Rules of Hollywood #7:
Sell the Person, Not the Product
"He's great in a room."
Those five words can mean the world to an actor, a writer, a director or producer. If the wind carries those words from the end of a meeting to the following day when they're on the phone or driving in their car, a big smile will come across their face. Hell, a smile would come across his representatives and colleagues faces also because that is one of the best compliments anyone can get because being "good in a room" is one of the most difficult things any person in the industry can achieve. Once you do, though, you are in.
Even if whatever it was you were trying to sell sucked more than Paris Hilton's acting ability (and other things she 'sucks' on), "He's great in a room" will make up for any passes or bad criticism on the material itself. In the long run, the impression people can have about you is more valuable than the impression that they can have on your material.
Being memorable and making an impression is one of the greatest assets to anybody and on just about any level - here more about those with material (such as a show idea, a 'take' or film script) they want to "get out" to people and to get them behind an idea or even their entire careers. If you have aspirations as a writer or director or have an idea you think would be a good movie to produce, you can't just look down at your outline of paper, script or the overall idea itself. You also need to look at yourself. In fact, you must look at yourself because it's you that has to get other people on board and involved. As anyone will tell you, you aren't going to be making it alone and you need to "sell" your idea...and you do that by selling yourself.
The late actor Robert Stack once said "It's not what you are in Hollywood—it's what people think you are." In other words, you're acting when you're not even acting...and more importantly you're acting when you're not even an actor. To be "good in a room" or "be memorable" you need to put on a performance. It's like acting for a small group of people. Perhaps you're normally a rather quiet person, but as soon as you get to talking about something you're passionate about or interested in, your charisma goes up, you show more energy and your excitement gets others excited or, at the very least, listening to what you have to say. That is what I mean by selling the person, not the product. If you can get people behind you, you might just get them behind what you're telling them about.
Do you know why Billy Mays was so good at his job and made a ton of money before God got tired of him? It was his attitude and personality, his ability to communicate, that got him to where he was. He could sell anything, he did sell anything actually, and made a living off of it. Most of what he sold was crap, but he had you convinced your life would be better with it and that you absolutely had to have it. He was a pitchman and believe it or not, the type of guy you should base your approach on, hopefully without the drugs.
Mays knew how to sell himself. If you can enter a room with a personality, a likable attitude and a demanding presence, you could sell a piece of paper you just wiped your ass with (and call in Transformers 2). So how does one get to the point where you enter a room and demand such notoriety?
If someone calls me, tells me they have a script, or I'm sitting in some meeting hearing a pitch, I can tell in five seconds if I'm going to be interested or if I'm going to "check out" after those five minutes. The reason: I get no sense of energy from them. I want to hear their confidence and the excitement they have from their script/reel/short or whatever they're trying to tell me about and certainly if they have anything thought out or planned in terms of a "take" or "outline" of an idea they might have.
You not only need to be confident in yourself and your product, you must express this. There's no point is being confident if you can't show others. You do this simply by acting assured and positive and not doubting you or your material. A good way to sort of exude confidence is to just practice speaking in front of people. With experience in doing so, that discomfort and "stage fright" you might have will surely disappear. You have a more commanding posture and speak clearer and louder, less slouching, mumbling and butterflies in the stomach. A good way, if you're still in college, is to just take some basic communications or public speaking classes. Just taking film courses isn't going to teach you everything. You need to "think outside the box" and any class where you have to put together a presentation or speak in front of a room of people is a great benefit and outlet to have.
And if you're thinking "that's not my major" or "I'll never do that" then you're fooling yourself. Hollywood is a person-to-person industry where you're talking to people every single day. Trust me, you'll need it, and taking just a basic course is all you have to worry about if you're not majoring in that subject. If you are afraid of doing it, then you're the person this article is for.
Let's say, though, your college days are behind you. Opportunities still exist if natural public speaking is not your forte. That's when you have to just get together friends or family and practice with them. This is a little more difficult and not nearly as good as doing it in front of strangers, but at least you can still get feedback. Another good way is to look up "workshops" (or something similar) that will put you in the room with others or teach you the ropes. If you're in Los Angeles, you can surely find some improv group (if you're an actor or into comedy) or writer's workshop to be a part of. If not, it can be tricky to find those things, but if you're planning on being in the entrainment industry you need that route - moving to Los Angeles or New York, or any metropolitan area that's large enough to have a good arts community should be in your planning stages anyways.
Attitude and Charisma
Act like you own the room, because you need to own the room. You attitude should be this: this is my room, I own it and these people are going to listen to what I have to say. Not "these people will listen to me." It should be "these people are going to listen to me."
It's your job to get people excited, even if you're just interviewing for a job interview; getting people excited about you and what you're offering should be your entire point. You need to sell yourself, then get in to selling what you're so excited about. You need to share that excitement, transfer that to those you want to listen, and you do this by taking the initiative and showing how excited you are about it first. Lead by example, as they say.
At the same time you don't want to come off as arrogant and off-putting. You need to have people relaxed and never, ever talk down to them. Talk to them as you would a regular person having a conversation, use that as a basis and foundation. This isn't a lecture, it should be fun. This is where just being charismatic and "fun" plays into things. If they bring up questions, listen. That's how you do this thing called "communication" and that, too, helps ease them into excitement and remember you even more. You weren't just the guy that would pitch well, you were the guy that listened to what they had to say and made it all fun. If you have natural charm, you're already in.
Even if they don't like your idea or take on something you'd like to get them behind, they will hopefully at least remember you. After all, you're in that room in the first place - they obviously like something about you (your writing style/directing credits etc..) to give you 45 minutes already. Backing that up with a personal impression is the next major step you should take. You've already got that door open, selling yourself will get you through it (and hopefully stay in the room a while). Let me tell you, this is incredibly important. If you pitch something perfectly and they liked you and how you handled yourself, your charisma through the roof, they are more than happy to listen to you in the future.
Pitch When You're Not Pitching
You should always be selling yourself even if you have nothing to sell. If you're at a gala and you meet some people you might pitch ideas and scripts to in the future, sell yourself there. If you're at the mall and run into some hot-shot exec you met with before, sell yourself there as well. It's easy: be friendly, respective and overall nice with a firm handshake and charismatic attitude.
Then call their office Monday or Tuesday and go from there. You should always be working even when you think you're not. There's no "off time" to your career. You should have your senses on full.
Think of it like baseball. The pitcher's mound is when you're in those rooms and you those people eyeballing your every move and hearing to your every word as you pitch them ideas. Before heading to that mound, though, what are you doing? You aren't sitting on the bench, that's for sure. You're warming up in the bullpen. You're getting in the zone without yet being in the zone. All this is, is basic planning and,honestly, simple common sense. If you want to be known as that awesome guy with the great ideas, you're going to be warming up those pitches long before the coach puts you in.
All of things above, as you notice, are about you, not whatever it is you're peddling. The great pitchmen (and great con-men) get this whole concept and do it with their eyes closed. In the end, it doesn't matter what it is you're trying to sell because the people listening have heard hundreds if not thousands of pitches and ideas already. It might be a rarity for you, but for them it's another day at the office.
So putting yourself out there, communicating clearly and with confidence and getting them excited about you will get the them excited about your material...or at least not notice if it's bad.