1) Know your pitch

Know it cold. Know it inside out. Know it in the shower. Know it in your sleep. Practice and practice. Record a practice and listen critically. Be honest with what works and what doesn’t. Tip: impersonate someone, like a movie star or your parent. Speak in their accent and mannerisms. Have fun with your pitch. Fun relaxes you and helps you memorize your pitch. This I learned from an actor.

2) Never read

Reading a pitch is reading, not pitching. Remember: a pitch is a seduction. Would you ask a man or woman out by reading from a piece of paper? (See also commandment #1.)

3) Be clear

Get to the damn point. Don’t be vague. Never ramble. Do not spend three sentences explaining what you can utter in a single phrase. Use the active voice over the passive. Limit adjectives and adverbs. Choose strong verbs. Invest in metaphors and similes. Sure, there’s room for eloquence, but eloquence works only with clarity.

4) Be passionate.

If you sound bored, the audience will be bored. If you are excited, the audience will be thrilled. Your job is to win the audience until they cheer you.

5) Be confident, not arrogant.

Related to commandment #4. Believe in what you’re pitching. Don’t hedge by mumbling “perhaps” or “maybe.” If you’re not confident in your project, what should anyone? At the same time, don’t be arrogant. Smarminess poisons a pitch. Arrogance is death.

6) Use a symbol

Select one symbol to represent your project. What image do you want to leave in the audience’s mind? People remember images before words. Images stir the imagination and passions. When I pitched my documentary about amputee soccer players in Sierra Leone, I asked, “Have you ever seen a one-legged man fly?” and reinforced that by projecting a low-angle photo of a one-legged soccer player soaring across a blue sky as he kicked a ball. Lastly, be poetic, but not corny.

7) Use visuals wisely

If your pitch permits it, use visuals. Use stills and/or video to show what you got. However, don’t bombard the audience with a million fast-cutting images like a beer commercial. Select images to augment and not overwhelm what comes out of your mouth.

8) Prepare for questions

After every pitch come questions from the jury or audience. The Q&A can make or break yor pitch, sink or save it. Many pitchers forget this and are woefully unprepared. During rehearsals, write down any possible question and add your answers. Practice your answers.

9) Never argue

A jury member says, “Interesting pitch, but I’m not sure about the title. How about changing it?” Wrong answer: “I like the title and won’t change it.” Right answer: “Hm, I never thought about that, but I’d be happy to discuss this with you further.” The moment you disagree with a juror, you’re dead. Learn to absorb and deflect. Most of all, keep the dialogue going with the juror who may very well hold the money you need to make your dream project.

10) Look at the audience

It’s normal to be nervous, but you can contain it. In front of a group, focus on two or three people sitting at different parts of the room. Look at only them, so you tune out of the crowd. Also, you can guage the reactions of these individuals to what your saying. If you’re pitching one-on-one, monitor the other person’s eye contact: are they fixing their stare on you in rapt attention or are they scanning the room for canopes? If the latter, then return to commandment #1.

With his co-director, Allan won the 2011 Telefilm Pitch This competition at the Toronto International Film Festival, and went on to pitch at the 2012 Hot Docs Forum, both before live audiences in the hundreds. As a Sundance Documentary Fellow, he pitched ansd sold licenses to broadcasters and buyers from around the world. Also, Allan has organized pitching competitions at festivals, including Planet in Focus, ReelWorld and Toronto Reel Asian. He continues to pitch film and TV project by himself and with partners, and writes grants for Embreate.