By Kathryn Lawson
Writer Roger Wolfson recently had a bad day. A few weeks ago, while walking along the beach with his wife and three dogs, Easy, Peaceful, and Miracle, they were approached by a group of teens that tried to mug them, leaving him with a black eye.
However, Wolfson didn’t consider his black eye to be an impediment during a video conference call with the MSLCE Marketing and Pitching Creative Projects class led by Laverne McKinnon, last week.Wolfson – who has written for shows such as Law and Order: SVU, Fairly Legal, and The Closer, and who has written speeches for politicians such as John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, told students to look upon impediments as advantages. An injury, a mishap, even a terrible mistake, can actually help someone who is making a pitch. Whether the pitch is for a TV show, a movie, or a business project, a well-handled surprise can “soften the tone and break the ice… it can humanize the situation,” he said.
While Wolfson admits that getting mugged might be an extreme example (and he certainly doesn’t recommend it), opportunities to create a bond appear in surprising forms. Such opportunities might arise on the way to the meeting, or even during the meeting itself. Wolfson warned students “something bad is probably going to happen no matter what you do. How you handle it is going to give an indication to the person you’re meeting with as to how they should respond to it.” He said that if you react with grace or humor even to the worst situations, so will the person across the table from you. Every situation is an opportunity to create a memorable, lasting bond with a person, instead of potentially alienating them or leaving them with a bad impression.
Wolfson thinks that a lot of his success has been due to his ability to strike up a conversation with anyone, a skill he actively fostered when he was younger. He told students to carry themselves with confidence, even if they don’t feel it, but to avoid over-preparing, which can actually put you in a weaker position. If you’re too prepared, you may miss the opportunity to pause and read the room – a skill that can make or break any pitch.
Wolfson also spoke about the power of silence. “Pauses grab attention,” he said, and students shouldn’t be afraid to use them. He said to keep any pitch as short as possible, so that you can get to the Q&A, which is really the place you can identify and address the concerns or challenges people may have with your idea. Wolfson’s core advice to students is to show why your project matters to you, and to speak with authenticity.
“Know why you’re pitching, even better than WHAT you’re pitching,” he said, and you’ll likely have a better reception of your idea. Last, with all that pressure building up until that moment you get into the room, it’s important to stay calm during your pitch. “Don’t get rattled,” he told students at the end of the session, “Enjoy the process. The more you enjoy the process of pitching, the more the person you’re pitching will, as well.”