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Speaking The Language of Influence: 3 Paths To Persuasion

by Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D.

umbrellaThe word “persuasion” has gained a reputation it doesn’t deserve. Many tend to associate it
with advertising, propaganda or downright manipulation. On the contrary, it forms the very
foundation of an ethical sales process. It’s one of the most useful tools available for agents to
help prospects understand the benefits of their products.

You’ll be much more effective with sales if you’ll take the time to learn the three paths to
persuasion, some strategies about when to use each and some techniques that will make you
more effective.

There are only three ways to persuade someone verbally. Regardless of the personality types,
how many subliminal messages you try to plant in your conversation or how many other
pseudo psycho analytical tools you try to use, they’ll all be based on one of these three paths.
The Greek thinker Aristotle discovered them almost 2400 years ago and articulated them in
The Art of Rhetoric. Human nature hasn’t changed during that time and neither have the
principles of how to persuade someone.

The first path is logic. Logic depends on evidence or data plus reasoning. If you want to make the case that a new policy will save money, you’ll need to provide some evidence that it’s been
successful in similar situations. Some forms of logical evidence include statistics, examples, case
studies, analogies and expert testimony.

To be most effective, don’t assume that facts or statistics will speak for themselves. People can
interpret facts in different ways. For example, one person may see a higher deductible policy as
a way to save money, while someone else views it as increasing the burden on the policyholder.
Also, make sure that whomever you’re talking to has enough context to interpret the facts. A
credit score of 720 will make no sense to a prospect unless he realizes that individual credit
scores may range from approximately 330—850.

Finally, remember the adage “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” In
other words, you can’t beat someone over the head with the stick of logic. Some people are
not persuaded by logical argument and you can’t persuade them by browbeating them with how
sensible your position is. Logical argument tends to appeal to those who are detail-oriented
such as accountants, financial planners, engineers and those in technical fields. Recognize this
limitation and be prepared to try something else.

The second path to persuasion is emotion. It’s important to recognize that logic and emotion
are not opposites. After all, isn’t it reasonable to fear the consequences of unhealthy behavior?
So what are some of the things people fear within a financial environment? Physical and
psychological stress, unexpected or unforeseen problems, loss of a job, loss of the ability to
produce income, catastrophic health costs and the ability to provide for long-term care are at
the top.

The opposite of fear is confidence. The more you can do to replace fear with confidence in the
future, the more successful you’ll be in persuading someone. Show them how your suggestions
will solve their problems and anxieties. Emotional appeals must also be used ethically. You
shouldn’t try to make people fear threats that don’t exist and you should only use fear when
you can offer a solution to take it away. Narratives and factual examples are excellent vehicles
for emotional appeals.

The third path to persuasion is credibility. Being credible means both being recognized for your
expertise and being liked. The two are complimentary. An expert who isn’t liked has little
chance of making the sale and the well-liked person who has little knowledge will also be
unsuccessful. Your expertise will come as a result of your education, training and experience.
Prospects and clients expect you to have it. The likeability factor is what will differentiate you.

People like you when they realize you share similar interests, goals and objectives. In other
words, they see you’re on the same team as them. People also like you when they recognize
that you have common dislikes or enemies. The enemy doesn’t have to be a person. It might
be the bureaucracy, a policy or even a regulation. The point is, that when you can demonstrate
similarity, you become more likeable. Help prospects understand that you are an advocate for
them, not your organization.

Which of these three paths is the best? It all depends. It depends on the situation, your
objectives and whom you’re trying to persuade. You can sometimes use a combination or even
all three. The most important thing to remember is to focus on the other person. What you
find persuasive personally won’t always be the case with someone else. Since you’re trying to
persuade that person, you’ll need to orient your communication outward. Focus less on
delivering your message and more on adapting your message to your prospects.

You might even ask someone what she would find persuasive or what it would take for her to
accept your proposal. Ask what facts or evidence it would take to make her change her mind.
That clarifies her thinking, gives you criteria and lays out your groundwork for persuasion.

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Tuning in to the Generational Zeitgeist

by Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D.

While it’s always been true that audiences respond best when your presentation is tuned into
their radio station WIIFT (What’s In It For Them), younger audiences present an increasingly
challenging demographic for today’s presenters. A generational zeitgeist now defines many
audiences you may find yourself presenting to. With four generations (baby boomers,
generation X, generation Y and millennials) present among the working population, it becomes
increasingly difficult to adapt messages to generationally diverse audiences. Success in
presenting to these audiences will depend largely on your ability to adapt your messages to
their frame of reference.

Each generation has its own priority for work/life balance, its own understanding of company
loyalty and its own preference for a medium of communication. We’ve witnessed an evolution
from the letter to the phone call to the email to the text message. Millennials have even
created their own language to provide a shorthand form of communication for text messaging.
This language has drifted over into offline conversation as well. What has become a natural
extension of their communication habits for Millennials has become a foreign language for
earlier generations.

Attempts to create a connection with the audience must take these generational zeitgeists into
account as well. As a baby boomer, I grew up with The Andy Griffith Show and Gilligan’s
Island. I quickly learned that in speaking to younger generations, references to foibles of Barney
Fife were falling upon deaf ears.

We have familiarity with historical events that younger audiences may not share. That means
using historical references and analogies for support of key messages in a presentation may not
be as persuasive for younger audiences. You’re more likely to create a connection with such
audiences by references to popular culture such as movies, songs and television shows.
Although voracious media consumers when it comes to popular culture, their diet of news
pales by comparison. They typically show less interest in current events and are less aware of
newsworthy stories.

Younger people also tend to be less “future-focused.” I’ve seen any number of financial
planners illustrate the fact that if people would start even a modest savings program in their
early twenties and maintain it throughout their working career, they could easily retire as
millionaires. But people in their early twenties seldom prioritize retirement planning. Instead,
they’re focused on issues such as repayment of student loans, buying a home and starting a

The Greek Poet Hesiod wrote: “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are
dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words.
When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present
youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.” It’s a sentiment many might share
today. But you’ll be more successful in getting your message heard if you suspend such
evaluations and focus instead on adapting to the differences.

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How to Make Complex Ideas Easily Understood

There’s no reason presentations, even highly technical presentations, have to put
audiences to sleep or leave them utterly confused. Strategically placing examples
throughout your presentation both reinforces your key messages and adds life to the
material. Statistics and technical data are often the first choice for supporting materials,
but their use in presentations is like adding spice to food. Some adds flavor, but too
much is overwhelming. You don’t want your presentation to become a mere
“infodump.” The next time you’re designing a presentation, consider using one of these
five “proof points” that add a human touch and help complex ideas be more easily

  1. Factual example or narrative. You might think of this proof point as a “mini case
    study.” It could come from a newspaper or magazine article, something that’s been in
    the news or even personal experience. Its purpose is to illustrate the truth of what
    you’re saying by pointing to a similar factual case. An insurance agent might relate the
    story of how one of his clients was saved from financial disaster by wisely purchasing
    health or disability insurance. An attorney might refer to previous cases, or a real estate
    agent might point to successful transactions she’s brokered in particular geographic
  2. Historical example. This proof point relies on an historical fact or anecdote.
    You’ll create a great connection if you can link the date of your presentation to some
    event of historical significance. Research this by searching Google™ for “on this day in
    history.” You’ll find several Websites where you can enter a specific date and discover
    what happened on that day historically. You can also use historical analogies or lessons
    learned from historical events. In a presentation warning of the dangers of an avian flu
    outbreak, the speaker referred to the great influenza pandemic of 1918 to illustrate the
    widespread health and public safety effects such an outbreak could have in modern
  3. Hypothetical example. This proof makes the theoretical practical. It’s useful for
    financial planners to illustrate the differences among various retirement plans, to explain
    differences in contracts or for a CPA to show the implications of tax code changes. To
    be most effective, a hypothetical example should resemble the audience’s characteristics
    and experiences as closely as possible. That means researching your audience’s knowledge, belief, attitudes and values before the presentation and adapting your
    hypothetical example to align with their frame of reference.
  4. Humorous example. Humorous proof points can increase audience retention of
    the key messages and lighten the mood. It’s important to note that humor has two
    parts; writing and delivery. Unless you’re good at both, you probably shouldn’t attempt
    it. Self-deprecating humor usually works best in a presentation. Like factual examples,
    the best humor will come from your own personal experience. Be cautious about using
    any humor that could appear to insult or belittle anyone or that audiences could judge
    to be in bad taste. Finally, remember that humor doesn’t necessarily mean telling a
    joke. Jokes are only one type of humor, and one of the most difficult forms to pull off
  5. Instantiation. This proof point takes a hard-to-understand figure and uses an
    analogy to make it clear. Astronomers working with the Search For Extraterrestrial
    Intelligence (S.E.T.I.) Project once described their efforts as the same as looking for an
    inch long fish in all the world’s oceans by straining one quart of water at a time. It’s
    useful for making sense of very large numbers, as well as the unfamiliar. For example, a
    Web page at Berkeley University explains that a gigabyte of information is equal to a
    pickup truck full of paper.

Examples help your presentation because they create a connection with the audience.
They help explain the abstract, obscure and theoretical through language and
experiences the audience understands and can relate to. When you use concrete
examples and specific instances to buttress your key messages, you’ll be that much
closer to achieving the goal of your presentation.

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Tips For Better Panel Presentations

by Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D.

Using presentations as part of your business development is a cost effective and high
impact strategy to increase your visibility and enhance your credibility within your target
market. One of the most productive applications of this strategy is presenting on an expert
panel organized by a trade or professional organization. After all, such an appearance means
you’ve literally been christened an “expert.” While the opportunity is rich in potential, speaking
as part of a panel presents its own set of challenges. Foremost is the fact that many things are
out of your control. You’ll have very little input on the room setup and seating arrangements.
It’s unlikely you’ll know what the other panelists plan to say or if they might even contradict
your own position. If you follow another presenter the moderator allows to exceed her time,
you’ll have to quickly adapt your presentation. However, even after weighing all the potential
challenges, it’s usually a good idea to accept the invitation if it puts you in front of your
potential clients. Appearing on a panel with high-profile speakers will enhance your own
Gather as much information as possible about the panel and your specific role on it. Find
out who else will be speaking and in what order. How long will you have to speak? What other
events will immediately precede and follow your presentation? What Audio / Visual equipment
is available for you to use? Will each of the speakers have a microphone, or will you have to
share one? Remember the classic Aretha Franklin song Respect? When you deliver your panel
presentation, you’ll increase your chances of success if you practice the three R’s–Respect the
time, Respect the other panel members and Respect the audience.

Respect time
Your moderator or panel organizer should provide you with your time guidelines. Ask
them to be specific. If you have twenty minutes to present, should you speak for the entire
twenty minutes or reserve some time for questions? Be clear about the expectations. Adhere
to the guidelines you’re given. If your standard presentation doesn’t fit within those parameters,
adapt it. A speaker who goes overtime can throw an entire day’s schedule off. Audience
members generally expect that time will be divided equally among different speakers. When you
exceed your share of time, they stop listening and start wondering when you’re going to
conclude. Recognize also that panel moderators span the entire range of enforcement from
“Time Authoritarians” (who will begin passing notes to the offending speaker or gesticulate
obnoxiously once the speaker has exceeded his allotted time by just thirty seconds) to “Time
Wimps” (who, out of a sense of deference to the speaker, will refuse to intervene no matter
how egregiously the offending speaker drones on). Your best bet lies in preparing for both
extremes and neither materializes.

Respect the other panel members
Organizers sometimes invite speakers with opposing views to create interest or
controversy. When you’re faced with such a situation, you’ll gain little by trying to prove the
other speaker is wrong or by trying to make him look bad. Audiences tend to be quite
unforgiving of any behavior that could be interpreted as bullying. Some people have a habit of
interrupting others before they’ve finished speaking. The intention may be to demonstrate
passionate advocacy for their cause, but audiences often construe the behavior as rudeness.
Keep fully engaged with the rest of the panel when you’re not speaking—that means no texting
or checking emails on your Blackberry. Maintain awareness of your nonverbal behaviors as well.
You need to project an impression of interest and active listening.

Respect the audience
Forget the saying “There’s safety in numbers.” Audience members tend to focus on
individual speakers rather than the panel as a whole. Remember to maintain eye contact and
look directly at individuals when answering their questions. When a question is so specific it has
little relevance to the majority of the audience, provide a brief response, then offer to follow up
with the individual after the presentations conclude. You’ll quickly lose interest if people think
the information isn’t pertinent to them. Finally, remember that panel presentations typically
take place in larger venues. That means you’ll need to adapt any visuals so everyone in the
room easily sees them.
Confucius wrote “Respect yourself and others will respect you.” While great advice in
general, it’s particularly apt in the context of presentations.

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Follow These Guidelines To Make Your Language Stick

by Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D.

When you give a presentation, the verbal channel of communication refers to the words you use to communicate your message. We all hope our ideas “stick” with the audience. We want the audience to understand and act upon them. To make your language “stick”, it needs to be not only clear, but powerful as well. Follow these guidelines to add clarity and force to your language.

  1. Use Language To Express Rather Than Impress
    Audiences can immediately see through presenters who try to wow them with a large vocabulary. When I ask seminar audiences if they know anyone who uses uncommon words in an attempt to impress them, I get almost universal affirmative responses. I then ask them to identify the reasons for such behavior. The number one answer is: “to make us think they’re
    smarter than us.” If the presenter uses a malapropism (the unintentional misuse of a similar sounding word), he damages his credibility as well. I actually heard a presenter tell a group of training participants he wanted them to be sure to “conjugate” (rather than “congregate”) on
    time for tomorrow’s training. He could have avoided confusion, and embarrassment, by simply telling them to get to the training room on time. For those particularly adept at language, please subordinate skillful and correct use of your vocabulary to audience understanding.
  2. Use More Precise Verbs Than Do, Does and Done
    “Do” doesn’t do anything specific. In fact, dictionaries list over 30 ways to use “do” as a verb.
    That alone should alert you to the fact that “do” conveys no precision in language use. For
    example, it could mean “finish” as in “he did that report yesterday,” “suffice” as in “shrimp
    cocktail will do for an appetizer,” or even “killed” as in “he was done” in.” Because it fits in so
    many situations, we too often use it as a poor substitute for more precise wording. Sometimes,
    you can eliminate it completely.What the new policy does is to increase interaction with clients.
    The new policy increases client interaction. We need to do a thorough analysis of the situation.
    We need to thoroughly analyze the situation. He did a review.
    He conducted a review.
  3. Favor The Active Over The Passive Voice
    The active voice makes a sentence stronger and usually shortens it as well. Use the passive
    voice only when you want to avoid responsibility or depersonalize your presentation. In
    addition to eliminating unnecessary words, which makes your style leaner, speaking in the active
    voice creates a more emphatic delivery.Passive: Some of the pieces of our new policy have already been put in place.
    Active: We have already implemented pieces of our new policy.Passive: Three out of five top managers have been retained by the new CEO.
    Active: The new CEO kept three out of five top managers.

    Passive: The value of your money will be increased through wise investment.
    Active: Wisely investing your money increases its value.

  4. Use Parallel Construction
    Parallel construction simply means you should express coordinate ideas with parallel structure.They didn’t like how much the proposal was going to cost and our implementation of it.
    They expressed dissatisfaction with the proposal’s cost and implementation.We should be remembering the past, live in the present and be planning for the future.
    We should remember the past, live in the present and plan for the future.

    Accounting professionals are noted for accuracy, attention to detail and their honesty.
    Accounting professionals are noted for their accuracy, their attention to detail and their honesty.

  5. Use Vivid Descriptions
    Which of the following descriptions in each pair creates a stronger image?A teacher
    A history professor at Harvard

    The car
    The red Mustang convertible

    The sound
    The high-pitched klaxon

    Yes, the second description in each pair uses more words, but the additional words serve a
    purpose. They help the audience visualize your ideas.

Some of these guidelines may be familiar, but we just haven’t made adhering to them a habit.
Becoming more conscious about our language choices and more deliberate about choosing
clear and powerful expression will make our language more likely to stick.

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The Cardinal Sins of Audience Interaction

Advice about effective presentations usually includes some ideas about how to involve your
audience. Presentations with high levels of interactivity can certainly benefit from increased
audience retention, greater understanding and more commitment to action—but only if you
involve them in the right way and understand the potential perils. Unfortunately, many
techniques to add interaction backfire because they make the audience feel uncomfortable,
alienated or patronized. Here are the three cardinal sins of audience interactivity.

  1. Asking the audience to supply an answer to a question that’s not obvious. This occurs when you
    ask a question and expect a specific answer. It can quickly devolve into a session of “Guess
    what’s on my mind.” I’ve seen presenters use this technique, anticipating the correct answer with
    the first couple of responses. Instead, what they get is a series of incorrect responses to which
    they must contritely reply: “No, that’s not what I was thinking of.” “No, that’s not quite it, but
    that’s close.” “That might work in some situations, but that’s not what I’m looking for.” “This is
    easy. Doesn’t anyone know the answer?” These replies make the audience feel inadequate and
    frustrated. This often occurs when your frame of reference differs significantly from that of the
    audience. This technique becomes even more risky when speaking to multi-cultural audiences.
  2. Asking the audience to repeat something after you say it. This technique usually goes something
    like this: “Please stand, raise your hand and repeat after me.” Such a request takes many
    audiences out of their comfort zones, especially when it’s used early in the presentation. It can
    be used effectively only after the presenter has built a high level of trust and rapport. In my
    research on effective presentations, two responses stood out about why this makes audience
    members uncomfortable. First, it asks them to perform three actions, each of which may cause
    discomfort, but whose cumulative effect almost guarantees irritation with the presenter.
    Second, this technique asks them to mimic taking an oath, so for many, it trivializes a very
    serious act.
  3. Asking the audience to raise their hands in an informal poll. The questions in these informal polls
    are usually designed to simply encourage participation rather than elicit any meaningful
    information. The audience quickly senses that there’s no real point to the question. Even
    worse is when a presenter frames the poll this way: “How many of you believe X?” “How
    many of you believe Y?” “How many of you would refuse to raise your hands no matter what I
    asked?” The last question, designed to evoke a humorous response, only draws attention to
    the ineffectiveness of the technique and highlights the audience’s refusal to participate.
    Continued attempts usually results in a more obstinate audience rather than a more
    cooperative one.

These three techniques share a common trait; they are designed simply to provoke a reaction,
rather than illustrate an idea or provide a learning point. Effective audience interaction should
serve an instrumental goal, rather than become an end in itself.

Anytime you plan to role-play or have a dialogue with audience members, ask for volunteers.
You’ll avoid picking on the introverts and provide an opportunity for the rest of the audience
to participate vicariously through the volunteer. Some techniques you might experiment with
include rewarding participation with a prize (but please don’t throw things at them), asking a
rhetorical question, then giving the audience some time to mentally answer it and getting
audience members to supply their own stories and experiences to illustrate your points.

You’ll find which techniques work best for you partly by research and partly by trial and error.
The keys to success include a willingness to try new things, keeping those that work for you
and letting go of those that don’t. Most importantly, make sure that techniques designed for
audience interaction have a point beyond the interaction itself.
by Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D.

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5 Ways To Create More Value in Your Presentations

by Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D.

In challenging economic times, buyers look for value. The more you provide, the more likely you are to become the provider of choice. Presentations offer you excellent opportunities to provide that value at different stages of the business development cycle. Here are five ways to create more value in your presentations.

  1. Solve a problem instead of peddling programs. People know when they’re being
    sold to and it makes them uncomfortable. Prospects invest their time in attending or
    listening to a presentation because they believe it will benefit them in some way. They
    don’t attend to hear a thinly veiled sales presentation. Violating those expectations by
    promising one thing and delivering another constitutes a “bait and switch” that quickly
    turns prospects off. Prove to them they’ve made a wise investment by making your
    focus education instead, and you’ll find a more receptive audience. When you can solve
    a problem or remove some pain, you’re positioned as a resource instead of a vendor.
    The problem you address should resonate with the audience’s experience. That means
    some analysis as you prepare the presentation. What are some of the questions your
    target market asks most often? What are the three biggest challenges they regularly
    face in their businesses? What are the top mistakes people in similar situations make?
  2. Provide value-based marketing materials. The typical presenter hands out
    colorful brochures, slick flyers and glossy postcards about himself and the services he
    offers. These provide no value to the audience. Even when taken, out of courtesy,
    they’re usually quickly disposed of. Instead, distribute white papers, special reports,
    checklists and tips booklets. These serve as resources the audience will use and keep.
    They also provide top of mind awareness after the presentation. One of the pieces I
    circulate includes a four-page resource guide on creating and using visuals. It contains a
    step-by-step guide to creating effective visuals, examples of different types of charts and
    an article on how to avoid the most common errors with PowerPoint presentations.
    I’ve seen it in client’s offices five years after they received it.
  3. Get your presentation accredited to count for continuing education units.
    Many professional organizations require continuing education to maintain professional
    designations. Partner with one of them to develop a presentation or course that meets
    these requirements. It provides value to the members of the organization and increases
    your demand as a speaker. Conduct some research to determine which courses are
    mandatory and which are electives. Focus on the former so your course development efforts provide information people must have. Since most organizations require a
    certain number of professional education hours annually, you can develop ongoing
    repeat business.
  4. Offer a complimentary initial consultation for attendees. If people aren’t quite
    willing you hire you yet, but will take the next step, an initial consultation can serve
    several useful purposes. First, it’s an added benefit from attending the presentation.
    You’ll be giving audience members another reason to see they’re getting a good return
    on their investment of time. Second, it provides an opportunity for each of you to
    explore the other’s approach, working style and personality. You can probably
    determine in that initial conversation whether you can work together productively.
    Third, it gives prospects the opportunity to “try before they buy.” It can increase their
    comfort level in hiring you and move them further along the sales process. Limit the
    offer to the first ten to respond. That way you can set boundaries for yourself and
    increase the sense of urgency. Don’t worry about “giving too much away.” Prospects
    will recognize your generosity and you’ll build a relationship of trust.
  5. Partner with non-competing professionals that serve your target market to
    create an educational seminar. For example, an attorney and an accountant might
    co-produce a seminar for small business owners on “10 Strategies To Collect Accounts
    Receivable in Tough Economic Times.” A business broker and a banker might organize
    a seminar on “5 Essentials You Must Know Before You Buy a Business.” Such
    cooperation allows you to share expenses, combine the power of your individual lists
    and leverage different perspectives on the same topic. You’ll need to agree on the
    desired outcomes and make sure the project is mutually beneficial.

You’ll have to invest some time to incorporate these benefits into your presentations. It will
require some thoughtful audience analysis, creativity in designing materials and determined
follow-through with accrediting agencies and partners. But the return on that investment can
be significant. When you add value to your presentations, you pull business in, rather than
pushing it on, prospects.

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Sell Before You Tell

You’ve probably heard the saying, “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and
he’ll eat for a lifetime.” However, you’ll never be successful teaching him how to, until he
understands why he’d “want to.” Business development operates the same way. Presenters
sometimes jump ahead of that “want to” phase and spend their time simply talking about the
best way to implement their service before making the case why it’s beneficial. They’ve made
the mistake of telling, before selling prospects on the idea. In their zeal to provide information
and share their expertise, they’ve neglected the fact that prospects must first be persuaded,
before they’re instructed.

During an international Human Resources forum I attended, I witnessed two software
development consultants address their ideal target market—a group of senior HR managers
from Multi-National Corporations who had the buying authority to implement their software
solution. There was great potential for large contracts and repeat business throughout these
organizations. As the presentation began, the consultants described their company, how the
software was developed and a list of the features it contained. As the presentation progressed,
they went on to describe in minutiae how anyone using the software could input, analyze and
report the data. They concluded with an examination of how the software could be scaled to
fit different sized organizations. They were clearly experts in their field and demonstrated great
command of the information. Why weren’t they flooded with business afterwards? They spent
the entire presentation explaining how to use the software, but no time convincing anyone to
use it. They somehow thought that the facts would “speak for themselves.” They were focused
on the message instead of the audience.

I once coached a department head who was proposing to senior management a shift in the job
responsibilities in her department. Her primary rationale for the shift was that it would free up
more of her time. She was focused on herself (the speaker) instead of the audience. I
encouraged her instead to stress the increased productivity and more efficient allocation of
resources that would result throughout the organization.

The most persuasive presentations keep the audience on center stage. Here are five
suggestions that will help you make the sale by directing your energies toward the decisionmakers.

  1. Have a clear objective. Know what you want to achieve by the end of the presentation.
    Are you content to explain the advantages of your service or product or do you want to convert prospects into clients? Is understanding sufficient or do you want to move
    them towards action and book the business?
  2. Focus on benefits instead of features. Remember the adage “features tell, benefits sell.”
    What specific benefits are you offering? Will you help prospects save time, reduce costs
    or maximize the return on their investments? Everyone is tuned into a mental radio
    station identified as WIIFM—What’s In It For Me. Only by addressing the needs and
    desires of the prospect can you persuade them to take action.
  3. Think about what problem your product or service solves for the audience. Does it
    eliminate unnecessary effort? Will it reduce anxiety by providing more certainty about
    the unknown? Can it help manage conflict? In the psychology of persuasion, it is said
    that people move away from pain and towards pleasure at about equal speed. Don’t
    neglect the “pain removal” approach.
  4. Don’t provide information simply because you can and don’t explain for the sake of
    explanation. Include information and explanation only if they help you accomplish the
    objective you’ve identified for the presentation. Your company’s background, years of
    experience and professional certifications won’t matter if you can’t tie them directly to
    the needs of the prospect. People care less about who you are and more about what
    you can do for them.
  5. Mentally prepare yourself by completing the following sentence: “The three reasons
    you should accept my proposal are. . .” This exercise focuses your attention on
    providing a rationale for action that is audience-focused.

Remember that it’s not about you, and neither is it about your message. It’s about your
prospects and what they’ll find persuasive. Be sure to sell before you begin to tell and you’ll
enjoy more success in your business development efforts.

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Back to the Basics for an Effective Presentation

We’ve all heard the proposition that the three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic) form the
basis for a solid education. Proponents of this approach argue school curriculums have become
cluttered with extraneous courses and activities at the expense of the fundamentals. The result
they say, is that we graduate students without even minimal levels of competency. We’d benefit
from looking at the basis for a solid presentation as well. Today’s presentation technology that
includes whiz bang special effects, the ability to incorporate multimedia elements into electronic
slide shows and a plethora of font types, sizes and colors is producing more and more
presentations that neglect the fundamentals by focusing too much on the superfluous.

In the schools of rhetoric in ancient Greece, aspiring speakers learned the three fundamentals
of producing effective presentations: Invention, Arrangement and Style.

Invention centers on laying out a clear proposition and then supporting it. In the initial phases
of my work with clients, I consistently find many unable to answer the question “What do you
want to accomplish by the end of the presentation?” This inability to articulate the goal of the
presentation arises because too many speakers focus on what they want to say, instead of the
results they want to achieve. They’re more concerned with constructing bullet points than
making logical points. Thoughtful decisions about what types of evidence and proof points will
strengthen the presentation require a clear statement of purpose. It’s impossible to get where
you’re going with no destination in mind.

Arrangement refers to the organization of the material in a logical progression. At the
broadest level, good organization means a clear introduction, body and conclusion. Each part
must fulfill specific functions to create an overall effect. For example, an effective introduction
will overcome preoccupation by getting attention, overcome indifference by showing the
audience benefits and overcome uncertainty by previewing the key messages. Instead, I witness
introduction after introduction that accomplishes none of these essentials and instead spends
the first ten minutes reviewing where their firm has offices, how many years of experience they
have and how many associates have some type of professional designation. Within the body,
key messages should be structured around a logical thought pattern such as problem-solution
or sequential. Moving from one key message to another requires thoughtful and apparent
transitions. The conclusion has three functions as well. The first is to provide intellectual
reinforcement of the key messages. The second is to provide psychological closure. The third
is to provide a call to action. The conclusion shouldn’t be used as an “overflow” bin to fit in
information left out of the body because of time constraints or changing circumstances.

Style means the skillful use of persuasive language. It’s concerned with both selecting individual
words to establish the appropriate frame (rescue vs. bailout, or approval vs. signature) as well
as combining words to create rhetorical effect through figures and tropes. Examples include
metaphors and the use of anaphora, repeating the same words at the beginning of successive
sentences (“We have to solve this problem before it gets any bigger. We have to solve this
problem before it creates a domino effect. We have to solve this problem before we do
anything else.”). Recognize that style involves much more than just grammatical correctness. It
also involves finding your own voice and communicating in such a way so as to build trust.

I don’t mean to suggest that you abandon electronic slide shows entirely. They’ve become so
entrenched in most business and professional presentations you probably couldn’t eliminate
them even if you wanted to. But be mindful of the role they play; they are support for a
thoughtful presentation, not a substitute. Don’t let a PowerPoint template determine how you
create and communicate your value proposition to clients. Expecting an impressive deck of
PowerPoint slides to help you create a powerful presentation is like expecting a word
processing program to help you write a great novel. Great literature existed long before word
processing and great speeches existed long before PowerPoint. Get back to the basics. You’ll
change audience expectations and add influence to your expertise.

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Keeping Credible

My own experience serving on selection committees has been that it’s rare for people in the initial stages to actually look for whom they’re going to choose; instead, they look for people to eliminate so they can narrow their choices to a “short list.”  At a recent workshop, I asked participants if they thought it was more important to build credibility with prospects or avoid losing it.  Most admitted they hadn’t given the latter much consideration. We then generated a list of “credibility killers” that we notice when we choose professional services. We agreed on three broad categories that put credibility at risk.

The first was illocutionary suicide—killing your chances of being believed by what you say.  When you commit illocutionary suicide, people aren’t looking for proof of what you say; they’re looking for a way out of the conversation.  Some examples included: “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this” (I’m indiscreet) and “To be honest with you” (it’s the exception instead of the rule). Before a communication workshop to a group of orthopedic surgeons last year, I sat in on some of their sessions, listening to the presentations.  A doctor who had been very successful with a certain procedure began his presentation this way;  “I don’t know why they’ve asked me to speak to you” (I don’t have anything valuable to say, so feel free to tune out).

The second credibility killer stemmed from the use of clichés and “business speak.” We had all heard people who were short on expertise and long on vocabulary. “We’ll need to revisit that offline in a face to face, so that we can ramp up the synergies that give us a strategic fit we can run up the flagpole.  Because at the end of the day, we want cutting edge best practices that help us think outside the box.  Then, we can bench mark our bottom-line.  Now, let’s put that to bed and get back to square one with our bread and butter core competencies.” We also took aim at the expression “Core Competency.”  When I choose a professional, I don’t want to hear that she’s just competent.  Competent means having just enough skill or knowing just enough to complete the assignment. That would be like going into a surgeon and asking how much do you know about surgery, and getting the response, “I know what tools make what cuts.” Competent is just over the line from incompetent. Doesn’t it make a better impression to talk about your expertise or your experience?

The third credibility killer, I argued, was the canned “sales close” technique. They are so well-known, they even have names:  the assumed close, the pen close, the puppy dog close, the urgency close and the big ego close are just a few examples.  My advice was contrary to much sales training. But, too many of these approaches operate on the premise that you’re trying to trick someone. While they might work for telemarketers and transportation investment consultants (car salesman), they will be less effective with more sophisticated buyers who are in the market for professional services.  A Roper Starch survey on how Americans communicate reported that only 18% felt comfortable communicating with someone who was trying to sell them something. A canned sales close follows a transaction model. In my experience, the most successful model isn’t transactional; it’s relational.  People will be more comfortable communicating with you when you work at building a relationship instead of hoping for a stimulus-response.

We compete as much for the trust of our prospects as we do for their time.  Avoiding credibility killers positions us much better to stand apart from the crowd.

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