“Doug TenNapel can pitch.” I’ve heard this phrase more than a handful of times and while I don’t take compliments well, I get a little charge every time I hear it, not because I doubt my ability to pitch, but because I know where I came from.
I have two qualities that conflict in that I’m both an introvert and a class clown. I see this dual-attribute in many kids we see putting on a show in front of people, my son included. I suspect that people who perform for others or draw attention to themselves are seeking some form of social validation. In many ways, we all want that. Most people like the sound of their own name spoken by another. That’s something deep in us where we enter into a relationship any time someone is addressing us. Given I believe that loneliness is one of the most gnawing form of torment one can experience, we must get relief when we get attention.
Which came first? The clown or the introvert? In my case, I can remember being shy or uncomfortable around others before I started doing and saying things that got attention. So I assume the shyness or introversion came first. Most public speakers didn’t become comfortable until they regularly spoke in public. So we’re all naturally shy or uncomfortable when addressing an audience. Like any skill, speaking in public takes some more practice to gain the skills than others.
But one thing happened that kept me from being a wallflower forever. There was a time when I could get away from being noticed, when I could turn off the performance switch and disappear when I really wanted. Then in tenth grade I great to a height of 6’8″. My life of disappearing was gone forever. Ever see video footage of criminals in ski masks holding up a mini-market? They’re never 6’8″ because they’d be pretty easy to find in a line up of suspects. One can’t height when one sticks out more than just about anyone else.
When I went to college, being an art major was a natural choice. Part of my studies included not just painting and creating abstract art, but having to defend it during a critique of my peers. I had to present cogent reasons why the art was legit, and that too helped me become a better public speaker. Little did I know that step-by-step my life experiences were training me to be comfortable with speaking to a room that would be the key to the greatest successes in my career.
By the time I got my first video game job I was frustrated with not being able to work on my own ideas. I knew there wasn’t anything in the natural course of events that would lead a video game company to just magically make one of my ideas so I had to make it happen. I pitched game ideas at every company that hired me to animate. I’ve long believed that nearly everything we do is a form of pitch from marriage proposals to job interviews to explaining yourself to the cop who just pulled you over. You have an idea and you pitch it. It amazed me how successful I was with my earliest pitches and it was largely due to desperate love of a gaming idea I believed in not my own comfort with public speaking that drove me.
When asking why Carl Sagan was so passionate about science he said, “When you’re in love you want to tell the world.” That’s how I feel about the things I pitch, I love the idea so much that I have to tell someone about it, and many times the pitch is the only way those ideas are expressed, because so many of my pitches are turned down before any one of them is picked up.
Here’s a pic of me pitching a Nickelodeon short back in 2007.