Courtesy of Bleeding Cool’s Nick Kazden:
As the Con started to wind down on Sunday afternoon, Bryan Tillman hit the stage full of energy to teach a crowd about self-promotion and pitching. He’s a professor at Norfolk State University and used to work at the Art Institute of Washington for nine years. In addition to his academic work, he recently sold a game to Upper Deck that will reach stores in November.
Tillman broke things down into five simple rules for the audience. His presentation was a lot of fun and his stage presence was great, but my favorite part of the panel was the fact that he had the entire audience turn and scream “You’re Late!” to everyone who walked in more than 10 minutes after the panel started (and there were quite a few of them).
1) Know Your Product
Tillman said too many people go into pitches without a full understanding of what they are trying to sell. To have a successful pitch, you need to be able to answer every single question that is asked of you. In order to succeed in that “you need to dig a lot deeper,” and do research about every aspect of your business. When someone comes in without all the proper information, not only do they have less confidence, but they are more likely to get undercut or taken advantage of once they start working in their target industry.
“If you don’t know, and you’re not willing to put in the time and effort, I swear by everything on this holy planet, you’re gonna get screwed. Period.”
Part of knowing your product is understanding the competition. “If you’re making a comic book superhero team and you don’t know about the Justice League or the X-Men, you’re gonna get crushed.” In pitches, you will be asked how to distinguish your idea from others, and it falls to your lap to have enough information to be able to properly explain those differences. If you can’t tell people what sets you apart from the bunch, then you will likely hear “okay, we’re not gonna work with you.”
2) BS Your Way to the Truth
He’s not recommending you go out there and lie to people, but sometimes you may have to come up with something on the fly.
“You have to think on your feet. If, for some reason, you can’t do that, don’t pitch. Period. Get an agent.”
Tillman gave an example of how a comic author may choose to answer a question they don’t know from whoever they are pitching to. If that arises, you have to confidently make something up because there is nothing worse than someone who just stands there and and looks like “a babbling gold fish.”
Sometimes the opportunity to pitch your product will arise on the fly. The one-hour presentation you developed might have to be crammed into a five minute chunk, and if you don’t know how to adapt and speak comfortably you will lose that opportunity.
“You have to exude this feeling of ‘I know what I’m doing, and I know that this- whatever it is- is going to make them money. Because in the end, that’s what it’s all about. Money.”
A big part of looking confident wall being on the fly is removing filler words like “umm” and “so” from your language.
“I hate ‘ya know!’ No, I don’t know! That’s why I’m listening to you!”
Before he got into the lesson, he shamed the audience for the fact that pretty much no one here took the opportunity to have a conversation with whoever was sitting next to them.
“Why wouldn’t you want to network in ‘Nerdvana’? All these people like the same thing as you!”
He said that people are too hard on themselves and too easily disregard their own communication abilities. Even if your social skills are clunky, you can still make a good impression on someone by just being polite and a good listener. Tillman told the audience about a networking event he went to that, on the surface, didn’t seem too impressive. He recalled the “cold fish” and awkward feelings, but after a while he ended up face-to-face with two titans just trying to eat their lunch. Because Tillman had the courage to start a conversation, he walked away from the event with the business cards of the President of Sony and inventor of Tetris.
“If you don’t do it, you will not get picked up. You will not get noticed.”
4) Be Aware of the Thin Line Between Confidence and Cockiness
This was the shortest section of the list, but it is still essential. Confidence plays a big role in each step of the process, but he warns that “you never want to come across cocky.”
It’s good to be believe in yourself, but you never want to come across as arrogant. Tillman said since the entertainment industry “is so small, you will be black listed in a heart beat.” The problem is, if you’ve already crossed that line in some people’s heads, it’s incredibly hard to establish a new, non-cocky persona for yourself. Your ability to continually get work, especially if you go into this business as a freelancer (which most people do), will continually diminish the more people think of you as cocky instead of confident in your ability to get the job done.
5) Get Over Yourself
Tillman described this key idea as the linchpin of all the rules but admitted that “it’s a hard one for most people.” After all the failed pitches he’s gone through, he was quick to admit that “if I wanted to wallow in my self pity, I could have.” But, at the end of the day, wallowing doesn’t help you move closer to achieving your goals. If your pitch is rejected, you need to understand that it’s your idea NOT YOU that is being rejected. When Tillman was working on pitching his game to multiple companies, he said he faced a lot of rejection but he never let it get to him. In fact, he said there were even a lot of times where he went out to dinner with the people he was interviewing with afterwards because the people still like him even if they don’t think his idea is ready yet.
In order to grow as an artist, you need to constantly push yourself. Don’t take rejection as bad news, look at is as “professional advice saying you’re not there yet.” Without these friendly reminders to keep changing and moving in a new direction, you’re at fear of stagnating creatively, and there’s nothing worse than that.