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Structure Your Next Presentation Like a Movie Pitch

Be open to criticism that can spark conversations for improvement

I usually associate pitching with characters like the late inventor and pitchman Ron Popeil, who earned a spot in America’s cultural history—and a small fortune—hawking products such as the Chop-O-Matic, the Pocket Fisherman, spray-on hair, and the Showtime Rotisserie and BBQ oven on late night TV. (“Set it, and forget it!”) But that’s a reductionist view, at best. Pitching is a form of interactive selling that business leaders at all levels need to master.

“We define a pitch as a scheduled meeting for the specific intention of trying to promote an idea, business project or script,” write Peter Desberg and Jeffrey Davis in their new book, Pitch Like Hollywood. As the title suggests, Desberg, a clinical psychologist and a professor emeritus at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and Davis, a screenwriter and professor at Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television, look to the film industry for lessons in pitching. And rightly so. Movies and TV shows are typically sold on the strength of a pitch to studio executives that can take anywhere from an hour to several days, depending on the size of the project.

Though CEOs tend to be polished presenters, pitching a new strategy to the board or an acquisition offer to the founders of a promising startup is not the same thing as making a presentation. “The biggest difference is the interactivity. Pitching is not a one-way presentation—it’s not, ‘I’m gonna tell you, and you’re gonna sit and listen to me,’” Davis told me during a video interview with the two authors. “A pitch is less controlled. If your pitch is good, you’re involving the people you’re pitching. You are trying to get their opinions, to get to what’s important to them and to get them to help you shape your pitch to really make it work.”

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