By Stephanie Palmer, author of "Good In A Room"
Many people think of "the pitch" as the part of the meeting where you explain your idea to the decision-makers. But that's only the first part. Your pitch has a second part as well–and that's the secret.
The first part is where you deliver the prepared component of your pitch. The second part is the "improvised" component of your pitch where you answer the decision-maker's questions on the spot.
Meeting Questions Are Good
If the executive isn't interested, they're going to ask you one or two polite questions and then end the meeting so they can get back to work.
Getting tough questions about you or your project is a good thing. It means the decision-maker is interested, wants to assess who you are, your expertise, and whether they like you enough to be in business with you.
Success Happens In The Q&A
In my experience, Stage 4 (aka, "The Q&A") is where sales are made, writers are hired, and projects are funded. This is because answering meeting questions is a better test of the strength of your ideas and your professional abilities.
Working on a film or TV show is a collaborative process where you're frequently taking notes, incorporating other people's ideas, and fielding questions from a variety of sources. You may have written a great scripted pitch, but can you handle being peppered with questions?
Because the ability to answer meeting questions effectively is so important, I'd like to introduce you to a technique called the "Answerbank.
What Is Your Answerbank?
Your Answerbank is a list of all of the meeting questions you get asked and options for answers you can give in different situations. It's an evolving document which changes as you develop new projects, mature in your career, and develop better answers to the questions you're asked.
My husband originally developed the Answerbank technique when working with his ghostwriting clients to help them prepare for TV and radio interviews. I use it to help clients prepare for job interviews, press opportunities, networking situations, and of course, Hollywood pitch meetings.
How To Start Your Answerbank
The first step is to create a document where you list all of the questions you get asked. Here's a list of the most common questions to help you get started.
The Most Common Meeting Questions Asked "In The Room"
There are five categories: questions about you as a person, questions about you as a writer, classic story questions, trick questions, and questions specific to your story.
1. Questions About You As A Person
So, tell me about yourself.
Where do you live?
What do you do for a living?
2. Questions About You As A Writer
Have you had anything produced?
What do you write?
Why do you write in this genre?
What experience do you have in this genre?
Who is your agent/manager/representative?
What are your influences?
What movies have you seen recently that you liked?
3. Classic Story Questions
What inspired this idea?
Why is the hero likable?
What are the stakes?
What are the "trailer moments?"
What else do you have?
4. Trick Questions
How long have you been working on it?
How much do you think this will cost?
How do you see the casting?
What's the weakest part of the story?
Who is the intended audience?
If we don't buy this, will you spec it?
When can you get us a draft?
What project is this most like?
More information on trick questions can be found here and here.
5. Story-Specific Questions
These questions can be the most difficult–and the most valuable–because they often get at the weakest parts of your story. They sound like:
How do the vampires regenerate their limbs so quickly?
I don't understand their need to steal the Crown Jewels. Couldn't they just rob a bank?
If he's being chased, why run into a subway tunnel?
Meeting Questions Are Opportunities
When you pitch to family, friends, and colleagues, keep track of the questions you get asked about your project. Then, add them (and your answers) to your Answerbank.
The goal is to use questions as opportunities to establish your expertise, highlight compelling aspects of your project, and connect on a personal level with other people.