Cold Calling To Pitch Your Show

First off, my apologies for not posting last month. I was working my tail off, not managing time very well, and thus neglected to write anything. I’m back with a hopefully helpful entry.

Do you call campuses and venues to ask them to book your show? If you do, great! In that case, you don’t need to read this post.

If, on the other hand, you email people because the thought of cold calling them fills you with dread, I hope this blog entry will help you to bust through your aversion and proceed with courage, which will develop your confidence, which will ultimately lead to bookings!

Many of us already know, per the experts: when it comes to sales, phone calls are more effective than written correspondence.

That doesn’t mean we ever want to follow the experts’s advice.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I booked my first solo show at most venues via email. The liaisons and I may have spoken on the phone as the performance dates neared, but my initial outreach was always via email for five-plus years.

This was because I was chicken.

Cuz cold calling sucks! Right?

Then, after the 2016 US presidential election, I did a lot of phone banking. This was frightening—both the calling and the result of that election…which was why I was calling people.

I was so scared of phoning total strangers that I began by calling only five people per day, and if no one picked up, so be it.

Predictably, it became easier over time. Most people were quite cordial if they picked up the phone.

You know how these things go: if it’s not life or death, we can usually get used to the discomfort around the scary thing and then make progress as the fear dissipates, even if it never disappears completely.

You’d think I would have applied this knowledge to the sales pitches for my show—if not when I first began touring it, then at least after all the phone banking. You’d think I would have started calling colleges and presenters by January 2017, right?

Nope.

I hate sales.

If I have to do it, and I have to for the show, the film of the show, and my workshops, then I want it to be not scary or even awkward.

Hence: email.

When I finally garnered the courage to make calls, which was over five years (!) after the show started touring, I still timed it in a way that would make rejection less painful. I waited until right before I retired the show, when there were only a few months left for people to book it.

It was the ol’ Only Be Vulnerable Right Before You Leave Forever (OBVRBYLF) strategy.

Ah, I know it well. Maybe I’ll write a show based on it.

Anyway, this past spring I called 17 or so people on college campuses—people whom I’ve emailed individually and mass e-blasted for years. I followed up with an email message, and lo and behold: several people responded and two expressed real interest!

Those calls did not ultimately lead to bookings, mainly due to scheduling. Campuses usually book guest artists at least three months in advance, and normally six to nine months in advance.

I made the calls four months before the show’s retirement date and only two months before the semester ended.

OBVRBYLF, indeed.

I’m nevertheless glad I made those calls, because it boosted my confidence. Plus, one of the people I called said our schedules weren’t compatible but asked what I was planning to do after I retired the show. They wanted to know if I might be available as a keynote or guest speaker at a conference instead?

Of course I said yes.

Now I can follow up with all of those people about the film of the show. I’m segueing from performing it to doing talk-backs after screenings of it.

Meanwhile, I recently called around 30 conference organizers to pitch the film, and was invited to screen it at three conferences!

So the experts are right: calling works.

Perhaps ultimatums work, too. Maybe another reason the college folks responded to my follow-up emails in the spring was because of the looming deadline of retirement.

In any case, I hope this galvanizes you to start making calls if you haven’t yet. Some tips:

1. Before you make the first call:

  • pour yourself a favorite non-alcoholic beverage
  • have a snack if you’re hungry
  • do some tongue twisters
  • read the script aloud before calling
  • do a very short body-scan meditation
  • stretch any area that’s stiff
  • have a funny YouTube video or comforting image or inspiring quote at the ready on your computer screen for right after the call
  • sip some of that lovely beverage
  • remember that you’re offering something valuable: the transformative power of theatre

…and make the call.

2. As you make more calls, reward yourself after each one, and then reward yourself with something more meaningful after finishing your calls for the day!

3. Below these tips are two cold calling scripts you can use as templates and edit as you see fit. One is for people who pick up the phone, and one is for voicemail. You’ll see that the first one includes a request to schedule a second call.

Of course, when potential leads pick up the phone, they might not want to schedule a follow-up conversation with you. They might say they’ll respond to your follow-up email if they’re interested. That’s fine. It doesn’t hurt to ask about calling again, but don’t be devastated if they say they would rather correspond via email from now on.

4. The main thing is that you cold called a potential booker, and you must, must, must acknowledge yourself for doing the brave thing. (See tip #2.)

Remember: hearing your voice helps people to picture a real human being with feelings and courage and ambition, and this could help them to take your pitch more seriously.

If you get an awkward or brusque rejection, still pat yourself on the back, breathe deeply, and watch the funny video or look at the comforting image or inspiring quote on your computer screen. You’ve earned that reward or pick-me-up.

I think you’ll find, as I did in November 2016 when I was calling total strangers in Louisiana (I’m in California), that most people are cordial when they receive a phone call, no matter what their answer is.

This is especially true when you’re proposing something good and worthy: your art and craft and expertise and humanity…and a great story.

Good luck and may you book book book!

******

PHONE SCRIPT — when you get the person on the phone

Hello, may I speak with [contact’s first name]? Hi, I’m ______, creator of [title of show], my one-[man/woman/person] show that tells the story of [very brief description of show, perhaps including a logline].

I’m calling to propose the show for your [organization/campus/office/club] because it’s a great springboard for discussion about [topic(s)].

The show has received rave reviews and is the only solo show that addresses [topic] via [unusual perspective, theatrical genre, etc.].

[Mention if it won any awards and if it has been to festivals, conferences, college campuses, etc.]

I’d like to ask if you might be interested in hosting the show with a talk-back afterwards at [campus/theatre/etc.]?

[If they say yes or maybe:] Great! I’ll email you a link to the show’s website plus a pdf of the Press Kit. What’s the best email address to reach you? And to confirm, that’s [spell it out]?

Great. Can we put our next conversation on the calendar for a convenient time during the week of [date 2 weeks later], which is two weeks from now?

And what time is best for you?

My name again is ______. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions. You’ll receive an email from me shortly with my contact info.

Thanks! I look forward to speaking with you in a couple of weeks.

******

PHONE SCRIPT — when you get the person’s voicemail

Hello, [contact’s first name]. I’m ______, creator of [title of show], my one-[man/woman/person] show that tells the story of [very brief description of show, perhaps including a logline].

I’m calling to propose the show for your [organization/campus/office/club] because it’s a great springboard for discussion about [topic(s)].

The show aims to both entertain and educate. It has received rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. It’s the only solo show that addresses [topic] via [unusual perspective, theatrical genre, etc.]. [Mention if it won any awards.]

At your earliest convenience, I’d like to speak with you about how we can work together to bring [title of show] to [organization/campus/office/club].

You can reach me at [phone number]. That’s [phone number]. I’ll also be sending you an email with my contact information and links to the show’s website with the trailer and reviews.

Again, this is ______ with [title of show]. I look forward to hearing from you.

[Edited 9/3/19, LL.]


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