I think you'll agree that Brian Grazer knows a few things about persuading people to buy into his ideas. After all, the co-founder of Imagine Entertainment has made such successful movies and television series as A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Empire, Friday Night Lights and Genius.

So when--in his new book, Face to Face: The Art of Human Connection--Grazer offers advice about how to successfully pitch your proposal, you should pay attention.

What's a pitch? In the entertainment industry, "The pitch meeting is a ritual that every writer, from the gazillion-dollar screenwriter to the lowly essayist, will sooner or later experience," writes Grazer. "Here's how it works. You come up with a movie or television idea and go in and pitch it to different studios or potential buyers in order to get funding or distribution. It's a cutthroat environment. Studios sometimes hear 30 or 40 pitches per day and select, at most, one or two. None of my movies or shows would have seen the light of day if I hadn't been able to successfully pitch them."

But, even if you work in finance or retail or any other industry, the ability to get buy-in is crucial. So Grazer's advice is relevant for anyone who has to walk into a room and convince people to approve whatever concept you're trying to sell.

Grazer advises doing these 5 things:

1. Start by forming connections 

"It is absolutely crucial that they feel connected to you, the person doing the pitching," writes Grazer. "Over my many years of doing this, I've learned that it starts with being attentive and plugged in the moment you arrive in the room. Rather than walk in reciting your opening in your head or tapping at your phone, enter the room open and eager to establish a relationship."

2. Make eye contact

Grazer's book is about the importance of communicating face to face, so it's no surprise that he emphasizes the importance of eye contact. "Even before you start to speak, let your eyes initiate the pitch," he writes. "Be sure to direct your pitch to someone by catching their gaze. If you are pitching to more than one person . . . look at each person in turn."

3. Read the room

Even though you need to persuasively tell your story, don't forget to pay attention to how people are reacting. Grazer writes: "If you are attentive to your audience throughout the pitch, you will pick up on the signs that you are losing them early enough to reel them back in. This might require tightening up your story to focus on the highlights or disrupting the moment with a quick personal example."

4. Create energy

"Reading the audience throughout my pitch, I work to build excitement and momentum," Grazer writes. "When I can tell that everyone 'gets it,' I wrap up quickly. I always want to leave them wanting more. I don't try to force a decision on the spot or wade into logistics unless they take it in that direction themselves."

5. Focus on a universal theme

What do the people you're pitching to care most about? In some organizations, it's business success; in others, it's making a difference. Decades of experience have taught Grazer that focusing on an important theme creates a positive emotional response. 

He tells a story to explain:

"When I wanted to make Splash, I was turned down . . . so many times that I literally stopped keeping track. No one wanted a mermaid movie. I walked out of hundreds of meetings where the executives not only said no, but seemed to go out of their way to humiliate me by pointing out how stupid the premise was."

One day, talking to a friend, Grazer suddenly understand what had been doing wrong.

"I had been trying to sell the studio execs on a story. But stories . . . are subjective. Anyone can argue against a specific story for any reason. It's much harder to turn down a universal theme, an experience or felling that every human being can relate to. With crystal clarity, I realized that I needed to reframe Splash.

"My next pitch was with Disney. I went in and did everything differently. Rather than starting off saying it was story about a man who falls in love with a mermaid, I pitched it as a story about the universal search for love. Hasn't every person at some point felt that finding love was more elusive than meeting a mermaid? Would any one of the execs in the room dare to insist that love doesn't matter?

"I spoke with the conviction of personal experience that every other person could relate to on some level. The studio finally bought Splash. Audiences loved it and I received my first Oscar nomination for co-writing the screenplay."

Grazer's advice? "Now when I pitch a movie or television project, I always begin with an inarguable, universal theme, something that is essential to the human experience. My protagonists have goals that we all, as a species, want and root for--things like love, family unity, self-respect and survival against the odds."

Ready to make your next pitch a success? Listen to Brian Grazer.

Published on: Sep 12, 2019
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