Before Hollywood producers invest in a movie they meet with screenwriters to find out what the plot is all about. During such meetings screenwriters have only about 3 to 5 minutes to sell their screenplay. But producers actually need less than a minute to get excited about the idea or get bored and decide against it.
They focus on a logline, which is a short sentence explaining what the movie is about. A poor logline usually equals the lack of producers’ interest. If screenwriters are not able to catch producers’ attention during the first few seconds, they walk away defeated even though they may have a great screenplay in their hands.
This approach is not only tied to Hollywood politics. It also applies to all the other business fields. If you want to persuade someone of the value your idea or you simply want to present yourself during an interview, you need to prepare an exciting and straightforward pitch. Something that grabs people’s attention and makes them ask for more. As Lane Shefter Bishop says in his book :
“A logline is literally what will sell your material – a powerfully crafted single sentence that highlights what is most unique about your work.”
The best loglines
Do you remember the 1975 movie Jaws – one of the most iconic thrillers in history? Its logline was simple and captivating. It contained a hero, a problem and a conflict, which left people thrilled about the question: How is the hero going to fight with that gigantic shark? You could summarize the whole context of the movie in one sentence.
“A police chief, with a phobia for open water, battles a gigantic shark with an appetite for swimmers and boat captains, in spite of a greedy town council who demands that the beach stay open.”
What about the iPod? Do you remember how Steve Jobs presented the Apple’s brand new product in 2001? iPod was described as something that allowed you to hold “1,000 songs in your pocket”. One powerful sentence describing a completely new product in an easy and captivating way.
Apple uses that strategy every time they announce any new device. In 2008, they used the phrase “the world’s thinnest notebook” to describe MacBook Air. That sentence was repeated multiple times on their website, during conferences and press releases.
Create your own logline
What about your logline? It’s high time you thought it up. Like a screenwriter selling his work you need to create your own logline just in case someone ask you to tell a few words about yourself. It can happen in any kind of setting, like an interview, a conference, a networking session, a job fair or even during your coffee break.
Your personal logline should answer the basic questions, such as who you are and what you do. I suggest you write those questions down and prepare your answers. It can help you figure out how to explain who you are and what you do to others.
Alex is a software engineer with plenty of experience with fighting the legacy code. He helps companies adjust their outdated platforms to modern standards.
Alex is a team leader who assists companies in building effective distributed teams and solving their communication problems.
Alex is an Agile coach working with software-oriented companies and helping them revolutionize their inefficient development process.
Alex is a project manager with deep technical knowledge who helps time-challenged projects develop into successes.
It’s your career guide
A successful logline not only sells your image as a creative and interesting person but it’s also your guide steering you in the right direction.
“I often say that the logline is sort of a rudder on a boat – keeping writers on course to where they are going (…)”
I suggest you write down your logline first and then pursue your career. It helps you understand what positions, roles and activities you should take in order to bolster up your logline. For instance, if my logline says that I help people dialogue with each other in an easy way and I solve their communication problems, I look for opportunities that support this argument. I don’t take up any position that doesn’t allow me to improve not only my communication skills but also the skills of others. And anytime people ask me to deliver a presentation during a conference I always verify whether its topic actually supports my logline.
Keep it under 140 characters
Your logline should be short and easy to remember. Once you have answers to your logline questions, you should make them shorter. The shorter, the better. The best exercise is to write a post explaining what you do and keep it under 140 characters. In the old version of Twitter people could post messages no longer than 140 characters. Great messages are simple, precise and to the point. To cite Bishop again:
“Most execs just don’t have time to hear an endless plot description (…)”
They know that from 200 screenplays maybe two of them are good. The same rule applies to an interview. Recruiters talk to many candidates each day. If you want to stand out, do something better or just differently than others. Be memorable.
It’s not enough to be a great expert in your field. You can be a skillful engineer, a manager, an accountant or a salesperson but nobody will find it valuable until you explain your excellence in a short and engaging way. It’s like with screenwriters. They can have the best screenplays but if they cannot present their ideas in a short and simple way, producers will not invest their money. Think about it before going to your next interview or before presenting any of your ideas.
If you cannot deliver your pitch in 140 words, that’s fine. It’s not easy to create concise yet meaningful messages. It takes time to learn how to do it. But once you master that skill, you’ll be able to clarify your ideas and stay remembered. It’s just a matter of time. I modify my pitch every few months so it always stays fresh and up to date. That way I also keep improving my pitching skills. You can use the same approach. Good luck!
 Lane Shefter Bishop. (2016). Sell Your Story in A Single Sentence: Advice from the Front Lines of Hollywood. Countryman Press.