I watched the first Republican Primary Debate last night. Seeing 10 candidates talk politics, policy and Trump was entertaining. I laughed, I cried, I yelled at the TV, I got hives thinking about the next four years, but then I heard it. That noise. The noise of my nightmares. The noise I couldn’t get out of my head for the last three months. The bell.
Now I’m not here to talk politics, even if Hillary is going to wipe the floor with this cycle’s herd of elephants. I am writing about the debate, because it is probably one of the closest things to a pitch situation that you will ever see on live TV.
I didn’t actually make the connection until later, when I was reading back through some of the tweets about the debate. A literary agent I follow wrote “Respect the bell you ingrates “. If I was tweeting during my last pitch slam I probably would have tweeted “Respect the bell you novelists! #ampitching #pitchslam” (Social media has changed the way I watch/do everything now.)
Once I read the tweet I was transported back, into that hotel ball room, waiting for the person in front of me to finish their pitch and hearing the bell. Ding Ding Ding. I could feel the nervous energy, the anticipation, the surge of adrenaline. My moment had come! Don’t wilt in the bright lights.
This morning I found I have a new respect for the politicians on that stage. They are up there trying to take complicated issues and ideas and boil them down to into a perfect sound bite. These are big ideas that fill volumes of pages, with stacks of research behind them. Issues as big as the environment, reproductive rights, education, America’s role on the world stage. Yet they have to explain the whole thing in 90 seconds or less. Oh, and it should show the character (politician) and raise the stakes for the audience. Sound familiar?
Watching the scrum, you could see who was well rehearsed and well prepared and who was struggling in this situation. Some candidates had what sounded like canned responses, some sounded more authentic. If you leave the politics behind, (near impossible for me too) and watch the debate again purely for presentation style you can see examples of a smooth delivery (Christie, Rubio), a deer in headlights look (Jeb Bush) and an overwhelming bravado (Cruz, Trump). Regardless of style, the goal is to be memorable and authentic.
Like pitches, debates require skill in time management. It is impossible to cram every ounce of an idea into a compressed moment. Knowing what to fit in and what to leave behind is the key to creating a pitch that can resonate in a short interaction. Watching the candidates there were moments where you could see them self edit a response on the fly. In the moment they were dropping out lines they may have rehearsed, or adding in a quip to respond to something they just heard. That ability to adjust in the moment only works if you are already confident in your own pitch.
Keep it tight. When the candidates keep talking past their time allotment they often come across as less prepared or disrespectful of the others on the stage. For writers and authors going over a time limit in a pitch slam is not great either. You might think you are making a real connection with an agent, but chances are you are really just stealing an opportunity from another aspiring author.
Crafting and delivering a pitch within the time that an agent or editor has gifted you is a skill every author needs. Be prepared for the bell.
Ding Ding Ding