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What This Meeting Needs is More Cowbell

For the Pitch Slam event, organizer Bethany Brookshire delivered more than just a panel of six editors from The Washington Post, Undark, Nature and other top-notch publications for participants to pitch live in real-time.

She also injected some true Swiss culture into the event. Before the meeting, Brookshire asked if it was possible to have an “authentic Swiss cowbell” as a timer for the event, in which participants have 1 minute to pitch their best story to the panel.

The SwissTech Convention Center’s head of marketing and sales, Christophe Leyvraz, not only brought a very special cowbell for the event, but also timed it himself with Swiss precision. The bell belongs to his family, which owns a vineyard in the Lavaux region.

It was cast as a special edition to commemorate the Fêtes des Vignerons 2019, a once-in-a-generation festival that celebrates the region’s winemaking. Christophe showed us that the bell was the first to be cast in this series and the bell’s belt depicts a cluster of grapes and the vineyard-dwelling starling bird. He also shared pictures of the enormous stadium, complete with an LED stage floor, which was built for the festival happening a few weeks later in July.

Pitch slam audience members learned what editors look for in a well-crafted pitch, including a simple, clear subject line, a quick writer bio, and a pitch tailored for their publication’s audience. Writers should do their homework on the publication’s history on the topic, should pitch stories rather than topics, and should include a short list of the types of experts or sources that the piece is likely to include (specific names are great, but not necessary at the pitch stage). And, as one editor put it, there’s no excuse not to Google your idea beforehand to see what might have already been written. Also, winning pitches often involved surprises, unintended consequences, counterintuitive ideas, or science that answers burning questions or solves problems.

As Laura Helmuth of The Washington Post said, “If there’s an important question in your pitch and you know the answer, tell me the answer in the pitch. Don’t just give me the question.”

As for the ringing of the dreaded cowbell, most participants avoided it, but the bell gave the event a particularly Swiss flair.

Opinions expressed in the blog posts are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of WCSJ2019

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