Most sales professionals have a "capabilities presentation" ready to go, in the form of a PowerPoint slides that tell story of their company and what it can do for the customer—in that order.
For example, most standard capabilities presentations begin with the founding of the company and how long they’ve been in business. When was the last time a customer asked you that question?
Who you are is of primary importance to customers when they think you have the solution and want to know you can deliver on your promises.
Start with what you can do for them; then they’ll care about your story.
For thousands of years, the masters of rhetoric have worked under the assumption that there are 5 canons, or principles, of effective rhetoric:
- Inventio (invention) - finding the means of arguing your point
- Dispositio (arrangement) - organizing your argument
- Elocutio (style) - diction and phrasing
- Memoria (memory) - use of repetition, catch phrases and other ways to boost people’s retention
- Pronuntiato (delivery) - the volume, emphasis and gestures that make your point
If you pay attention to all 5 of these points, you can’t help but be effective.
G. Christian Jernstedt, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth College, talked about some principles of brain science that will be of interest to anyone who has occasion to address groups of people. He was giving a keynote address to the Learning and Brain Conference in Boston this month, and I recommend reading the account of his speech, because it’s fascinating. But I want to discuss one of his principles because it put me in mind of some presentation tips.
“The brain is modular,” he said, meaning there are many locations within it where processing occurs, often simultaneously. This may seem to support the idea that human beings are capable of multitasking, but Jernstedt says the opposite is true, because the consciousness is only one module. You can perform many tasks at the same time unconsciously, but only one task at a time can occupy the consciousness. This, he says, is why we often get good ideas in the shower. When you’re working on a problem, your brain generally solves it within a module that is outside of your consciousness module. It then informs you about the solution when your consciousness focuses on something else, like a shower. To me, the modular principle suggests several presentation tips, such as give the audience only one thing to focus on at a time.
One of the presentation tips we give in our presentation skills courses is to “clear the news” whenever you put up a new slide. As soon as your slide goes up, tell the audience what is on it. If it’s a set of bullet points, for example, go through the points one by one, before you provide any detail. Look at the slide, which focuses the audience’s attention on it. Read it silently, then turn back to the audience and face them to recapture their attention. Then say what you just read. Do this bullet by bullet.
When you process each slide this way, it won’t be sitting up there tempting audience attention away from you. You have made the slide old news, and they can return to you as the main focus of their consciousness. Jernstedt posed an analogous situation in his speech. He said to imagine being asked to take a test alone in a room with a bowl of Oreo cookies on the table. You’re told not to eat any of the cookies. "Your score is terrible," he said. "You're devoting too much cognitive capacity to that thought. That's why we can't talk on a cell phone and drive." In terms of presentation tips, it’s also why we can’t focus on a speaker when there is new information in front of us.
Another of the presentation tips that come from this principle has to do with handouts. Don’t pass around handouts when you’re trying to speak. Handouts are new information, and they will capture the attention of audience members, which displaces you from the consciousness module. Give them the handouts after the presentation.
Here’s another presentation tips about handouts. Try to avoid using handouts altogether in a teleconference or a webinar. For a while there, it was the style to send PDF files to participants ahead of a teleconference, so they could print them out and follow along. But in a teleconference or a webinar, you can’t rely on your presence to focus the attention of the audience, so focus it on their screens. Because you don’t have a physical presence, you’re already at something of a disadvantage in a virtual presentation. So if you have to show them anything, show it via the web.
If you find these presentation tips useful, consider signing up for Communispond’s email newsletter, The Echo. It delivers presentation tips and advice on communication, distilled from our more than 40 years of helping organizations with high-performance communication, and it gives them weekly.
In our book, The Full Force of Your Ideas - Mastering the Science of Persuasion, we outline 9 principles of persuasion. Our first principle is: every point of view is reasonable to the person holding it. What does this mean for sales people?
Stated simply, this means that if you lose a deal, or are competing against an incumbent provider, it’s because your prospect chose to do something else. Rather than question their sanity, take the time to find out what caused the decision in the first place.
The information you get will be critical in meeting their needs next time.
How many of us have answered a simple question with a long, rambling answer? One way to avoid this is to practice answering in a single sentence.
What’s a good reason to simplify? The exercise of boiling an answer down helps you focus on your most important message. If you can give a one-sentence answer in practice (don’t worry about how long it takes you to come up with it), you’ll be less likely to over-explain or ramble when faced with that question in your important presentations.
That's just another reason that real practice, not simply re-reading your notes, is critical to success when the stakes are high.
The word "boss" entered the English language only 200 years ago. The first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary explains the word: "An American equivalent of 'master' in the sense of employer of labour; applied also to a business manager, or anyone who has a right to give orders."
It came from the Dutch word baas, meaning “master.” I suspect the Americans of the early 19th century were uncomfortable addressing anyone as “master,” and appropriated the Dutch word so they wouldn’t need to. But how the word got into the language is less important than how its meaning has changed in a mere 200 years. The modern boss may technically have a “right to give orders,” but does anyone outside of the armed forces actually do that anymore?
The truth is, the word “boss” was born in a time when business organizations were authoritarian, and it comes to us as a kind of artifact of a bygone era. In most work situations today, giving an order is a boss’s line of last resort. Today, we no longer need bosses. We need leaders, because the work doesn’t get done in response to orders. It gets done as result of guidance, influence, motivation, and inspiration. In other words, as a result of leadership. Susan Peters, the head of human resources for the conglomerate GE, described leadership succinctly in an interview this month in the Economic Times:
“Great leaders have great peer relationships. They know how to leverage the people around them and influence them to help get that work done. I would say they have an ability to articulate the vision of what they want people to do. So they are great communicators, they can inspire people to work. In today's world, with people being so distracted, being a great communicator is actually one of the skills of leadership that has stood the test of time.”
I take this to mean that leaders treat those they lead as peers. I am glad GE and Communispond are on the same page when it comes to leadership. Our Executive Presentation Skills® – Level 2 is all about leadership through communication. Where Executive Presentation Skills® – Level 1 teaches confidence, gesturing, and voice control, Level 2 teaches learners to apply those skills to high-stakes situations: leading discussions, handling challenging people, maximizing the value of handouts, or presenting as a team. Today, the workplace is all about persuasion.
Here’s why you should pay attention to whatever a GE executive says about leadership. In 2009, researchers at the Ivey School of Business of the University of Western Ontario showed that a publicly traded company hiring an outsider as CEO gets a disproportionate return in the stock market simply by announcing the appointment of a CEO with GE experience. What they were measuring, of course, was GE’s reputation in the business world as an incubator of effective leaders.
If you have any interest in leadership training, I recommend visiting the Economic Times and reading the full interview with Peters.
How does her vision of leadership square with yours? Let us know in the comments.
It's a small courtesy, but an important one. Turn off your cell phone before going into the customer's office. This eliminates cell phone interruptions and allows you to focus your whole attention on the customer in front of you. You’ll also avoid the temptation to look at your phone to see who else is calling you.
Many sales people make a show of turning off their cell phones in front of the customer to show they are focusing on them, and possibly cue the customer to do the same. While that can be effective, most customers know exactly what you’re doing. You could also get a call before you’ve had a chance to turn it off.
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, nothing is more important to new MBAs than their ability to communicate, both orally and in writing.
Even for those of us whose college days are well behind us, here’s a quote from the article we can all take to heart: "Students seem to think a better grade is assigned based on the number of slides in a presentation," says one recruiter. "In real life, you have 10 minutes to present to management. If you can't get the whole story in that time on two or three slides, you're dead in your career."
Today's post is about a conundrum in persuasive dialogue. A recent study reported in Psychological Science suggests that eye contact may not be as important as we have always thought in persuasion attempts. The article, “In The Eye of the Beholder: Eye Contact Increases Resistance to Persuasion,” by four researchers from the University of Freiburg, University of British Columbia, and Harvard University, was based on experiments in which the researchers used eye-tracking technology on subjects watching videos of people attempting persuasion. They believe their experiments showed that when listeners look directly into the eyes of a speaker, it increases their resistance to attitude change in the direction the speaker is advocating.
The researchers ran two experiments. In each, they asked groups of students to watch videos of people making persuasive speeches. They used eye-tracking software to see exactly what the students were watching from moment to moment and administered questionnaires before and after to discover any change in attitude. What they found was that students who looked at the speakers’ eyes the most developed the most resistance to the speakers’ point of view. The effect was most pronounced when they looked directly in the speakers’ eyes, and when they were already ill-disposed to the viewpoint.
Like everyone else who teaches (or has ever taught) persuasion, we at Communispond teach students in our Persuasive Dialogue™, Socratic Selling Skills®, and Executive Presentation Skills® courses to seek eye contact when they are trying to persuade an audience of any size. This new research, which you will probably be reading about all over the web, will not change our approach. Here’s why.
The new research comes out of the old model of persuasion: a speaker who manipulates an audience with charisma and rhetorical tricks. The old model views persuasion as just a smoother or more subtle version of argument. But the Communispond model of persuasion is based on the audience, not the speaker. We don’t believe you can ever argue (or even sweet-talk) someone into an opinion. Persuasive dialogue takes place when the speaker understands the goals of the audience and aligns them with the desired position. That is to say, persuasion is a cooperative process: the audience and the speaker must work together to produce a commitment.
It is true, as the researchers found, that when someone starts out disagreeing with you, and you establish eye contact, you are more likely to create resistance. That’s because eye contact, when used in the context of disagreement, is intimidating. That was, in fact, the original hypothesis this new research was based on: “Eye contact plays an important role in the competitive or hostile encounters of many species. For example, dogs stare opponents in the eye during dominance contests. In primates, direct eye gaze is a reliable activator of the fight-or-flight response. In humans, viewing an angry expression that is combined with direct gaze activates the amygdala, a brain region responsive to potential threats.” (Citations removed.) But when you are engaging in persuasive dialogue with an audience in agreement or in a neutral position, eye contact is less threatening than it is inviting.
Persuasion in the Communispond model means working together. Working together requires trust, and trust requires eye contact. Persuasive dialogue without eye contact is a contradiction. There’s a reason when someone doesn’t trust you, they will say, “Look me in the eye and say that.”
So we will continue to advise learners to seek eye contact in persuasive dialogue, and we will continue to teach them ways to minimize or eliminate the disagreements that turn that eye contact into a threat.
A study of e-mail readers by Email Labs shows what makes people take action on electronic marketing efforts.
We thought you might want to consider these while you’re prospecting so hard:
- Discounts or money off - 27%
- General interest in product - 24%
- Prize drawing - 20%
- Brand familiarity - 20%
- Attractive images - 5%
- Humor - 4%
What is it about your prospecting e-mails that gets your customers’ attention?