Five lessons of theatre directing applied to pitching

Who would have thought one of my most popular posts this year was “Lessons of theatre directing applied to marketing”? Well, like any good capitalist, based on this surprise success, I’ve written a sequel!

Five lessons of theatre directing applied to pitching:

1. “It’s essential to reinvent on stage night after night…re-mint each moment…the actor has to send a frightening jolt through the air…” (paraphrasing Sir Anthony Sher)

This makes a lot of sense when applied to a two-stage pitch.  Even when the potential client says to just present the same deck to his wider team of colleagues, ignore them.  Even if they don’t say it or even think it, they will be expecting something fresh.  To see that you are endlessly creative and
hungry, and to simply keep them interested. When asked to re-present a pitch, NEVER just re-present a pitch.

2. “At the start all the students are so keen to act that they throw themselves in irrespective of motivation. In doing so, they overlook the other players and fail to act WITH them” (Jacques Lecoq)

In any pitch you need to decide the key 1, 2 or 3 things you want the client to take away from it.  Then the whole pitch team, even if covering wildly different elements in the pitch, must all act WITH each other to drive what is said towards those same key take-outs.

3. “The most beautiful pauses are those which are the continuation of something, and then the turning point or preparation for… a new action” (maybe a Chekhov quotation)

The pitcher should not underestimate the power of a well-earned or pregnant pause between sections of, or thoughts in, a pitch.  The listener needs time to breathe between ideas, to fully absorb what they are hearing.  If you want the client to take in key points in your pitch, bracketing them off with pauses, or even saying a phrase such as ‘remember this one key point’, can make a real difference.

4. Ban the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ from rehearsals: they are subjective and meaningless. Acting is either effective or enjoyable to watch – and you must inform the actor exactly when and why – this removes value judgment from the rehearsal process

When feeding back to colleagues during pitch rehearsals or even pitch ideas brainstorms, if you can’t say why something doesn’t feel right, or what might work better, then keep stoom. Seriously, what use is your feedback if it is not precise, detailed and action-orientated?  If you can’t see WHEN it goes wrong or WHAT it is that’s going wrong, keep your mouth shut and listen, or watch again until you can.  So when you think: “The opening of the pitch wasn’t dramatic enough”, you need to say: “Can you try starting the pitch at a slower pace and louder”.

As the actor Michael Bryant said, when the director and writer David Hare was telling him generally how the scene should feel, instead of what he needed to do in a detailed and precise way: “Yes that’s very interesting David, but what’s my note!?”

5. “90% of directing is casting” (old adage)

Assemble the right pitch team – you can lose it before you have begun otherwise.

Finally, the greatest directorial advice you can apply to your finished pitch, is from the German director Michael Thalheimer, who said: “distill the play in order to focus and concentrate it.  Avoid everything unnecessary onstage…you want the audience to understand through the senses initially – not the intellect.”

And a piece of advice from a theatre director that can serve any senior level PR well in their career is to remember: “People are too good to impose our little egos on” (Joan Littlewood).

You can read the prequel to this post here.

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