Pitching Your Project? Why Answering the Question Perfectly is a Terrible Idea

You have a creative project you are aching to do.

You are holding an application for a grant that could fund this and launch your career. Or, you are standing next to a funder who might be your next investor.

You are dreaming of walking into your studio every morning ready to work on something you are passionate about bringing into the world, your cup of coffee by your side, all of your materials neatly arranged, everything fully funded so all you have to do is, be creative.

You blink at the first question. And your mind goes blank after seeing the three daunting words:

Describe your project

This is where you get up and look out the window, maybe wander in the kitchen to get something to munch on, anything but face the overwhelming task of putting into words everything you want to do.

Why is this so difficult to do?

Here’s a tip: that question is too big to answer well and we have no idea where to start.

Here’s another tip: answering this question is a terrible idea.

People don’t know how to ask for what they want

Funders, investors, foundations, strangers in elevators will ask the same questions. They want to know what you do, they want information they can understand. The truth is, what they really want is not always what they ask for.

When someone asks you about your project, you immediately think of the best way to describe all of the amazing things that are going on in your work, the infinite interesting little details, how everyone loves it and wants more, more, more, which is why you are killing yourself with this application. This is do or die, the place you have to make your case as the very best at what you do.

The truth is, people can’t really hear any of that until you give them the answer they really want but didn’t ask for.

They want to know on a much deeper level if you are a person they can trust. They want to know if they like you as another human being. They want to feel something.

“But they are asking for information,” you say, pointing at the question. “Not a date.”

You have all had an experience talking to someone and felt your attention drifting, you start getting fidgety and wonder how the hell you got yourself into a conversation with this person. I am sure this person was doing most of the talking, mostly about herself thinking you are simply fascinated when in reality, you are just a big ear.

You haven’t been seen. You haven’t been given a space to jump in and be a part of the dialogue. You don’t matter. So you detach and come up with some polite excuse and slink out the door.

Answer the unasked question

Tell them what you care about, what you are passionate about seeing in the world. People are fascinated more by what you are passionate about than what you are doing. If your work is about helping every immigrant child grow up to become a happy, confident citizen or you create music to banish the silence that separates us, say that. Give us a place to see a child we know or once were as a happy person. Let us remember the feeling of connecting with other people by listening to a song.

Instead of information, give an answer that inspires them

Something happens when you leap frog over the obvious question and address the better question. People invest themselves emotionally because you have made them feel something. People listen because what you say matters to them and they see that you care deeply about doing work that makes a difference for the people that are important to both of you.

People who care do not need to be convinced. These are your people.

Care deeply

How you show up in the world is very important. How you care about the world is even more important.

I was late to an interview. On my way in, I got stopped just outside the building by a construction vehicle blocking the door. Through the window I could see the person waiting for me. He was looking at the plants on the window ledge and every so often, he would look up at the sky turning each plant carefully to face the sun.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” I said.

“No worries,” he smiled and sat down. The interview went well. He presented himself as a good candidate for the job and I offered him the job.

What convinced me was not what he said as much as what he did. I want to be around people who care. Especially when no one is looking.

Remember these key mindsets when you start crafting your pitch or your proposal. They can make a huge difference in how someone responds to what you have to say. Better to be the one they remember than the one with all the answers.

A Better Use of Your Talent

This morning I sat at my desk for 4 hours.

I would like to say that I wrote 1,000 words of perfect prose and took care of my corner of the universe with Godlike efficiency. This image comes closer to what actually happened.

It also gives you a better idea of what kinds of skills I value and that having a quirky sense of humor helps, or doesn’t, depending on what you are doing. I like to think that we have a wonderful ability to transfer and transform skills to help us get through life. For example, learning how to play all 32 Beethoven Sonatas at an early age has given me the superhuman ability to sit on hard surfaces for hours. Throw in focus and a dismal social life and voila! a budding pianist is born. This is now the secret to my ability to knock out all kinds of paperwork and projects quickly on a different kind of keyboard.

The jury is still out on how this particular skill translate into my life.

Reintention

I am overjoyed that it is not my job to be responsible for creating new stuff. If it was up to me to invent the radio, stretch velveteen or the piano, the world would be a dark and terrible place. All the good stories have already been written. There is nothing new under the sun. According to Mark Twain, Adam was the only man who could say something good knowing nobody had said it before.

Which leaves everyone who has a creative soul a very different purpose. Yes, you are the sum of every response, thought, idea and emotion of your life walking this earth and the art you make is an expression of all of that. But the more noble reintention of your creative work is that of connecting other people, the rest of the world, with those stories that have already been told. How you tell those stories is your creative work, how you arrange, select, restitch and reshape a story as old as time but as true for people today as it was for Adam is your art whether that is a book, a dance or a mural that covers the side of a skyscraper.

Be a maestro by holding up a mirror.

The Strange Life of a Handmade Gift

Sky’s gloves

This year, I have a new left hip. 

That is 2 pounds of titanium and porcelain settling into my body and taking its sweet time doing it.

Which means no driving or shopping for me this holiday season. Which means I get to pick up my knitting needles and make something for my loved ones.  The ones who will not be getting gift certificates or other impersonal yet so convenient online gifts simply because I am going to give them a truly personal and handmade present.

I am persistent, not stubborn which something I am accused of often. Making things by hand takes a lot of time, which I happen to have a lot of at the moment, but still, you could be doing other things. 

Even when the gifts I’ve made end up in strange places, I keep on knitting.

Take this text message conversation I had recently with my son for example:

Hey mom, how do I get bloodstains out the gloves

Why do I always get the weirdo questions? Soak them in either seltzer or white vinegar. And no more acts of violence while wearing mommy’s gloves!

Thanks!! And no promises

How are your gloves?

Haven’t washed them yet

But I still wear them everyday

WHAAAT????

I have finals! No time for glove cleaning 🙁

OK we’ll have a post final glove decontamination activity!

Franco stole my gloves and washed dishes with them

NOOOOOOO!!!!! Are they clean? The gloves, not the dishes

They better be

He only did it for groupme likes

What is that?

A way to measure how cool u are in the frat

He better win. I mean, we better win!

Don’t take his side

Mom!!! I lost the gloves!!! can you please make me another pair

And the saga oft he gloves continues…well, OK

Nevermind i found them!!!

Whew!!!!!

Could u make a pair for 2 of my friends? They really want a pair

Reeeaallllly? a pair of gloves knit by you Sky’s mommy?

They’re so comfy and everyone compliments them

Do I get a video of them wearing them saying how fabulous they are???

Of course!

Dealio! can i make them in a different color like blue?

Yes

Tell them I recommend they avoid bleeding and washing dishes with them

With great gloves comes great responsibilities

Amen and may the force be with you

What’s In Your Pockabook?

the Kelly bag

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

“The bag is at once, the simplest, the most complicated and the most emotion laden of accessories… because in one of its key manifestations, the handbag, it can be deeply expressive of a woman’s life – serving as a companion, a receptacle of secrets, a status object and a means of self display.”

from Fifty Bags That Changed the World: Design Museum Fifty by Robert Anderson

Well, that certainly makes everything in my bag much more significant so I am only going to have things in mine that are the best representation of me, and so should you.

I discovered the mysteries of a woman’s handbag with my Jewish babysitter.  Standing on my tiptoes, I watched her clutch her bag, thrust her solid fingers into the deep silky recesses and emerge with a toffee or a shiny nickel for me.

More revealing than her medicine cabinet, which was a formidable cabinet of curiousities, her handbag was a rare peek into her everyday soul. One that was fed by a scramble of assorted candies, cough drops, tissues, a Helena Rubinstein lipstick – always a brilliant red, loose change and bakery string.

I waited for those moments.  The ones where she would peer through her glasses and sigh, “Kindeleh, gib mir mein pockabook.”  And I would stand on my toes to peek into the deep universe of her handbag.  Her pockabook.

Pockabook!

How I longed to have one of my own.

And what would I put in my pockabook?  What precious items, things I wanted near me, things I would feel incomplete leaving the house without?

I consider everything I carry in my bag as urban survival tools.  They are everything I need to navigate my way through my daily jungle.

Here’s what I have in my bag today and why:

  • keys – can’t drive without them
  • wallet – can’t buy coffee or get into buildings in the city without little pieces of plastic with my name and face on them
  • phone – can’t deal with the ridiculous anxiety I get when I don’t have my phone. I know, that’s hardly a good reason but I can’t help it.
  • pencil case – yes, i still carry No. 2 pencils.
  • sketchbook – I love to draw people. And trees and conversations and attitudes.
  • a story to work on – there are always those unexpected snatches of time – sometimes just a few minutes, sometimes a 25 minute train ride – where I can get some thinking and writing done.  It adds up.

That’s it.

These are things I carry through my day but they actually carry my artistic vision closer to reality everyday.

Some people carry earphones to listen to music.  I will carry earphones to block out any sounds that distract me from what I am doing.

Some people load up their phones with games and movies to entertain them.  I load up my drawing apps with sketches.

Some people read e books.  I write ebooks.

I carry only what I need to get through my day and to capture it at a moment’s notice.

I am not a carrier of stuff.  I am a gatherer of images.

I do not need toys.  I need tools.

I am not a consumer.  I am a creator.

What are you doing and what is in your pockabook?

 

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Hoong Yee

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.