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Thursday, June 28, 2012

I was listening to one of Steven Dubner's Freakonomics podcasts, "Bring on the Pain" with Daniel Kahneman, an economist who studied pain vs. the memory of pain in colonoscopies.

Kahneman had people rate the pain of a procedure while they were undergoing it, minute by minute, and then asked them to rate it afterwards. Kahneman discovered two critical factors in how painful people remembered the procedure to be:
  • Peak pain: people remembered the procedure as being as painful as its worst moments; and
  • Final pain: to a lesser extent, people remembered the procedure as being as painful as the last few minutes. Doctors could reduce the memory of pain of the whole procedure simply by slowing down the last few minutes of the procedure to bring the probe out more gently.
I wonder if the same is true about a pitch session.

In theory a pitch is about selling a whole story; and if your pitchee is really on the ball, he or she should be able to gauge the story as a whole. But I think it's true that to a disproportionate extent your pitch will be rated by its peak moments? If you can sell one really amazing scene or spectacle or moment, what's the odds your pitchee will remember your pitch as really amazing? And conversely, if you have a gaping hole in your story, what are the odds she'll remember the hole?

I once heard that Jack Nicholson will do a movie if the script has "two great scenes and no bad ones." ("You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!")

So you better run your pitch up against some civilians to see what they're bumping on, before you go into a pitch meeting. You want to smooth out as many bumps as you can. You also want to make sure you can sell the hell out of at least one moment or scene or spectacle in your story.

Likewise, which will get more traction? A pitch meeting that starts out well but loses steam? Or a pitch that goes out with a bang, in spite of a rocky start? I think the second is more likely to close the sale.

So you should also not be afraid to close the meeting yourself. If you've made your best case, get out! Don't linger. If they're enthusiastic, and they have further questions, well, they'll call you, won't they?



Some great points, Alex. And I couldn't help thinking that several of the pitch sessions I've done have had a few other similarities to colonoscopies...

By Blogger VLucas, at 12:10 PM  

Interestingly, I've heard "Two great scenes and no bad ones" attributed to Billy Wilder. But I don't have any actual sources to back that up. Possibly his interview with Cameron Crowe?

By Blogger TDG, at 6:16 PM  

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