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7 Tips For Pitching Ideas from Improviser Jason Mantzoukas

Oct 27, 2015


There isn't anything much worse than an awkward silence with a room full of blank faces staring at you as you pitch your idea that you know is great, you just don't know how to sell it. "Mantzoukas is good in the room. Any room," writes Berkowitz, whether it's on stage with other comedians or in an office in Hollywood. 

In addition to the screenplays he's written, like the currently in-development We've Got Your Girlfriend, Mantzoukas has also been busy behind the scenes selling pilots to HBO, NBC, Comedy Central, and FX. Part of his success in making executives believe in his vision each time out is undoubtedly due to skills he learned making audiences believe in whatever random fabrication an improv scene he was in demanded. 

Switch Up Your Pitch

It shows when you're just selling the same bill of goods over and over. Customizing for each individual audience helps forge a connection." Mostly what I want to do when I go into a room is I want to talk to that person and have that individual conversation, so that for that meeting, that is the version of the pitch that exists. One singular version that is just me and that particular room of executives," Mantzoukas says. 
Getting that word-perfect pitch out that exactly expresses your vision isn't nearly as important as having a conversation that knows who you're talking to.
Be Agile And Read The Room

It's not enough to merely prepare an original pitch for each situation; you have to also have the spontaneity and flexibility to respond to what happens once you're idea starts landing."It's a very improvisational process," Mantzoukas says. "Even though I know loosely what I want to talk about, I let the people's responses dictate how I proceed. 

Be Collaborative


"More than anything I want, when I walk out of that room, I want people to feel like we together just had this great meeting where we talked about this show that we're all excited about. Rather than, 'Oh, I just heard someone talk about something at me.' I want it to have been more of a 'with me' conversation."
Pitching is more like a scene than a monologue.

If It Seems Like You've Lost Them, Acknowledge It

Anybody can invoke an attention span snag, but not everybody has the wherewithal to rise above it and win the audience back.

"Sometimes the audience just checks out in improv shows, and sometimes that happens in meetings too," Mantzoukas says. "So I will call it out, in a way to be like, maybe I've gotten off-track, let me dial back in to what we should be talking about."
Honesty can be a huge relief in uncomfortable situations. 
If The Idea Needs More Explanation, Bring Proof Of Concept

In the early 2000s, Mantzoukas had done a stage show with then-comedy partner Jessica St. Clair, called I Will Not Apologize. It became so popular that they both got agents and managers from it, and soon had an opportunity to pitch a show around it."We wrote a TV pitch, we filmed a little four-minute teaser of what we wanted to do, with a bunch of friends at UCB at the time, and then we took it out and pitched it all around town. We played the video right in the room. We would talk about what we wanted to do, and then we would show this little video as an example of how it could work. It was partially because the idea was a little bit confusing to explain...So we just shot a couple of scenes to show how would work. And Comedy Central bought it, so we wrote a pilot for them."
Sometimes "Show, Don't Tell" is the best policy.
Relate Your Pitch To Their Experiences

Another show Mantzoukas and St. Clair performed together, called We Used to Go Out received similar attention, and earned the pair another opportunity to pitch a TV show. 

"This show was about a breakup, a whole hour of just this couple breaking up. And it's really funny, but it's also really sad and heartbreaking, so every meeting we walked into, all people did was tell us their breakup stories. Like, I was in two meetings where people cried in the meeting. Because something in our show resonated with them, and it made them want to tell us their story. 

Be Aggressive When Necessary, And Make Choices

Auditions are like pitches where the idea you're selling is you.
Read the full article (including Jason's account of auditioning for The Dictator with Sacha Baron Cohen) on Fast Company
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What Can Improv Workshops Teach Advertising Agencies?

Oct 27, 2015

Laura Jones of Y&R shares her insights on some of the techniques she learned from attending our workshop "The Art of the Pitch," presented in partnership with ABC during New York City's Advertising Week earlier this month. We customized this workshop to blend comedy fundamentals that double as professional skills to give advertisers a competitive advantage. On the Y&R blog, Laura highlights some key takeaways:

Spend Time Nurturing Other People's Ideas 

Take time to play out other people's ideas before you pitch your own. 

"By the end of the session, assess which paths have the most potential and then collaborate to flesh those out. Bonus, if an even amount of time is spent nurturing everyone's idea then when it's time to walk away from some of them, people will be more willing to work on someone else's idea if they feel like they've been heard."
Remember The Phrase "Yes, and"

Affirming and building on others' ideas is powerful.
"You've probably heard this one before, but it bears repeating for the simple fact that it's just more fun to come up with ideas with people who say "Yes" than people who say "No" 
Don't Downplay Concerns 

Downplaying someone's question or concern is like saying "No."
"According to the UCB, people stop listening once you tell them they are wrong. Instead, acknowledge their concern and then think of a solution that doesn't diminish ."
To read the full article click here 
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Brain research finds that you shouldn't try so hard to be creative

Oct 27, 2015

In a new study linking creative problem-solving to heightened activity in the cerebellum, Researchers at Stanford University studied participants' brains while they attempted to draw pictorial representations of words (a la a game of Pictionary).They found that when subjects "shift the brain's higher-level, executive-control centers into higher gear" - activating the left pre-frontal cortex - their drawings were less creative.

"We found that activation of the parts of the brain that enable you to plan, organize and manage your activities is negatively associated with creative task performance," said the study's senior author Allan Reiss. 

"Creativity is an incredibly valued human attribute in every single human endeavor, be it work or play," he continued. "In art, science and business, creativity is the engine that drives progress. As a practicing psychiatrist, I even see its importance to interpersonal relationships. People who can think creatively and flexibly frequently have the best outcomes."
When we teach improv, we stress that the point is not to try to be funny.The best, most creative scenes evolve organically through listening and responding honestly to your scene partner, not from trying really hard to be creative all on your own. "Getting out of your head" is a common phrase employed in improv, meaning "stop thinking so hard about what you're going to do, and instead be present in what you're doing." This is essential for group communication and collaboration.
"As our study also shows, sometimes a deliberate attempt to be creative may not be the best way to optimize your creativity. While greater effort to produce creative outcomes involves more activity of executive-control regions, you actually may have to reduce activity in those regions in order to achieve creative outcomes."
The study's lead author, Manish Saggar, put it more bluntly: "The more you think about it, the more you mess it up." So in the words of UCB's motto: Don't think!
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