Preparing a winning pitch – my experience with the winners of Ottawa Animation Fest’s Pitch This contest

I had the pleasure of preparing the two finalist teams from STORYHIVE’s animation edition for attendance at the Ottawa International Animation Festival 2017.

One of the teams (Denver Jackson and Alain Williams) decided to throw their hat in the pitching ring for the TAC Pitch This! competition. They secured one of 10 coveted spots to present to four industry judges.

After jumping the industry panel, animator and storyteller Denver and writer Alain made the semi-final and faced an audience of 300 people. Although I coached them beforehand and gave them tips on how to improve, neither had pitched before (and in such a public setting). They had approached their pitch with a beginner’s mind – looking at things with curiosity but with little regard for the outcome.

I suggested their visuals had way too much text. They needed to allow the images to speak for themselves. As you’ll read in my Q&A with Denver below, Alain has a stutter and they needed to prepare the audience for that. The goal in a performance pitch is to get the audience on side, to relax and be themselves.

And they won! Their prize includes a development deal with Nelvana, animation software licenses plus training and legal services.

I talked with Denver on the way back from Ottawa and asked him about his and Alain’s approach to their pitching experience.


Above: Denver Jackson

Why did you decide to enter the competition?

We had never pitched before and we just thought we’d try it out. We didn’t have any expectations about pitching. We just wanted the experience.

What is your animation about?

Somnius is about a young girl Aria who hears her long-lost mother’s urgent pleas to find her. Aria has to travel to the end of space, unlock the mysteries of the ship and face her fears to be re-united with her mother again.

How did you start the pitch?

The pitch to the room had to be 10 minutes with a Q&A. We started with our life stories so that people would know who we were right off the top. We were vulnerable and funny so the audience really got behind us and laughed in all the right places.

We didn’t have anything scripted, so we sounded fresh. It worked perfectly. We were natural and authentic.

Do you and Alain have different styles?

We are very good friends and that helped. Alain stutters and I knew if we rehearsed too much he’d get more and more nervous. Alain does standup comedy so in our visual presentation we made a joke about his stutter just by saying the word over and over again and I illustrated a slide of me looking at my watch feeling nervous about the time draining away. Rather than have the audience feel uncomfortable about his stutter, we faced it head on with comedy.

How did you tell your story?

I drew the illustrations for the pitch and we told the story like a story book – from beginning to middle to end. The visuals stood out on the slides and told the story for us. It was easy to follow and I think the message of empathy really hit home with the audience when they saw the heroine embracing the antagonist.

What are your takeaways from the experience?

There was another team and they were very nervous. I think our biggest learning was that there is structure to a pitch but your authenticity is a major factor in a success.

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If you want to learn the secrets of a successful pitch, take a look at How to Win Your Next Creative Pitch. In the online course and ebook, you’ll learn about the structure of a pitch and how you can be natural on stage or comfortable in a room.

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