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What Hollywood Pitches Can Teach Us: Watch a Free Webinar

Updated: Jan 27

Hollywood is filled with stories of legendary pitches to movie producers. 

An oldie but a goodie is the elevator pitch for the 1986 movie Alien. Rumour has it the creators cornered the would-be investors in a lift and said, “Here’s our movie in three words: Jaws in Space!” The studio bosses apparently signed the cheque there and then. It’s unlikely it was that easy, but it makes a great story. 

Pitching Alien: Jaws in Space

More recently Australian actor Margie Robbie has spoken about how she persuaded Mattel to grant her production company the rights to make the Barbie movie. She says the first step was to allay the executives’ fears. 

“We assure you we want to honour the brand. However, we’re not going to shy away from the problematic parts… but it will come from a place of love because I absolutely respect anyone who can make a toy that’s still popular after 60-odd years,” Robbie told The 7.30 Report. 

So, what can we learn from Hollywood about the art of the pitch when it comes to persuading clients, customers, would-be employers, or investors, that our services, research and ideas are worthwhile? 

The Alien story tells us an ideal pitch is short, sharp, and attention-grabbing. While the Barbie anecdote reminds us to put ourselves in the shoes of our audience and address their concerns. Listening comes before speaking. 

PR strategist and founder of Eckfactor and the Power of Visibility, Karen Eck, has spent much of her professional life on the phone pitching stories to news editors, producers, and journalists. Her three golden rules for successful pitches are:

Prepare – do your research on a journalist or potential client. Check out their social media, particularly Linkedin, their websites, and most recent work or news articles.  Make sure what you’re offering is what they’re looking for and relevant.  

Precision – respect a journalist’s or client’s work schedule. Ask when it’s convenient to speak and stick to that. Don’t call them just before a deadline or on their day off.  

Professionalism – be authentic and accept a ‘no thanks’ graciously. Building relationships is a long road.

I used these tips earlier this year when I pitched my novel to screenwriters and filmmakers at the Melbourne International Film Festival. In a speed-dating style format, I had 20-minute slots with nine different producers. 

While I’d rehearsed my spiel about the plot, main characters, themes and the likely audience, I changed my pitch depending on the producer’s level of interest. When they leaned into any of the themes of fake news, the commercialisation of IVF, and the cult of celebrity, I expanded on those subjects. When their body language showed they weren’t interested in a particular topic, I would skip over it and ask them a question instead. 

Because I’d researched each producer beforehand, I could ask them relevant questions about their work, e.g., “So, I see you worked on XX. What was it like to work with that actor /director/or on that location? What would be your ideal project?” 

People love to feel acknowledged, and they appreciate it if you’ve done your homework. I also gave them each a copy of my book to remember me.

The other key piece in a successful pitch is having a logical, easy to follow structure. 

There are several proven presentation structures. 

The simplest is PRES – Point, Reason, Example, So what? 

In a recent TM MEDIA presentation skills workshop, a group of smart women from Snowy Hydro Ltd practiced this structure to pitch the 4-day work week to their bosses. Their argument went something like this:

Point: The four-day work week would benefit our people and our organisation.

Reason: It would support work / life balance; boost productivity and attract more talent.

Example: Trials overseas have seen a drop in absenteeism, a jump in profits and an increase in job applications to those companies.

So What?: So, we think we should trial the 4-day week next year. 

Sounds compelling, doesn’t it? 

Now, you’ve done your research and structured your argument logically. What happens when you’re face-to-face with the client?

One killer mistake many presenters make is they hide behind their PowerPoint. Remember, you are your best visual aid. It’s okay to use cue cards with a few prompt words. However, ideally you should maintain eye contact with your audience. 

I recommend the 6 X 6 rule. Each slide should contain no more than six bullet points with a maximum of six words. 

What happens, if you’re overcome with nerves? 

Rebecca Denholm heads up CTN Asia Pacific – a company that helps organisations tell their stories through videos, events, and coaching. Although she’s no stranger to pitching she admits to still feeling nervous at times. 

“Own that it’s a slightly nerve-wracking process; it shows that it means a lot to you, but don’t overdo it. Practise your game face”, Rebecca says. 

One of the best ways to combat nerves is by rehearsing. Rebecca likes to rehearse in front of a mirror or record herself on her phone, and she always practices with her pitching team. 

You can, of course, practise your pitches anywhere – waiting for the kettle to boil, driving the kids to school, walking the dog, or even while in the shower (the last one might be tricky if you’re in a team). 

Why not practise your pitching skills with your family and friends? You could use the PRES structure to encourage your teens to eat a healthier diet; convince your family to rent a beach house rather than go camping these holidays or persuade your friends to see a movie this weekend. Barbie in Space, anyone?

  • Watch this free one-hour webinar on presenting & pitching tips for subject matter experts that I recorded for Sydney University.  

  • Engage Theresa Miller to run a media, presentation skills or professional writing workshop at your workplace. 

  • Read The Spin Doctor’s Wife, a novel about infidelity, infertility and infamy.

  • Download eight free attention-grabbing openers for your next presentation or pitch here.

  •  Listen to Theresa’s presenting tips for grabbing media attention on this podcast.

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