The Art Of The Pitch

In April 2021, I had the pleasure of being a guest speaker for Dr. Michael W. Millar’s Nonprofit Music course at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona).

As a required course for Cal Poly Pomona’s music industry majors, the students cover a broad range of topics and my session focused on one of the more interactive sessions in the form of listening to and refining elevator pitches. Specifically, pitches for student’s team projects, all of which are designed around their new and/or proposed arts and culture-based nonprofit.

Learning the art of an effective pitch is something business and entrepreneurism students practice during their academic years but for arts and culture stakeholders, it becomes on the job training.

Consequently, I’m always thrilled to see programs like Dr. Millar’s incorporate this element into their curricula.

Given that the students weren’t informed that I would be writing about this one day, it isn’t appropriate to include any specifics but what I can say is how invigorating it was to watch students approach something with palpable trepidation at the start but exit with considerably higher confidence.  But I did receive the following feedback from Dr. Millar:

“Drew McManus brought his expertise and powerful insights to the Nonprofit Music class for the first time in 2021. Students pitching their nonprofit projects gained substantial focus from his questions and world-class advice. The written student reflections describe a tangible impact from the experience. Wow! We look forward to Drew’s 2022 visit!”

It was a real luxury to have the time to not just provide feedback from first attempts and move on but spend time having each student take multiple cracks at it then point out and reaffirm improvements at each step. An integral part of this process we covered is flexibility, specifically, how to get a sense of who you’re talking to in order to tailor your message accordingly.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a big shout out to Dr. Millar for including a meaningful student feedback component to the course. While that, in and of itself, isn’t unique, what took me aback is the depth of feedback students provided. These weren’t a handful of “what I did last summer” sentences, and I was pleasantly surprised to see pages and pages of highly detailed feedback from student participants.

As a frequent guest speaker, I can say that having that feedback is remarkably helpful when it comes to filtering out unconscious bias in future sessions.  It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the business; you can never anticipate what students will internalize most (good and bad). Consequently, creating an environment where they feel safe to write out their observations fosters a meaningful feedback cycle and I’m grateful to Dr. Millar for not only creating that environment but inviting all his guest speakers access to that feedback.

While I can only speak to my own experience, it was heartening to see the students confirm how much value was assigned to having the opportunity to not just give a pitch but have a safe space to take chances and workshop their approach.

Dr. Millar was kind enough to invite me back for a second year, which happened last night and I’m already looking forward to reading student feedback at the semester’s end. I’ll see what we can share in a future article. In the meantime, I’d like to close this post with a plea to every arts management and music performance degree program to include the art of making an effective pitch something all your graduates learn about.

If you can’t tell someone what you do and why they should care in a matter of minutes, you can only expect our field to slip even further into irrelevance.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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1 thought on “The Art Of The Pitch”

  1. With respect to, “a plea to every arts management and music performance degree program to include the art of making an effective pitch something all your graduates learn about….” one could also add a plea to teach something about basic labor relations, especially to instrumentalists. I certainly was unprepared for this aspect of the job when I joined the orchestra field over forty years ago and, from what I’ve seen, virtually all new players are in the same boat.

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