That’s Intriguing #21: What’s the Link Between Story-Telling and the Perfect Pitch?

“It’s not overly dramatic to say your destiny depends on the impression you make.” – Barbara Walters

What a treat it was to wake up and find that Ian Ayres had written a Freakonomics – NY Times blog called Pitch Me Your Day.

In it, he featured a video clip of National Public Radio’s Ira Glass talking about the art of story-telling – along with a link to a previous blog he’d done about me and POP!

In this fun blog, (Go Ian!), he makes the piont that “it never ceases to amaze me how few academics can succinctly describe a take-home point of their research. When we ask one another, ‘What are you working on?’ we’re really saying ‘Tell me a story.’ When someone tells me he’s studying network neutrality or the right to privacy, I yearn to say, ‘you’re ‘wasting my time.’”


We’ve got 30 seconds, max, to make a positive first impression in our presentation or pitch.

One of the best ways to do that is to use the two words “For example.”

As soon as we say those two words, people’s attention perks up because they think, “Now, it’s going to get interesting. Now you’re going to quit with the gobbledy gook and illustrate your idea with a real-life situation I can see in my mind’s eye – something I can relate to.”

For example, (see?) . . . in our BOOK IT event at USA Today headquarters on Friday, I shared the example of a writer who was not getting any interest in his book.

Why? His description was all over the map. At the end of his pitch, no one was interested because they didn’t “get” his work. And if people don’t “get” what we do, they won’t want what we do.

So what did Wally do?

Wally doused for whales. He would put a sonar device in the ocean off Hawaii until he heard a pod of humpback whales. Then, he claimed not only to be able to listen to their “conversations,” he claimed to be able to communicate back and forth with the whales.

Many of the agents and editors thought he was one taco short of a combination plate and were not about to give him a book deal.

I spent a few minutes working with Wally and suggested we use a POP! technique called the Valley Girl technique. I asked, Wally, “What song, movie, person or book are you like – with a twist?”

He thought about it for a moment and said, “Well, I’m kind of like Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer.”


Wally became The Whale Whisperer.

That short, easy-to-relate-to-and-remember brand name and pitch got people’s eyebrows up (a sure sign they’re intrigued).

So, what do you say when people ask, “What are you working on?”

What’s your pitch for your book, cause or project?

  1. Dear Sam,

    As always, you teach by wonderfully telling an intriguing (and very funny) story! Having had the pleasure of hearing you at the National Résumé Writers Association conference and on Susan Whitcomb’s valuable call, I can easily hear you say the words above. Thank you for the lesson, and for making us remember through laughter (and “examples”)!

  2. Fantastic information! The Whale Whisperer example is brilliant! I’ll be gently cajoling a few authors to read this over. Thanks Sam

  3. Dang, Sam, I gotta go find the woman who works at the car dealership I’m sitting in and start my answer over to her question, “whaddya do?”, which I gave before I read this post! I keep forgetting the value of being a Valley Girl! But she’s got an Are You Clueless? bookmark – all may not be lost!

  4. Awesome! That is a fascinating point to make – that a succinct and media-ized portrayal can help someone understand a concept much more easily than the book based on it. I love it! Because once the seed is planted in the listener’s mind, you can tell them much more information if you want – you’ve given them a starting point they can relate to, a corner stone to build the rest of your description on. Like a cracking title, expanded on by a more specific tag line – which can in turn be expanded on by a paragraph of even more specific description – a paragraph which would have lost all listeners completely had it been the first thing said!
    Now I must go and apply this tactic to my pitch!

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