Panels & Pitches

Last week in our Act Like A Writer workshop, instructors Jonathan Maberry and Keith Strunk staged mock panels. All of us had a turn sitting on the panel. I never thought I would say this, but it was…fun.

Part of the fun was, of course, because our little group has gotten more at ease with each other, and we felt a measure of safety in being among friends. Had it been a hundred strangers’ eyes staring at us, that might have been a different story!

I’ve never been on a panel before, real or mock. The thing I found most comforting about it was that you are not up there alone. I felt a great deal of support from having others at the table and not because we were familiar with each other—but because we were all in the spotlight together. We were all in the same boat. We were facing the audience together, so for that moment we all became comrades in arms.

In this final week, we did our pitches again—this time standing up in front of the camera with lights and a background! Like a TV shoot, only not as hectic. As I stood, all miked up and waiting, the cameraman started talking to the assembled class about some technique or other to look more natural on camera. All the while I am standing there, sweating under the lights, forgetting to breathe, and generally screaming in my head, “SHUT UP AND FILM ME ALREADY!”

When he did finally say “Action,” I thought I might faint, because I could literally feel the blood pounding through my neck veins. I figured that couldn’t be a good thing. I did finally remember to breathe about halfway through the pitch, which helped somewhat. I finished up, got kudos, and very quickly found a place to sit down!

I haven’t seen the footage yet, but I’m not worried. Why? Because in spite of the blood-pressure spike and lack of oxygen, I did NOT have the same out-of-body experience I had in the first week’s pitch session. I controlled my mouth, rather than simply listening to it babble on without me. I consider this amazing progress in just four weeks!

I learned a ton in the Act Like A Writer workshop, and I would recommend it to anyone who can take it—you can use the tools they give you for a whole spectrum of public and social situations, not only those having to do with writing. I will also be taking it again, closer to when I am going to the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, so I can practice. Until then, I will practice pitching to my toddler. If you can hold a toddler’s attention for 3 minutes, you can enthrall anyone!

I just have to remember to breathe.


  1. The camerman stalled on purpose to force you to try and relax. It worked because you were great on camera. While I don’t think that you always have to expand your comfort zone sometimes it works. Sorry to make you sweat!

  2. Keith Strunk says

    Thanks for sharing your insight about the class, Kerry. It’s very helpful to hear what the experience is like from the participant’s perspective. You’re in good company in terms of the advice you give at the end of your piece. Legendary performer Sophie Tucker’s had similar advice … “The secret to longevity is to keep breathing.”

    • Thanks to you and Jonathan for a great workshop! You guys made it fun, and laughter goes a long way to dispelling nervousness. Plus, everyone in the class was positive and supportive of each other, so it was a safe and empowering atmosphere in which to confront your fears.

  3. Great post!

    It would behoove me to bone up on pitching since I am also going to Phila Writer’s Conference and planning to pitch. What I need to work on doing is relax. I don’t have any children I can pitch to, but if I can work on finding another trick – perhaps imagining I’ve got my balloons along.

    Look forward to seeing you at the conference.

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