Dealing With “Failure”

failureRobert Burns once said “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”.

Was he ever right!

If you ever want to make god laugh, tell her you have a plan.

Recently I worked with an Israeli start up company that had a really neat app. It was going to just blow the lid off texting in a major way. The company had gone through all the steps necessary and received funding. The product had been beta tested then released in it’s shiny form – and then – it just didn’t take off.

There is an expression in Hollywood –

If anybody knew what made a hit movie in Hollywood, every movie would be a hit!

It’s certainly an accurate quote and one that applies to just about everything. If you KNEW which person you wanted to date and then marry on OkCupid, then you’d be married many times over! Wait -I think my metaphor just broke down.

Anyway. You get the point.

But then something happened to this particular app. The CEO got a phone call from a guy in Sweden. He had downloaded the app and was using it not for personal purposes but for business purposes – and he LOVED IT.

Soon, his entire company was using the app for inventory and now the company has a very large contract with an American company planning to do the same thing. The app is taking off.

Just – not in the way it was supposed to.

Have you ever had an experience that turned into something else altogether? I bet you have.

-An app that was actually positioned to work for a whole different group of consumers.

-A script that was really a novel.

-A comedy that was really a tragedy – wait – that’s my life, lol!

Keep that chin up and those ears open because you never know what lies around the corner. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.


Close the Gap Between Creative You and Business You

Many of us, normally confident in our day to day lives, become a bit of a nervous wreck if we have to take a meeting about what we are working on. Why is this?

Do we feel we have to be a totally different person in a meeting? Why can’t we just embrace who we are? A writer, an innovator, AND a business person?

The good news is that you CAN be yourself in a meeting. Whether you are there to pitch your script to an agent, or your project to a business person, they liked your work enough to invite you to a meeting. Why should you act different from the person who wrote the story or came up with the idea? It is your idea or story, after all, that got you there.

Outside of the meeting, you are a brother, father, sister or mother, right? You are also probably a goofball, good cook and person fond of movies. You don’t need to discuss those things in your meeting, but neither do you have to check them at the door.

An easy way to ruin a meeting is to try very hard not to be yourself but to act like some idealized version of a person in a meeting. But – whose ideal are we talking about? Something we read in a dusty book about How to Act in Meetings?

I don’t know about you but when I am preoccupied with:

1. Don’t forget this part!

2. Don’t forget that part!

3. Smile!

4. Remember to mention this and that and THIS!

I feel so stiff I can’t relax. Don’t worry so much! You know why you are at the meeting, you know what the bottom line is of what you want. Don’t memorize lists; you’ve GOT this.

Of course there are some basics of taking a meeting: dressing nicely, being on time, being polite – but being relaxed is not generally found on those lists.  And it should be.

What trips many up in a meeting is the huge effort they make NOT to be themselves. You know your story or your product or your innovation perfectly well – of course you do – you wouldn’t have any problems discussing it over a beer with a friend, would you? Yet we focus on perfecting our “elevator pitch” when in fact, what you should do is just – relax.

Increasingly, as the gap between personal life and business life erodes, and Don Draper is a thing of the past, you can feel confident in a meeting by simply being yourself. You ARE a writer. Or an entrepreneur who thinks in such and such a way. Why should you strive to act less personal, more stiff than you normally would? Why should you hide your personality – which is what gifted you with the great idea that got you to that meeting?

Make your meeting great by closing the gap between the real you and an idealized, imaginary version of yourself that you are chaining yourself to. Of course, it is common sense to slow down a little bit and leave room for questions and conversation – but outside of that, just be yourself. It isn’t a crime.

Nothing is more exhausting than trying to be someone you are not. So don’t do it. You’ll just sabotage yourself and the meeting. If you are a cheerful, outgoing person, terrific, if you are a quieter person, you only have to remember why you are there – to sell your book or product and also to sell yourself – I am a quieter, contemplative, intellectual person and I speak softly but I make eye contact and I am confident about why we are here. Nothing is as compelling as confidence. Embrace who you are and your success rate will skyrocket.

Remember – it’s only a meeting. And the person on the other side of the desk is just another person.

Here is a fascinating video of authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman discussing their new book The Confidence Code, on why men seem to be more confident than women. Short answer: they don’t “womanate” (ruminate) and they keep their focus more narrow.

Meetings are GOOD. That means you have done something very, very right. So relax! Be yourself!


Social Green Lights

skepticalIs the woman on the left interested in what you are saying? Or is she skeptical?

How can you tell?


I find that very often creatives live very much inside of their own heads.  WE know what we are doing and creating and thinking about.  But sometimes we are called upon to explain it to someone else.

For most creatives, myself included, translating complicated stories or projects or technologies to someone else is really a challenge.

But we labor under an assumption and that assumption is that we will be doing all the talking.  Read “Death to the Elevator Pitch’ for more on that. 

But – how do you know whether your listener is interested? How do you know when you should pause, slow down or maybe even stop explaining?

You must be an observer of social signals – of social green and red lights.

Red Lights are things like:

  • A loss of eye contact – with you or even in your general direction, that lasts for more than a few seconds.
  • A distinct lack of questions or comments about what you are saying.
  • Body language: is your listener leaning away from you? Do they have his or her arms over their chest? Are they shifting in their seat frequently?

Your listener is disengaged. Maybe completely – they just don’t like your idea. Or maybe because you have momentarily confused them or lost their interest.

So what do you do? How do you reverse the situation?

Be observant. Notice that the level of engagement has changed. Slow down, change it up and ask a question like:

-Does that make sense to you?

-Do you have any questions?

Or you might shift to a different focus of your story or project, you might compare it to something the listener is already familiar with, you might say:

-in Taken, when Liam Neeson turns the tables on the kidnappers, I really want to use that dynamic in my story because….


-in the same way that Twitter started small and was a strange innovation that surprised everybody, I want to…

Now you have introduced a new element, something that your listener can possibly comment on or relate to.

If you see a red light, a change in the engagement of your listener, as subtle as body language or as overt as eye contact, see this as an opportunity to get your listener back on the page by asking a question and engaging him or her in the conversation. Does he or she use Twitter? Wasn’t Taken an exciting film? Change it up and renew the engagement before proceeding.

Don’t, whatever you do, just soldier on when you seem to have lost the interest or engagement of your listener.

Green Lights are things like:

  • Leaning toward you, elbows on his or her desk (or the bar. it happens.)
  • Making and maintaining eye contact.
  • Facial expressions that shift like smiling, frowning, or a questioning look.

Most of us know exactly what it feels and looks like when we have lost somebody’s attention. It’s the same set of signals whether it is in your personal life or in business. When it comes to connecting, the two aren’t really that different.

In acting and in writing we know that characters always have an agenda. They want something. So do people in actual life. Whether what they want is to marry, or date or buy a new car or get groceries. Life is transactional.

Your listener in a business situation wants something too. A deal. A new project. For your project to be their money-making success.

Use the same social and conversational skills in business that you do in your normal life. Okay okay so you won’t be wearing flip-flops and a tee shirt but you are in a transactional exchange. Is your listener interested? Would they like to hear more? If they seem not to be, can you swiftly change that by changing up what you are saying and moving on to a point of greater interest?

Or is it time to gracefully wrap it up and try again another day?

Know your social skills and presenting your pitch, idea or project will be easy.

Read More On Facial Expressions and Body Language:

Five tips on how to read facial expressions.

Body Language is King.



Death to the Elevator Pitch

elevatorAt face value, the Elevator Pitch is the idea that you should be able to describe your book, movie or project very succinctly and articulately in a very short period of time. Say two minutes.

For most of us, the idea of spitting out a bunch of information in two minutes flat sounds like a nightmare.

But if you (rightly) think giving an elevator pitch is a nightmare, imagine yourself on the receiving end of one. Of asking someone what they are doing and having them robotically spit out a bunch of words like ticker tape that sounds like:

Xoxoxozooaeoiaufdlkad;iuaerlkaefluaereaouaerneaohahoarieand uaerlkaefluaereaouaerneaohahoarieand xoxoxozooaeoiauf aroieuao87!! 

…for two minutes that last an eternity while our eyes glaze over.

THAT is a nightmare.

According to Forbes Magazine – Most of us spend 70 to 80% of our time talking about ourselves and not our client’s results. This is a classic mistake but a trap that’s hard to resist.

We’ve all been there, right, to a bar or gathering at which somebody talks AT us not WITH us? We’ve all had that irritating experience when we furtively look around, over, past the person praying it will end soon.

An elevator pitch is an opportunity communicate with someone and to communicate effectively takes TWO.  When I teach writers and entrepreneurs how to pitch their script, book or idea, I teach them mainly how to LISTEN and how to CONVERSE.

Pitching does not mean you take a huge breath and speak until ALL the information is out.  It means to have a conversation about you, what you are doing, and why it will be great for your listener. Great as an investment, great as a story, great as a project.

Jumping in too quickly mitigates actual communication and becomes, instead, a one-way street. Your listener might have a question or comment. They might, you know, also be a human and want a coffee, or have a headache.

A conversation is a dance between two people. Whoever called the meeting (or presumably stepped into the elevator) gets to lead the dance. How would you like it if somebody pitched something to you totally uninvited? Taking advantage of a situation with no polite discourse or invitation does not make a very good impression of you.

So what DO you do?

Practice your Elevator Pitch thusly:

1) Define what you are doing. What’s your log line, so to speak? What is the quick one line description of your project?


I’m writing a psychological thriller set in the near future about sleep being illegal so that productivity will remain high.


I’m developing a wearable technology that allows clumsy people to suddenly become graceful and beautiful at the touch of a button (just putting it out there guys, just putting it out there…!)

2) Be ready to answer the next likely questions like: How does it work? or So what happens? or Is it done?

Now you just got a green light to explain a bit more – again – succinctly.

Well, our hero sells sleep on the black-market so that people can rest but he gets caught and he has to escape and overthrow the Sleep Police! 


You wear it on your thigh and when you start up the application, jolts of electricity flow to your limbs and you start dancing like Martha Graham! 

The idea of an elevator pitch, is to get someone interested in actually learning or reading MORE about your story or project, right?  To get their attention and their curiosity.

So you don’t need to explain the WHOLE thing, just what it is and how it works or how it complicates (in the case of story).

An Elevator Pitch is important but misconstrued. Don’t ever corner someone and speak for two or three minutes without end about your project.

Go from social skill green light to social skill green light – just as you would in normal, polite conversation. Ask questions. Invite questions. Leave room for small talk. Slow down.

This isn’t the only opportunity in the world but it will be your last with this person if you don’t handle yourself with grace and employ the long lost art, in this go-go, hurry-up, instant gratification world, of conversation.  Even a quick one.

Read more about the art of conversation in this fantastic article in the Atlantic. 






Mind the Culture Gap

Have you ever been in a meeting and had someone use a phrase or word that seemed to imply something that you didn’t quite get? Or acted in a way that was not immediately familiar to you?

Have you felt over or under dressed? Have you been pitching your story or technology and wondered if the person is following along all right or simply being polite? What does their blank face really mean?

As an expat living in Israel, I have well and truly walked miles in the shoes of not being sure that what I was saying was correct or taken the right way. Slowly, I became accustomed to the differences – Israeli directness is a biggie! – and as I learned the language and the subtleties in it, I began to recognize when an expression might actually be offensive rather than complimentary.  I got more comfortable with the fact that Israelis use their hands to gesture a lot and that this is not a bad thing, whereas Americans are much more still when they speak.

There are culture gaps not only between different nationalities but also in different businesses. Hollywood has a particular culture and if a writer has a pitching opportunity, whether at an event or in a meeting, it is important that you adjust your expectations.  Start Up and entrepreneurs also have a world quite their own.

I am fascinated by the similarities between start up entrepreneurs and the business of Hollywood. Both are high risk, high stakes, rarefied environment and both have distinct cultures.

A standout similarity – the defining similarity really – is that whether your are pitching a script idea, a manuscript for a novel, or a new technology or app – you have to explain something a bit vague in a  very specific way. You have to take the information in your head about how great your new application or technology is, or how fascinating your novel will be and why so many people will love it, and articulate that quickly and simply.

This is not easy and definitely a skill that increases with experience.

If you are the person pitching in the meeting, it is important that you allow the person you are meeting with to take the lead socially.

When in Rome is the operative term.

Do they want to have small talk for a bit? Okay, then do that. Do they want to get right down to it? Be prepared to do that as well.

Whether you write, code or invent new technologies, in a meeting you have a new role – you are a salesman. If the person who called you for the meeting asked you to take off your shoes and sit on a tatami mat while pitching – you’d do it. Because this is about sales. And sales is about listening and observing.

[I trust that you already know your story or your pitch/product COLD*]

*Cold means “perfectly”.

You don’t want to be  in a meeting and not know what the executive is referring to when they say they will “pass” your project “up”. What do they mean? Pass it up like forget it, like passing up more creamed spinach? No. They mean pass your project UP to the next higher person in the pecking order. A decision maker.

You don’t want to be in a meeting and not understand when someone refers you to an “accelerator” either.

But what if you still don’t get it?

Listen and watch for context. You might figure out the meaning very quickly. If a person is “passing up” your project or script, maybe they DO mean they are not interested.  Can you observe their tone of voice, body language and other contextual hints that what they are saying is positive or negative?

Your ability to roll with the conversation in a meeting is important.  A successful meeting depends on establishing a rapport – an ease – with the decision maker.

  1. Take your cues from the person who called the meeting. Small talk? Okay. No small talk, fine. Be flexible and let them lead the dance.
  2. Look for verbal and visual cues – leaning closer to you, a lot of direct eye contact and gesturing usually connotes real interest.  Listen for the tone of voice, is it tense or relaxed?
  3. Do your homework and know some of the buzz words in your pitch.

For you entrepreneurs out there, here is a link to commonly used “around the office” buzzwords and phrases. They aren’t all that exotic – but do you know what someone means when they say they want to “drill down” on something? It means to get more specific.  Here is a glossary of Start Up words and expressions. 

For writers, here is a dictionary for the “language” used in Variety, the granddaddy of Hollywood trade rags that developed its own language over time. Here also is a glossary of screenwriting terms. Know these words.

Wherever you live and whatever you are pitching – a new interior design, an amazing new technology for which you are trying to get funding, a great script idea for the next blockbuster script – human behavior is similar world and industry wide, unless you live under a rock, your intuition will tell you whether the person in the meeting is liking what you are saying, merely being polite and getting through the meeting, or out and out disinterested. It isn’t rocket science.

The key is to be prepared, flexible and observant.

And get help. You might just need it.