In a perceptive article a couple of years ago Martin Jones, writing in Campaign magazine, said that three questions were uppermost in client’s minds when assessing a pitch. Since, as head of the AAR, he had been on the receiving end of some 600 pitches, helping clients through the selection process, his opinions are worth listening to. The three questions:
“Do I like these people?” “How hungry are they for my business?” “How much do they like each other?” It is the last of these that is often overlooked.
Generally members of a team do get on, one hopes, but what matters is how they are perceived on the pitch. One of the commonest problems is when individuals “identify more with the functional area they come from than they identify with the team”.* In football it is Barcelona more than any other that harnesses great skill as a team. They are not a bunch of disconnected talented stars.
In a competitive pitch, when the adrenaline is flowing, it is easy for functional specialists to wax lyrical on their ‘chosen subject’, not realising how the perception of team, and the ‘liking of each other’, will suffer.
In practice, particularly when team members from different disciplines may not know each other well, the solution is decent rehearsal time with an ‘outsider’ looking for evidence of teamwork . Remember that “none of us is as smart as all of us”.(Ken Blanchard)
*This reference taken from the book– Team Talk, by Anne Donnellon
For actors rehearsal is a necessity, an essential part of their professional life, as it is for business folk who pitch. Or as it should be. Here are some thoughts on rehearsal from “Acting for the Better”, an excellent book by Mary Hasbury. It is aimed at actors but the thinking holds true for the pitch.
“Rehearsal is when the real work is done. The play has to be brought to life and become sufficiently fluent and polished to present to an audience”. It is what the audience take out, not what you put in.
She discusses various other aspects of rehearsal. For example:
” Give roughly the same amount of rehearsal to scene endings as you do to the beginnings.” In a pitch, work on hand-overs!
” Remember that it is in rehearsal that positioning and groupings are worked out. Only the director ‘out front’ can see what the picture looks like to the audience.” The pitch rehearsal without someone ‘out front’ achieves little.
“Rehearsal is the time to try out degrees of emotion, how best to use pauses, when to shine and when to fade into the background. Then when it comes to the actual performance, you reproduce everything that you have evolved and developed in rehearsal.” To perform at your best, you must rehearse.
One of the great things about a pitch is the heightened sense of excitement. A challenge outside day-to-day routine, the stimulus of competition, working to meet an impossible deadline and the anticipation of performing on the big day. All inspire teamwork.
However achieving teamwork is not the problem. Being seen to be a team can be and that matters.
The rational evaluation of track record, proposed solution, fee strucure and so on, is not what dictates most decisions. It is the emotional judgement of three questions, all of which are an instinctive response to the pitch team. How hungry are they? Do I like them? Do they like each other?
It is this last question that is often overlooked. Just because a team has burnt the midnight oil together does not mean they will be seen as a team in the pitch. A succession of well learnt, well scripted set pieces, each relevant to individual roles can be seen as just that. A collection of individuals rather than a team.
The solution is simple. Rehearse as a team working on spontaneuos interaction, introduce story telling that informally sends out team signals. Have an observer in rehearsals charged only with seeing you as a team.
My last post, Make Feedback your Friend, described how experimental opera performers subjected themselves to the potentially painful criticism of a live audience. An extreme form of rehearsal and rehearsal is something many pitch teams go out of their way to avoid. They settle instead for the run-through.
Is this enough and what’s the difference?
The run-through is a necessary activity. It will involve talking through likely content, who says what and for how long, a discussion on visual aids, working out timings and hand-overs, who sits where or stands, how the room will be propped, where will the client sit, what are the likely questions and who fields them and so on.
Necessary but not a rehearsal. Pitching is performance and it is no good escaping the ‘pain’ of rehearsal with a run through. To improve performance you need an audience in front of you. Other members of your team are not good for this. They already know what you are going meant say and will be be more concerned with content than your style.
Any non-participant, given a simple briefing of the context, can raise the value of rehearsal. In any pitch you are putting on a show and in rehearsal you need someone to show off to.
The lively Riverside Studios in London’s Hammersmith are hosting this week The Opera Festival. It is run by tete-a-tete, an organisation that sets out to help groups and individuals grow as artists. New and experimental performances take place on stage in front of a paying audience. This not a rehearsal but it is a form of product testing.
The audience are more or less coerced into filling in a feedback form before they leave. The possible overall ratings range from: (1) =Sorry. didn’t work for me to: (4) =Bloomin marvellous. Then you can chose any three of;
Challenging. Passionate. Loved it. Unengaging. Unfinished. Serious. Original. Commonplace. Not my cup of tea. Confusing. Ship-shape. Ship-wreck.
Listening to ‘funny’ amateur reviewers discussing their feedback over drinks in the bar made you feel a touch concerned for the would be artists but this was an intelligent and brave exercise. Improvements will come, even if egos suffer in the process.
Pitches are performances yet it is surprising how few companies will put themselves through a similar feedback process. It is called rehearsal. They are the ones who will be “unengaging” at best and “ship-wreck” at worst. And “sorry it didn’t work for me”!