Game of Thrones: The Art of the Pitch

[Spoiler alert: Plot elements from Season 7, Episode 7 revealed].

As a filmmaker and an entrepreneur, I’ve made a lot of pitches. I’ve pitched start-up ideas, apps, screenplays, and myself to a variety of decision-makers. I’ve also taught workshops on how to make an effective pitch. But, it wasn’t until I rewatched the Season Eight finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones that I noticed what turns out to be a near-perfect example of a pitch that makes people literally sit up and take notice. Here’s how it breaks down:

1. The Cold Open

Tyrion Lannister(Peter Dinklage) kicks off the pitch by setting the stage for what’s to come. He says very clearly that the current model isn’t working efficiently. In fact, it’s led them to the brink of war. After some pushback from his sister, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), he deftly steps aside as Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) comes forward to address the group.

Tyrion Lannister(Peter Dinklage) kicks off the pitch by setting the stage for what’s to come. He says very clearly that the current model isn’t working efficiently. In fact, it’s led them to the brink of war. After some pushback from his sister, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), he deftly steps aside as Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) comes forward to address the group.

2. State the Problem

Jon Snow strides onto the stage and gets right to the heart of the matter. “This isn’t about living in harmony. It’s just about living.” He’s reframed the conversation by introducing a new and unexpected complication. And it’s a doozy. The stakes are now literally life or death. If, like Jon Snow, you can grab the attention of your audience with a clear, concise description of the problem, you’ve got them on the hook for your solution.

Jon Snow strides onto the stage and gets right to the heart of the matter. “This isn’t about living in harmony. It’s just about living.” He’s reframed the conversation by introducing a new and unexpected complication. And it’s a doozy. The stakes are now literally life or death. If, like Jon Snow, you can grab the attention of your audience with a clear, concise description of the problem, you’ve got them on the hook for your solution.

3. Present Supporting Evidence

Of course, it’s never that easy. Pitches are tough because your audience, by its very nature, is critical. If they’re going to make a decision to fund your project, you have to convince them of both the urgency and the efficacy of your solution to their problem. This is where you’ll get the hard questions, the critical pushback, and maybe even some outright derision. This is often where most pitches fall apart. The presenter either loses their rhythm (and confidence) or the audience senses vulnerabilities in your plan that they’ll use as a reason to say ‘no’ to you. It’s a storm you have to weather in order to make a successful transition to the next phase of your pitch.

Of course, it’s never that easy. Pitches are tough because your audience, by its very nature, is critical. If they’re going to make a decision to fund your project, you have to convince them of both the urgency and the efficacy of your solution to their problem. This is where you’ll get the hard questions, the critical pushback, and maybe even some outright derision. This is often where most pitches fall apart. The presenter either loses their rhythm (and confidence) or the audience senses vulnerabilities in your plan that they’ll use as a reason to say ‘no’ to you. It’s a storm you have to weather in order to make a successful transition to the next phase of your pitch.

4. Build Dramatic Tension

This is typically the turning point of your pitch, for better or for worse. This is the lead-up to you convincing them that the problem is real and needs a solution  now . And the best way to do this is to show, not tell. The dramatic tension in the courtyard is palpable, and Jon Snow plays it for maximum effect. If you’re able to impress your audience here, they’ll be on the edge of their seats as you proceed to...

This is typically the turning point of your pitch, for better or for worse. This is the lead-up to you convincing them that the problem is real and needs a solution now. And the best way to do this is to show, not tell. The dramatic tension in the courtyard is palpable, and Jon Snow plays it for maximum effect. If you’re able to impress your audience here, they’ll be on the edge of their seats as you proceed to...

5. The Big Reveal

The big reveal comes at the end of Act Two of your pitch. You’ve established the stakes, defined the problem, and now it’s time to stick the landing. If you can convince your audience that they  must  act now, you’ve primed them to be even more receptive to your ‘secret sauce,’ the unique solution that only you are capable of delivering. From the look on Cersei Lannister’s face, you can tell that she’s ready to listen to what Jon Snow is about to propose.

The big reveal comes at the end of Act Two of your pitch. You’ve established the stakes, defined the problem, and now it’s time to stick the landing. If you can convince your audience that they must act now, you’ve primed them to be even more receptive to your ‘secret sauce,’ the unique solution that only you are capable of delivering. From the look on Cersei Lannister’s face, you can tell that she’s ready to listen to what Jon Snow is about to propose.

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6. Your Secret Sauce

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With the audience now firmly under your sway, it’s time to unveil your ‘secret sauce,’ your plan, product or idea that you want your audience to fund, support, or adopt. Once again, Jon Snow opts to demonstrate to Cersei how they solve the problem of the Army of the Dead. In this case, the secret sauce is Dragon Glass. It’s simple, effective, and efficient.

You’ve laid it all out and now your fate lies in the hands of your audience.

7. Stick the Landing

You’ve made your ask, your audience considers your proposal, and now your future hangs in the balance. Regardless of how good your pitch is, there’s always the possibility that a decision-maker just won’t go for it. At this point, the best thing you can do is to listen and be receptive to feedback. Even if they ultimately pass, you may learn valuable information from their feedback that will help you hone future iterations of your pitch.

Pitching isn’t easy, especially if you haven’t done it before. Above all, you’ve got to practice, practice, practice until you can, at minimum, nail your transitions. You don’t need to memorize your pitch, but if you can smoothly move from one section to the next, your audience will likely go along for the ride. These tips can help make it more enjoyable (and fruitful) for both of you.

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