Pitch (you are not Robert De Niro)

Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro

The other day I watched an interview on CBS ‘ morning show with Robert De Niro. As everyone knows, Mr. De Niro is one of the preeminent actors of our time. His talent is unquestioned. He’s pure genius on the screen.

But…and I’m sorry, Bobby…this was one of the worst interviews I’d ever seen. De Niro appeared surprised by every question. Seemed to search for an answer each time, often failing to find one that sounded coherent. He looked like a rookie to me.

Just before the interview, they showed Mr. De Niro waiting to be brought forward to talk to Charlie Rose and company.

Was he pacing back and forth, memorizing the things he needed to make sure he conveyed about the Tribeca Film Festival (what he was invited to speak on)? No.

Was he flipping through note cards, reminding himself of the salient points that needed to be made? No.

Was he staring into space, running through in his mind all the really central plot points he needed to make sure to describe? No.

He was sitting there, reading a newspaper, with not a care in the world as to what was ahead.

Because he’s Robert &*%$ Deniro. And he doesn’t give a shit. Nothing that happened in the next five minutes was going to change the fact that he’s an acting legend. That he was in Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Godfather, Deer Hunter.

Note to self: Haven’t seen Silver Linings Playbook yet. Rectify. Is it rentable yet? I digress….

In about two weeks, I’m going to be meeting with several literary agents, trying to pitch my latest novel. This can be a nerve-racking experience, especially for a natural introvert. We don’t talk about ourselves much. Certainly we don’t tend to brag or self-promote.

Many friends are also pitching at this same conference. I offer you, and all others who might go through this pitch process at any conference, one central thought to remember:

You are NOT Robert De Niro.

When you’re sitting oustside the room, waiting for the agent to invite you in, your leg shaking nervously in place, I want you to remember this one fact.

You are NOT Robert De Niro.

What does this mean?

It means you can’t just “wing it.” You can’t forget to anticipate questions and have pre-formed answers for those very queries. You can’t decide preparing is optional.

No, instead you need to treat it like a debate.

That’s right, a debate. The last conference I went to was in November 2012. Right around the time of the presidential elections. If I do say so myself, I did really well. I won two awards, one from each of the agents I pitched, for “Best Pitch.”

I believe this was because I learned a ton from the debates I’d been watching as part of election season. In those debates, it became clear that each candidate came prepared with planned items they needed to say…at some point. Equally, they were aware that they didn’t know ahead of time when “the right time” for imparting the information they hoped to convey would come. They had to bide their time.

It needed to look…natural.

Even thought it totally wasn’t.

No, not at all. It was planned, but didn’t appear planned. This is the secret. You need to have a list of all the things you hope to say, then wait for the appropriate time in the conversation to say them. In this way, it appears as a natural part of the conversation. But it’s not. And if the opportunity doesn’t arise, then you must skip it. Don’t force it in. There’s nothing worse than blurting out some non-sequitur because you’re feeling like time is going to be up before you get the chance to say what you want to say. Go in realizing this will happen. There’s a bunch of important stuff that you may not have a natural time to impart. And that’s OKAY.

This is why you should be rolling through all your memorized, salient points before you walk into the room.

This is why, unlike Bobby D., you need to give a shit.

You are NOT Robert De Niro.

One of De Niro’s responses to a pointed and legitimate question: “I can’t answer that.” Try that in your pitch. I dare you. Good luck.

The interview. I still cringe, just a little.


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