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Good in a Room: How to Sell Yourself (and Your Ideas) and Win Over Any Audience Hardcover – March 11, 2008

73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Stephanie Palmer coaches business leaders and creative professionals in a wide range of industries to help them get their ideas the attention and financing they deserve. As part of MGM’s executive team for six years, she supervised twenty films with multimillion dollar budgets, including the international screen hit, Legally Blonde. She has been featured on NBC’s Today, CBS’s Early Show, The Los Angeles Times, Variety and NPR.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Why You Should Read This Book

The reason you should read this book is because the strategies and tactics that people use to sell ideas in Hollywood work in the rest of the business world. I have worked with entrepreneurs, executives, and professionals in industries such as real estate, financial services, retail sales, law, advertising, marketing, video games, and more. The techniques used to sell ideas in Hollywood not only work in other industries, they often work better.

As you already know, “good in a room” is a Hollywood term referring to creative people who excel at pitching in high-stakes meetings. I’ve had–literally–thousands of these meetings. During my time as a studio executive at MGM, I had over three thousand pitch meetings where writers, directors, stars, and producers would try to persuade me to buy their ideas.

Most of the time, ideas are pitched poorly. However, there are some people who succeed all the time. Over a period of years, I paid attention to what worked and what didn’t. I identified the techniques that were being used in all of the successful meetings–regardless of who was pitching. I also found a considerable number of ways that the person pitching could break the deal, often without knowing it.

Many studio executives, or “suits,” have backgrounds in sales, marketing, or finance. My degree is in theatrical directing from Carnegie Mellon. So when I started hearing pitches, I wasn’t just thinking about whether to say yes or no. I was seeing the meeting as a theatrical performance.

Unfortunately, most writers, like most people, do not have a comprehensive strategy to deliver a great performance. When the time comes to pitch in a high-stakes situation, even someone experienced can stumble and ruin a golden opportunity without a solid meeting technique.

When someone with a great idea doesn’t present it effectively, it not only hurts them, but all of us as well. Why? Because mediocre ideas will get purchased and produced if superior ideas aren’t pitched well enough.

The fact is that when it comes to making a buying decision, buyers can more easily evaluate the information on the surface, i.e., the pitch. It’s harder to evaluate what’s inside. As you know, this is true beyond Hollywood. In a grocery aisle, success is determined more by the design and copywriting on the packaging than by the quality of the product. In job interviews, hiring decisions tend to look past differences in work experience and focus on how the candidates perform in the room. My point is not that pitching is everything. Rather, it’s that good products deserve good packaging and great ideas deserve a great pitch.

Even shy, awkward, introverted people can learn to pitch well. One of my highlights from MGM was when I found a new writer named Mike who was pitching a high school comedy with a unique angle. His script was great, but his pitch was a disaster. He didn’t know how to handle the small talk, he pitched too soon and with way too much detail–he broke the deal in a dozen different ways. Ordinarily I would just pass on his project, but I was frustrated with the quality of the movies we were making and I didn’t want to send this great script back to the slush pile. So I coached Mike on how to perform in each stage of the meeting and told him exactly what to say when my boss asked, “So, what’s your project about?”

The next day, Mike pitched his idea beautifully to my boss, and it sold right there in the meeting. Afterward, he told me that he’d been staying on his brother’s couch for the last three months and was preparing to move back in with his parents. With this one sale, his career was on an entirely new trajectory. And for me, in a job where so much of my time was spent surviving cutthroat politics and producing mediocre ideas, helping Mike succeed was really gratifying. I realized then that I wanted to focus on pitching, not production.

A year later, I left my executive job and started my own company, also called Good in a Room, to help writers and directors with quality ideas get the attention and financing they deserve. Then I did an interview with National Public Radio and I started getting some remarkable calls. A fashion designer wanted help bringing out his summer collection. A marketing exec wanted to get promoted to VP. A financial advisor wanted to find new clients and expand her business.

Soon enough, my non-Hollywood clients were landing million-dollar accounts, doubling their client rosters, launching successful small businesses, increasing their revenue, and getting promoted. Sure, some of my clients were skeptical at first. William, for example, was a sixty-something financial advisor from Texas. We met at the Merrill Lynch campus in New Jersey. I was there to give the concluding presentation at the annual conference for top producers.

William was already quite successful. He didn’t need to change how he was doing business. As well, he was in a conservative business in a conservative part of the country, so anything that came out of a liberal place such as Hollywood was immediately suspect.

Still, he wanted to take his business to the next level, and he was smart enough to realize that unless he wanted to simply put in more hours and work harder, he was going to have to try something new. I consulted with him the next morning before we went to the airport and suggested that he modify his standard approach in a few significant ways. He was doubtful, but he said he’d give it a shot when he got back to Texas.

When I landed in LA, William had already left me a message. Turns out the guy sitting next to him on the plane had just sold his business and needed a financial advisor he could trust. Rather than trying to “sell” him, as so many financial advisors do, my client practiced the Good in a Room techniques and signed him rather effortlessly.

Meeting a client on a plane is practically a cliché (though in reality, it doesn’t happen very often), and all of the credit belongs to William. Still, the idea that a sixty-something financial advisor in conservative Texas could, with one consultation, master and successfully apply what works for thirty-something writers in liberal Los Angeles? Very cool.

Whether you work in Hollywood or not, the fact is that selling ideas is really difficult to do. The reason the pitching secrets of the most successful writers and directors are relevant is that these people have evolved an advanced method for selling ideas.

Whether you’re a screenwriter, a journalist with an idea for a story, an entrepreneur with a business plan, an inventor with a blueprint, or a manager with an innovative solution, if you want other people to invest their time, energy, and money in your idea, you face an uphill battle.

First, ideas aren’t tangible–no one can kick the tires of your idea. Second, ideas aren’t quantifiable–the decision maker can’t reliably estimate the value of your idea in monetary terms. As my boss at MGM used to say, “If we knew which ideas would be hits, we would only make hits.” Third, ideas are risky–there can be millions of dollars on the line and reputations at stake when a buyer says yes to an idea. Fourth, people who buy ideas hear so many pitches that getting their attention and actually convincing them is exceptionally difficult. Finally, the more original your idea is, the tougher it is to pitch effectively. Any groundbreaking idea will be harder to sell simply because there isn’t a precedent to show it will work.

As risks increase and buyers become more difficult to persuade, people who sell ideas must clear an even higher bar. We must get in the right rooms with the right people. We need a comprehensive strategy and the most advanced tactics. Then we can present ourselves and our ideas with confidence.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 271 pages
  • Publisher: Currency/Doubleday; 1 edition (March 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385520433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385520430
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #303,603 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stephanie Palmer helps creative people learn to pitch ideas and sell their projects.

Stephanie founded Good in a Room in 2005 and is the author of the book Good in a Room (Random House, 2008). She has been featured on The Today Show on NBC, The Early Show on CBS, KTLA, Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio and in Inc, Atlantic, Variety, Script and Speaker magazines.

She has led workshops for organizations including Merrill Lynch, Warner Brothers, UCLA, USC, American Film Market, National Speaker's Association Graduate School, Asia Media Festival, International Creativity Conference, The Screenwriting Expo and The Great American PitchFest.

Previously, Stephanie was the Director of Creative Affairs for MGM where she supervised the acquisition, development and production of feature films. Some of her projects included 21, Legally Blonde, Be Cool, The Brothers Grimm, Agent Cody Banks, Agent Cody Banks 2, A Guy Thing and Good Boy. The Hollywood Reporter named her one of the "Top 35 Executives Under 35." She is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and lives with her husband and son in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is a strategy guide for people selling a project, product or even themselves. It gives suggestions for getting into a room (landing a meeting with a buyer or employer), staying there (keeping them interested in you or your project) and getting out (following up without being annoying). Where this book really shines for me is in its specific and real-world suggestions. I liked that the author wasn't heavy on theory but instead focused on her years of experience at the other end of the table. In thousands of meetings, she was the buyer listening to people pitch their screenplays, projects or resumes. From that experience she distills the essence of what works and why, including some of the disastrous (and funny) ways you can self-destruct and how to avoid them.

Here are just a few specific areas that I thought were really practical:

1. The chapter on networking is unique in its suggestion that you STOP networking. Or at least, stop networking the way 95% of your competition does it. The author's suggestions make networking sound fun and productive and were refreshing for those of us who just aren't very good at self-promotion.

2. The section on "purposely non-specific phrases" alone is worth the cover price. This section helps you design phrases that describe you or your product in such a way that both retain the right amount of mystery and lead to a dialogue with the buyer that allows you to reel him or her in. Most of us assume more detail is better when describing the thing we're trying to sell. The author suggests going the opposite direction to great effect.

3. What's your name? What do you do? Two very simple questions we've all answered a million times.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By R. B. Ripley on March 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Each of us has sat through an important meeting wanting a specific outcome but feeling unable to steer the meeting in the desired direction. Those kinds of meetings keep us up at night, replaying over and over in our minds what we might have done differently. Stephanie Palmer's Good in a Room takes the guesswork (and hopework!) out of these meetings.

Without resorting to recycled corporate clichés, jargon or false `pump-you-up' tactics, Ms. Palmer uses down-to-earth language ("What's the world's most dangerous meeting question?"), insightful exercises ("Square One") and practical techniques ("How to ask great questions").

By walking me through example case studies, important and effective (and straightforward!) exercises and by debunking several commonly held myths, Good in a Room provided me with a pragmatic framework on which I am already positively developing my own unique approach, refining how I interact with potential business partners before, during and after meetings.

By the end of the book, anyone who truly wants a higher percentage of success in meetings, negotiations, sales or network building will have an arsenal of techniques at their disposal. Whatever industry in which you work, novice or advanced, if success ultimately hinges on your ability to "sell" your ideas (and yourself!), then Good in a Room is an invaluable resource.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Michael P. Maslanka on March 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Palmer was in the movie business and she uses what she learned and applies it for you and me. Her advice is counter to lots of what we read. Drop the elevator speech---too needy, too much the slap on the back, let's do business model. Instead use a teaser(a brief and sometimes cyrptic description) and follow up---if interest is shown---with the trailer, a longer piece. She gives examples on how to develop each. Also forget networking---find people to build relationships with. She also has annotated examples of emails to prospects and contacts showing the wrong way and the right way to ask for information and meetings. And she tells us not to try and show off when meeting a prospect and impressing them with how smart we are or think we are.It is about them, not us. All good stuff. Let the curtain rise, and the show begin.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Leanne Magliba on March 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
While I live in an area loaded with people that are obsessed with show business - I don't work in the business. While I'm sure this book helps in that context I found it full of useful tips that will help me change the way I approach sales. This is not a book full of the same boring platitudes (e.g., send out an agenda before a meeting to make it more effective, go to networking events and give everyone your business card) but actual insight as to the dynamics of meetings (and of selling). If you want to get more of what you want from the people you meet with - read this book!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Georgy S. Thomas on March 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Book Review by Georgy S Thomas

Stephanie Palmer is a former Director of Creative Affairs at Hollywood's MGM studios. The title of the book is drawn from a Hollywood term used for people who excel at pitching in high-stakes meetings. The author believes that the strategies and tactics people use to sell their ideas in Hollywood work everywhere in the business world.
This `How-To' book is an easy read and stands apart from the usual run-of-the-mill self-help books incorporating charts and diagrams with arrows going hither and thither in the quest to deliver the `magic formula to unlock your hidden potential'. Indeed, Stephanie aims her darts at a few of the prevailing shibboleths like elevator pitch, networking 24x7, confidence through affirmation of willpower and the usefulness of PowerPoint presentations.
The book is written from a feminine perspective and some of the advices like act dumb to build rapport, subordinate yourself to the buyer, always pick up the tab while entertaining VIP contacts etc., may have more of an appeal for women. Men should, therefore, learn to pick and choose what's useful for them from the book which is, nevertheless, filled with invaluable tips and insights to help your idea prevail.
After listing out the importance of knowledge (``it's what you know that helps you develop relationships with whom you know''), she quickly expands on the concept of Square One, which is a series of three questions (``What do I want?'', ``What do they want?'', ``What do they expect?'') which helps one prepare a meeting strategy. Square One is also where you return when you are confused or unsure. The answer to the first question is primarily to get the buyer to agree to one (and only one) request.
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