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Pitch Me Your Day—A Commentary by Ian Ayres ’86

The following commentary was posted on newyorktimes.com on May 14, 2010.

Pitch Me Your Day
By Ian Ayres ’86

There’s a story of a movie pitch meeting where a producer goes into a meeting with the studio head, just says “Eddie Murphy in a dress,” and on the basis of those seven syllables is given millions to make a movie. This YouTube clip spoofs what would happen if pitching came to the family dinner table:

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/14/pitch-me-your-day/  

My teenage kids love this clip in part because a mild version of it happens on an almost nightly basis at our own house – with me playing the role of the movie executive dad.

One of the endemic problems of having teenagers is getting them to talk about their school day. Many parents have had verbatim versions of this non-conversation:

Parent: How was you day?

Child: Fine.

Parent: What happened?

Child: Not Much.

I’ve never asked my kids to pitch me their day. But many a time I have asked them to tell me a story. A story is more than “I got a B+ on my math quiz.” My kids know there has to be two or more people in dialogue and probably a bit of action. Like movie producer dad, I have sometimes rejected my kids’ stories as insufficient. The “tell me a story” trick isn’t quite as good as just chauffeuring my kids around with their friends and listening to what they say to each other, but it beats the heck out of “How was your day?”

By the way, here’s a wonderful clip from Ira Glass, which teaches the art of story telling:

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/14/pitch-me-your-day/  

I find myself using Glass’s basic building blocks – the anecdote, the bait, the moment of reflection – all the time.

I’ve written before about the art of the perfect pitch. And it never ceases to amaze me how few academic can bring themselves to succinctly describe a take-home point of their research. When academics asks one another “What are you working on?” we’re really saying “Tell me a story.” When an academic tells me he’s studying network neutrality or the right to privacy, I yearn to say, like movie executive dad, you’re “wasting my time.” Much better to start with: Thomas Jefferson adjudicated his own election to become President of the United States. Or, mediation can help resolve even seeming intractable disputes that “pit ‘gay rights’ against ‘religious liberty.’” Or, even, buying stock on margin can reduce retirement risk.