back to your Feel Document and Note Cards, don't forget). Strip mine the idea...because you never know when the little scribble you had on the bottom of a card is going to turn into the big hook for a consumer. 

Before I end this post, let me just tell you, remind you, and convince you that you can do this. It's just talking about what you love. Throw on some blinders until you soak that idea into your genes. No, don't start telling me some bullshit about how this proves you're successful, don't be silly - you were successful the minute you started the product. Don't you dare tell me this is too complicated - it's just a conversation and all you have to do is move it forward. 

You can do this. For realsies.

In Part 2, we'll construct some sample pitches. Look for it later in the week.