Connections always beat pitches

“Tell me about this story idea,” the woman at the next table says. She’s talking to a young man, mid- to late twenties, and he responds with a description of some things that interest young men, hot women and sexy cars or vice versa, and the woman says, “But what’s the story?” and he pushes harder on hot women and sexy cars.

She is silent for a moment and he says, “I need a cup of coffee, how about you?”

“Sure,” she says. “Latte with oat milk.”

He goes inside the shop, comes back out. “What did you want, again?”

“Latte, oat milk.”

He goes in, comes out, goes in comes out.

Three times. Apparently he cannot retain the information.

“Write it down, dude!” I want to exclaim.

But the problem is he won’t listen to this advice because he’s not listening to anything.

I’m sure some of this is related to sexism; men still aren’t used to listening to women in business contexts. Some is nerves; he’s pitching a concept to a producer. Of course he’s nervous.

But mostly I’d say that he has gotten so focused on his pitch that he hasn’t got the bandwidth to focus on anything else. He can’t even answer a question about the story because he’s focused on the pitch.

This is a problem. The two separate without her promising to call, which is horribly bad news because every meeting in LA ends with a promise to call, no matter how insincere. He had his shot and he blew it. He flamed out. I wince just remembering it.

What I’m going to recommend is kind of radical: You have to get out of the mindset that there is only one moment in your life that matters. It may be true, but you can’t act like it. You can’t believe it. You have to assume that there will be others and that you can relax and have a genuine conversation with someone.

Worry less about making a point or a sale. Worry more about making a connection. If he had been able to listen to her latte order and made a genuine connection, there might be a next time for him with her – a time to pitch another story or a revised version of this one.

But there’s no connection here. There is just a pitch that failed.

The big moments in my career have never been the ones I thought they were going to be, like that time at a pitch session at Thrillerfest where I was sure a massive book deal was moments away.

What moment mattered the most was when my colleague Jerri said, “Hey, Jennifer, I saw this organization was looking for people to teach dev editing.”

That remark changed the last ten years of my life so profoundly I can’t even express it. It led to my moving to Los Angeles, to the establishment of Club Ed, and gave me a career I love and which shows signs of only getting better.

I never pitched Jerri. I just hung out with her at a writers’ group and we talked from time to time.

Of course when an opportunity arises you want to be ready with your pitch. But remember that connections always beat pitches. And never, ever, go into a meeting thinking it’s your only hope.

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