The project cocktail pitch is a short powerful way to pitch in any situation from cocktail parties to business meetings.   How do you talk about your projects in a compelling and entertaining way?  First, remember that pitching is selling, not telling.  Your goal is to sell your project, not to tell all the details of your story.  How do you sell? By getting your listeners to connect with your story and say “tell me more.”  Instead of just telling your story, ideally  you grab their attention so they want to hear more.  Think of your cocktail pitch as an audio version of your movie trailer.  The best trailers don’t show the whole movie.  They show just enough so that you know the concept and the characters and want to go to the movie to see what happens. 

Tell me more can mean a bunch of things that get you one step closer to a sale.  It can mean:

  • Send me the material.
  • Come in for a meeting.
  • Keep talking and tell me more of the story.
  • And the holy grail, I’ll buy it!

How to Craft Your Project Cocktail Pitch

1. Start with your genre & format.  By labeling your project, you let your audience know exactly what kind of story they are listening to.  Examples: Single camera sitcom, supernatural TV drama, spy thriller feature.

2. Use touchstones.  Mention successful projects that have a connection to your story.  The tried and true blank meets blank (Frozen meets the Avengers) is the most common way to bring in touchstones.  The meets technique may feel cliched, but it is a cliché for a reason; it works!  If executives hear Frozen meets the Avengers, they immediately know a lot about your movie.  It is princess superheroes in a fairy tale world.  Sold!   Another way to use touchstones is to put them in a different setting like Frozen in high school.   A third way is to mention projects that share the same audience as yours.  This movie is for fans of Frozen & The Princess Bride.  In this example, we know that this pitch is about a comedy fairy tale romance.  HINT: Be sure to use commercially successful touchstones.  It doesn’t help you make the sale, if you’re comparing your project to a box office bomb or a show that didn’t make it through the first season. 

3. Hook your audience with the emotional hook. Emotion sells.  Make your characters’ struggle relatable.  You can use a metaphor (office politics is high school with suits.)  An archetype (the high school mean girl is now ruling the PTA.)  Or ask a question.  Have you ever wondered what happened to the high school mean girl?

4. Next, introduce your main character and their emotional drive.  Katniss is an ordinary 16 year-old girl whose selfless sacrifice to save her sister’s life starts a revolution. HINT:  If you have an ensemble, start with the group leader and then make everyone archetypes.  (The Con Man, the Optimist, The Brains.)

5. Then onto the Story Appetizer, which is 3 to 5 sentences about your story.  Here is where you can share a bit more about the main character, what they are trying to accomplish and how they do it.  If you need to, here is where you can talk about the world of the story and the bad guy.

6. Finally, end on a Cliffhanger.  Emphasize the emotional stakes.  Can your characters do it?  Will she get a date to the wedding or be at the singles table with the great aunts? Will they rob the bank so Joe can get his kidney transplant?  With the cliffhanger, you leave your listener on the edge of their seat so they say, tell me more.

Cocktail Pitch example

This animated movie is The Dirty Dozen meets the Big Bang Theory.  This is that age old struggle of the  geeks vs. the jocks and how it feels when you know you can be the hero, but you’re always overlooked. Our story takes place in the world of holiday icons where Santa and the Easter Bunny are the cool kids.  But when they’re kidnapped, the unsung holiday icons lead by Earl the Groundhog from Groundhog Day, must rescue Santa and save Christmas. Will our group of ragtag heroes be able to work together and get Santa back to the North Pole in time?

When do you use a cocktail pitch?

  • Networking
  • In meetings
  • In emails
  • As the introduction to your longer formal pitch

Now you have the project cocktail pitch formula, and with little practice you should feel ready to pitch to anybody, anywhere, anytime.