Creativity

Pitch Meetings: What To Do With An Unexpected Guest

If you’re a creative professional, then you know “pitching” projects or ideas is difficult – even in the best situation. Whether it’s a movie idea, a design project, pitching for a new job – whatever, there are so many variables, that even with experience it’s always a challenge. One of the most common tests in pitching is the presence of an expected guest.

Here’s the scenario: For weeks, you’ve been preparing to pitch to “Mr. Big.” You’ve done your homework, know the project, and are ready to go. But when you arrive, you’re surprised by the presence of another person in the room with Mr. Big. Sometimes he or she is introduced, and sometimes not. Plus, you don’t know if it’s another producer, a partner in the firm, a romantic relationship, a golfing buddy, or your competition. Whoever it is, it’s terribly awkward.

So most creative people decide the best strategy is to focus on Mr. Big. After all, he invited you, and he (or she) is the one who can green light the project. So it makes perfect sense.

Wrong.

The problem is, no matter who that mystery guest is, the first thing Mr. Big will do when you walk out of the room is turn to her and ask, “What did you think?” If you ignored or disrespected that guest, she’ll probably respond with, “Honestly, I didn’t like her very much.”

And your project is dead.

Here’s the key: Whenever you pitch and there’s an unexpected guest present, introduce yourself, and then pitch to both people. Embrace the guest(s) and include them in your presentation. You have no idea the influence they may have with Mr. Big, so impressing them, can be just as important as impressing him.

I’d love to know – have you ever applied for a job, pitched a project, or had other critical meetings when a mystery guest showed up? What did you do?

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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28 Comments

  1. Almost every pitch I’ve ever done (animated show concepts or book concepts) have had unexpected elements…usually in the form of extra people. :O). Flexibility and respect are key. Treat anyone in the room as a VIP. Look at it as a date. You want them to genuinely like you. You want to be personable and warm. Most pitch meetings I’ve been in (unless time was short or the person we pitched was in a bad mood) start with at least a couple of minutes of small talk and getting to know each other. Without being weird, try to find out some of each persons interests, work experience, where their from, etc. Log all of that in your brain. It may be useful in your pitch.

      1. You bet! Once we pitched to The Hub and were expecting 1 person but wound up pitching to 5 people at once. It threw me at first, but the 4 minutes of small talk on the front end set my mind at ease. By the end of the pitch, their whole team was laughing and even giving creative input. What started as the scariest pitch wound up being one of the best pitch experiences I’ve had.

  2. I have been pitching a Public TV show The Good Road for more than a year now and this happens all of the time. Getting steam on a show like this requires pitching; Public TV pros and potential corporate sponsors and other distributors. I treat all these pitches the way I would a social setting. I acknowledge everybody in the room with a smile, hand shake and introduction of who I am. The fact is that the final decision maker in every pitch session is going to rely on the input of her or his team. If they don’t you probably don’t want to do creative work with that person because they are a control freak and will in the end drive you nuts.

    1. Your advice is good for any type of meeting where you’re pitching ideas or projects. People sometimes forget is not just about TV or film. These principles work for any type of meeting. Excellent stuff Craig…

  3. This is all good advice. As Phil has said, you may not know who is the biggest influencer in the room. I’ve run into situations where everyone was introduced but relationships were never pointed out. As is often the case in ministry situations there can always be a brother-in-law, aunt or sister in the room and you will never get that information up front. However, at the end of the day, they will have Mr. Big’s ear. Treat everyone as equally important and you should be fine.

  4. Great advice here Phil. Without a doubt, you have to give the surprise guest some attention. And without fail… the guest will almost always get in your way. They typically are wanting to impress Mr. Big as well. I’ve actually had Mega Donor pitches where the donor had another charity in the room… It’s complicated for sure. But if your work and ideas are of value… they should stand on their own. In the end.. Mr. Big makes his/her own decisions.

  5. No matter how known or unknown an influencer is; the important here, is that in “both cases” their power is enormous. All of us at a certain moment are influencers, the question here is, if you were that unexpected guest how would you fall in love with that idea, project, etc.? Eso es lo que tienes que hacer, in that scenario and life in general. The person you least think about is who can take you straight to the point you need or maybe even better. 😉

  6. No matter how known or unknown an influencer is; the important here, is that in “both cases” their power is enormous. All of us at a certain moment are influencers, the question here is, if you were that unexpected guest how would you fall in love with that idea, project, etc.? That is what you have to do, in that scenario and life in general. The person you least think about is who can take you straight to the point you need or maybe even better. 😉

  7. Everyone in the room is meant to be in the room, so no way is our mystery person to be ignored. It’s yours to lose or win, so best be prepared for the unexpected. My take is, Mr Big values their opinion and wants them in on the decision so I’m going to attempt to build rapport with everyone and anyone in the room to get the win.

  8. No matter how known or unknown an influencer is; the important here, is that in “both cases” their power is enormous. All of us at a certain moment are influencers, the question here is, if you were that unexpected guest how would you fall in love with that idea, project, etc.? Eso es lo que tienes que hacer, in that scenario and life in general. The person you least think about is who can take you straight to the point you need or maybe even better. 😉

  9. No matter how known or unknown an influencer is; the important here, is that in “both cases” their power is enormous. All of us at a certain moment are influencers, the question here is, if you were that unexpected guest how would you fall in love with that idea, project, etc.? That is what you have to do, in that scenario and life in general. The person you least think about is who can take you straight to the point you need or maybe even better. 😉

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