When making claims about the effectiveness of their product, many sales professionals don't volunteer how they know their product or service is so good.
Don't wait. You can back up your claims in several ways:
- Factual, third-party evidence
- Your company's expertise and capabilities
- Demos and presentations
- Success stories
Not all prospects want all of them, so choose the method of proof that will be most effective for that prospect and offer it up to them along with your recommendation.
Yes, we've said it before, but it bears repeating. Maintain eye contact with one person for a thought. Pausing and moving onto someone else has a number of benefits:
- You increase the sense of connection with your audience.
- You slow the pace and appear more in control of the situation.
- You eliminate non-words. We usually put the "ums" in there when we're thinking of what to say next. Pause and say nothing instead.
Practicing this one skill will gain you more immediate results than almost any other physical skill.
Studies on the origin of language have been, unfortunately, among the least productive studies of any area of science. Human language is based on speech, and speech by definition leaves no artifacts. Language was spoken for countless generations before it was ever written down and became capable of leaving evidence behind. However, I think that effective speaking skills are less the result of speaking than listening.
So far, what we have to explain the origins of language is a collection of speculations – various hypotheses about whether the first words came from involuntary cries and exclamations, from group work songs, from a desire to disguise the speaker’s thoughts or emotions, or from mimicry of sounds in nature. These ideas are far removed from speaking skills. But what stands out for me is that all of these speculations emphasize self-expression. Why not? They were thought up by human beings, and human beings default to self-expression when thinking about communication. But perhaps speech is less important than comprehension.
Over the past 20 years, work with gorillas and chimpanzees has shown that apes cannot produce speech, but they can be taught to comprehend it. In 1995, psychologist Duane Rumbaugh published a paper in the journal Social Research on his linguistic work with apes. “Research with apes,” he wrote, “has made it very clear that the basis for language is comprehension, not speech.” Who knew that apes’ listening skills would tell us so much about speaking skills?
When you look at communication from the point of view of comprehension rather than speech, it suggests that perhaps the primary emphasis in communication training should be on listening skills. That's certainly not where the emphasis is now. A recent Google search on “listening skills training” got only 19 million hits against the 48 million for “speaking skills training,” or the 721 million for “communication training.”
A standard text on business communication – Mary Munter, Guide to Managerial Communication – shows the relative emphasis of speaking skills and listening skills. It devotes three out of 198 pages to listening. That seems to be pretty standard for textbooks on business communication.
After effective listening, the other important tool in your speaking skills portfolio is knowing your audience. Never give a presentation without first doing an audience analysis. Know them well enough to grasp their needs, desires, and aspirations. If you treat a presentation as nothing more than an opportunity for self-expression, you will never meet the needs of the audience, which means you’ll never persuade them, and you may not even make them understand what you’re trying to say. If you know them, you’re far more likely to empathize with them. I promise you that empathy with the audience – even if it’s an audience of one; no, especially if it’s an audience of one – will increase their comprehension of whatever you say.
We’ve been training people in speaking skills for a long time at Communispond. Whether we are teaching sales professionals to talk less and listen more, or teaching executives to relate to audiences, we’ve learned that comprehension comes before speech in the communication process. That’s why we emphasize listening and audience understanding in our speaking skills programs.
Like beauty, the difference between confidence and arrogance is a matter of perspective. It's important to know the difference, because customers love confidence, but punish an arrogant sales professional.
According to Dictionary.com, confidence is defined as "belief in oneself and one’s powers and abilities". Arrogance defined as "an offensive display of superiority or self-importance".
The key word is "self". If you're crowing about you or your product's superiority, and not mentioning the customer, odds are you're on the wrong side of that line.
When conducting conference calls, it's easy to wonder if anyone's at the other end of the line, or if they're all too busy checking email to really follow your point. Build "check-ins" into your presentation.
When putting your presentation together, build in opportunities to ask for feedback of some kind. It's important that you plan these interactions, because once you're busy presenting, it's tempting to put yourself on auto-pilot to finish your presentation.
By intentionally checking in with participants, you'll be able to judge your progress, keep their attention longer, and achieve better results.
I recently attended a memorial service for the mother of a friend. You don't usually think of a memorial service as an occasion for exercising presentation skills, but something happened there that impressed me. After the formal part of the service was over, members of the audience were invited to make remarks about my friend's late mother, whose name was Marybeth. One person stood up and talked about her for 10 minutes. A second person then stood up and talked for 15 minutes. I really can't remember what either of the first two people said. But a third person came forward, and I can remember his entire speech, for it was only nine words: "Marybeth was the adult we all hope to be."
The moment was electrifying, and at this somber occasion of a memorial service, the audience burst into spontaneous applause. Most of us can count ourselves fortunate if our presentation skills elicit polite applause when it’s expected. But we rarely inspire an audience to spontaneous, unexpected applause. I think that’s because we rarely speak as briefly as we might.
Did you see what I did there? I dramatized an important point with a brief narrative. In other words, I told a story. This is a technique we now include in Communispond’s Executive Presentation Skills® program. The images and emotions I tried to invoke are far more memorable than any number of jargon-laden charts. I tried to do for the concept of brevity what Marybeth’s friend did with the impact of her life on those around her: reduce it to its essence.
There are lots of principled reasons for being brief when exercising your presentation skills: respecting the time of your listeners, improving the efficiency of communication, increasing productivity in the workplace. But the real impact of brevity is in what it does for those who master it. It makes you memorable, it increases your impact, it clarifies and dramatizes what you are trying to say. And, as the case of Marybeth’s friend shows, it makes you stand out among those who haven’t been brief.
The French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal is credited with the first expression of the famous aphorism about letter writing in 1657: “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” But you can find the same quotation, or a variation of it, identified with Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Voltaire, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Winston Churchill, Pliny the Younger, Cato, Cicero, Bill Clinton, and Benjamin Franklin. It is, in other words, such a powerful sentiment that people want to attribute it to anyone they admire.
Pascal’s quotation reminds us of what it takes to be brief: a lot of work. Just think how much effort Marybeth’s friend must have put into his nine-word speech. You can be certain his audience realized it and appreciated it. A new book by Joseph McCormack, Brief: Making a Bigger Impact by Saying Less, offers a program to making brevity second nature. I recommend it if you care about developing your presentation skills. The book is fairly brief.
The Roman poet Ovid had this to say: Take rest, a field that has been rested gives a beautiful crop.
This has two applications to sales people, depending on your situation:
- Give your clients a rest at some point. While you want to prospect every available opportunity, you don’t want to wear your best customers out or appear too needy
- Give yourself a break; exhausted sales people make mistakes.
Take a step back, get some rest and call them again tomorrow.
When you were a kid, did you ever tap out a song on the table with your fingers and have people guess what song you were tapping? Studies show that people guess the correct song less than 25% of the time, even when the tapper was convinced the song was the easiest thing imaginable. What accounted for the difference?
The tappers are singing the song in their heads as they tapped; they had critical information the listener didn't have. The beat made perfect sense. Without that information, it was just one note tapped out in 3/4 or 4/4 time.
Rehearse critical presentations with someone who doesn't know your subject matter as well as you, to ensure you're not leaving out critical information that will help them understand your message.
At Communispond, we train business professionals in effective communication, and we are always on the lookout for ways to improve your chances of persuasion. We ran across one last week, thanks to a blog posting at Influence at Work.
The posting led us to an article in Psychological Science. The article, "Staying the Course: The Option of Doing Nothing and Its Impact on Postchoice Persistence," by Rom Y. Schrift and Jeffrey R. Parker, reported on three experiments that showed people seem to be more thoroughly persuaded in a decision when the original choice includes the option of doing nothing. (Note: the link is to the journal’s table of contents; the article itself is behind a paywall.) This may have implications for effective communication.
The researchers were not investigating effective communication. They were investigating decision making, but I think we can apply their findings to many persuasion situations. In the first experiment, subjects were asked to find words in a word matrix. There were three groups of participants. The first group had the choice of finding the names of capital cities or the names of famous actors. The second group had the choice of finding the names of capital cities, the names of famous actors, or a third option – to not participate. The third group had the choice of finding the names of capital cities or the names of famous actors, plus a third, presumably more difficult, choice: the names of ballet dancers.
The researchers then logged the amount of time participants spent on the task. They found no difference in the time applied by the first group and the third group. But the second group, the one that had the option of not participating (which none of them chose, by the way), worked on the task for considerably longer. So the inclusion of a more difficult choice (i.e., the third group) made no difference in participants’ persistence, but the option to not participate at all did make a difference.
In the second experiment, there were also three groups. The first group had the choice between two tasks, the second group had the choice between two tasks with the additional choice of not participating, and the third group had the choice between two tasks, but before seeing the tasks, they were given the choice to opt in or opt out. The researchers found that the second group was more persistent, and they concluded that the option to not participate is effective in the presence of the other choices. When participants had the chance to opt out before making their choice, it made no difference.
A third experiment generated the same sort of finding. The researchers concluded that self-perception is a major force in determining persistence in a task. “The results suggest that persistence can be increased simply by introducing or highlighting the no-choice option,” wrote the authors.
What does this say about effective communication? The next time you are trying to make a sale or achieve persuasion, offer the other party three choices: choose this, choose that, or do nothing at all. This framework will not help them decide, but it will increase their commitment to whatever choice they make.
When sending radio messages to guided missiles and airplanes, engineers have to account for three kinds of signals—information, data, and noise. Failure to sort one from the other can mean disaster.
What's the difference?
- Information - instructions and other information relevant to the success of the flight
- Data - numbers and raw information without context that has to be translated before it's useful and turned into information
- Noise - electronic signals of no value or relevance to the flight, which can get in the way of clear interpretation of necessary signals
When you communicate with your customers, are you sending noise, data or information?