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Abraham Lincoln once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” The question in this article is, what makes a good salesperson?

As I alluded to in the previous article, people tend to react negatively to unsolicited sellers. Whether you are accosted in a clothes shop, telephoned by a service provider, or pitched by a sales presentation at a promotional event, the result is usually the same… “sounds great - please leave me alone.” Not always of course, but often.

In addition, many sellers shy away, or feel ashamed of, the idea of selling. They carry an underlying guilt about the idea of persuading people into doing or buying whatever they want for their own professional and/or person gain. After all, you could say that people sell because they want to get something from you; money, power or some other advantage. I mean, what’s not to like?

Unfortunately, these people have set the goalposts for selling in a very old-school way. Images of the snake oil second-hand car salesman (or the door-to-door vacuum cleaner peddler) unfortunately dirty the reputation of sales and persuasion. Selling seems to be such a nakedly brazen endeavour. But it need not be this way…

What if, instead of making yourself the “persuader”; looking for your goal… imagine yourself as the “giver”; helping people, by offering something more valuable than what you are asking for. In this light, you are the “facilitator” of an outcome that benefits the buyer.

It doesn’t matter if you are selling a product, service or message. As long as it’s more valuable than what you are looking for (or at the very least, mutually beneficial), then surely it would be selfish not to try to sell, right?

Of course, I’m assuming whatever you are selling (or persuading) is genuinely beneficial. Even if you (or some third party) seem to be the only ones getting something tangible, there should at least be a philosophical benefit for the buyer; i.e. they get to help a cause, take part in a charitable event, etc. Your buyer (e.g. audience) should at least feel better about themselves. There’s value in that.

Go even further… imagine your product, service or message as a no-brainer for your audience. Now your job is to help them by offering it up in most helpful way possible. As an example, imagine you are browsing in a clothes shop. An assistant walks up to you and says:

“Can I help you?”

What is your first reaction?

“I’m just browsing” meaning “leave me alone.”

What if that browser said something like, “Hi. I noticed you are interested in tops. Let me show you something that would suit your figure.”

…or maybe…

“Hi. I have something much better quality at a better price. Let me show you.”

Tell the truth, you are much more likely to indulge the assistant. Why? Because they are now being helpful.
 
It’s the same idea for public speaking. I’ve already written about the differences between speaking to persuade and speaking to inform. However, in truth, these days persuasive speaking is becoming more informative. The reason is that people want information so that they can sell to themselves.

Studies have shown that people who purchase electronic goods in stores are more likely to research products online before purchasing. They may even research while in the store (watch for shoppers surfing www.amazon.com on their smartphones for reviews, the next time you are in PC World).

Bearing in mind that people want to make up their own minds, why not re-structure your next pitch to be as informative as possible about whatever you are selling. Imagine every uncertainty a prospect could possibly have, and address those concerns in an authentic way.

There is a superb book by Jay Baer called “Youtility”. He champions this new idea taking the marketing world by storm. It’s also evolving in the sales and speaking world. One of Jay’s top tips is:

“Don’t try to be the best. Try to be the most helpful.”

It may feel like you are being a more passive seller. To be frank, it takes confidence to hang back from being pushy, and instead let the help do the work. The advantage to your prospect is that they won’t feel like they are being coerced. The advantage for you is that, even if your audience mightn’t be interested in buying that day, they may know someone who could benefit. This is called “word of mouth” and it is the most powerful marketing tool of persuasion. However, word of mouth only works for those who are known to be helpful.

Furthermore, if you are an extremely helpful presenter/seller (someone who even offers free tips or ideas) it doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t buy from you straight away. At some point in the future they might decide they need something. And when they do, who are they going to think of? A pain in the ass, or someone who is helpful?

As Jay Baer mentions in his book: “If you sell something, you get a customer for a day; help someone, you get a customer for life.”

This is true for marketing, business and public speaking.
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Have you ever been browsing in a retail store only to be accosted by an assistant eager to engage you and your wallet? In this situation, how do you normally react?

“Thanks - I’m just browsing.”

“I’m okay, really.”

“Please leave me alone.”

The last line is too rude for most to say out loud, but that doesn’t mean you never thought it. Our first reaction to sellers is usually to push them away. Interestingly, this is not because we would never consider buying anything. After all, why browse in a shop if the idea of buying is abhorrent to you? Which begs the question: what’s really going on, and how can we as sales people avoid the inevitable shut-down?

In this first of a two-part series on sales and persuasion, I will share three tips with you that will help you in your endeavours to persuade your audience to think, feel and do what you want them to…

Six weeks ago, I received a call from a Broadband provider and the conversation went something like this:
 

Caller: “Hello. I’m calling from Acme Broadband Services. Because you are a valued mobile phone customer I can offer you a package deal with broadband.”

Me: “I already have broadband, thanks a million.”

Caller: “Okay, but with our package you can save 30% on your cost.”

Me: “I’m in the middle of a contract at the moment.”

Caller: “How much are you paying for your current service?”

Me: “Look, I’m really happy with the service I have now. I don’t want to change.”
 

I’ve shortened the conversation (it went around in circles for a few minutes before they finally set me free) but you get the idea. The problem with this kind of sales approach is that it’s very clear that the seller has no interest in understanding or listening to me. And they are obviously reading from a script! It’s also clear that I’m merely one number on a massive list. How does it feel to be a statistic? Not very inspiring, eh?

If you want to persuade, the first thing to do is listen. It is amazing how many speakers don’t have a clue how to listen, but it’s my top tip for today.

How can a public speaker listen? By asking questions… and listening to the answers! It’s not as easy as you think. When others are speaking, most people tend to fill their minds with their own beliefs, biases and points of view. They selectively listen. As Simon Sinek once said, “There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.”

The most successful presenters know how to ask the right questions to generate rapport with their audiences. Which leads me to the second important tip… understand!

It’s not enough to listen, but to truly understand who your audience is. The best persuaders can quickly surmise their audiences’ priorities, needs and goals. The 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking, Darren LaCroix once said to me, “You must follow the thought process of your audience. In other words, as I speak, it is important that I understand what I’m leading my audience to think, feel and do.

Let’s take the above phone “conversation” example. I will go through it again, and add in my own mental reactions to each statement as they occur…

 
Caller: “Hello. I’m calling from Acme Broadband Services.”

<Oh God, another sales call. It’s really inconvenient because I don’t have the time for this.>

Caller: “Because you are a valued mobile phone customer I can offer you a package deal with broadband.”

<Don’t they realise I’m already signed up to a service? Probably not. I better explain…>

Me: “I already have broadband, thanks a million.”

Caller: “Okay, but with our package you can save 30%.”

<Here we go!!! You’re not listening to me. Why would I want to sign up to something I’m already getting from someone else? Don’t they realise I’m in the middle of a contract? Probably not. I better explain…>

Me: “I’m in the middle of a contract at the moment.”

Caller: “How much are you paying for your current service?”

<What’s that got to do with anything? Now they want my personal information. This is arrogant. And how do they know if I even want to change? It’s not all about money you know. I better explain…>

Me: “Look, I’m really happy with the service I have now. I don’t want to change.”

<I want out of this call. Help!!!>

 
When I add in my own thought process, it’s easy to understand the mistake the seller is making. Unfortunately, the caller would only ever gain these mental insights if he actually listened and tried to understand my priorities, needs and goals.

This situation is all too common. Callers from so-called professional organisations push scripts at their would-be customers and end up breaking rapport instead of building it. What baffles me is that these companies would allow this behaviour to continue. Why not train your employee to listen and understand, by asking questions and at least attempting to get to know the person at the other end of the phone? The truth is, these companies are too lazy, and the callers are not brave enough to try a simple human connection. Instead they rely on sales through brute force. It’s not good enough!

Let’s imagine how the caller might approach the situation if he attempted to listen and understand…

 
Caller: “Hello. I’m calling from Acme Broadband Services.”

<Oh God. Another sales call. It’s really inconvenient because I don’t have the time for this.>

Caller: “I’m sure you are probably busy and you weren’t expecting this call, so I won’t take up more than a minute of your time if that’s okay, but I have something that may be of interest to you.”

Me: “Okay, I have a minute.”

<Note: I am now listening!>

Caller: “Would I be right in saying you already have Broadband?”

Me: “Yes, that’s right.”

Caller: “Are you happy with your service?”

Me: “Yeah, sure. It’s fine.”

Caller: “Great. Well, there’s no point in changing if you are happy, but the reason for my call is that, because you are a valued mobile phone customer I can offer you a package deal with our broadband service.”

Me: “But I’m in the middle of a contract right now.”

Caller: “Ah, I understand. Our broadband service has many benefits and features that you may not be aware of, but there’s no point wasting your time with them today. Would it be okay if I contacted you the next time your contract is up for renewal? At least you’ll have another service to compare with when the time comes. Then I can take you through our service in more detail, and you can make a decision in your own time after that.”

Me: “Sure, that would be great.”

<Wow, this caller is accommodating and helpful. This is a rare and novel experience. Now I can’t help but wonder what those features and benefits are. Damn you, you smooth talker!>
 
I cannot guarantee the conversation will always go like this (and of course people’s current service experience, contract renewal date and general mood will vary) but you get the idea.

Did you spot the hidden bonus from listening to me? Here it is… By listening to me, I’m more likely to listen to you! And now you can adapt your sales pitch to suit me instead of treating me like a statistic.

The late great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said, “If people like you, they’ll listen to you.”

Showing your audience that you can listen to them is the fastest way to get them to like you. It’s not rocket science, and it can apply to any public speaking scenario where you aim to persuade your audience to think, feel or do something… unless for reasons beyond your control it’s impossible… which leads me to my final tip…

Don’t sell to the unsellable!

There are many reasons why people are unsellable:

  • No money
  • They already have a system/product/service that works perfectly
  • What you are selling may hinder or harm them in some way

The list goes on. There is no harm in finding out if you are speaking to an unsellable person. If you are presenting to an audience, you can even address the “unsellables” directly. It might seem like a waste of breath, but it demonstrates authenticity and helps to develop trust with your entire audience.

It also shows that you respect the “unsellables”. More than once I’ve been pitched by a seller who figured out I wasn’t a potential buyer, only to be shunned by them. It’s rude and disrespectful, and it shows an unattractive mercenary streak.

Connecting with “unsellables” can bring dividends because these people are more likely to sell your message to others who might in potential buyers. Word of mouth doesn’t only work through customers!

To recap:

  1. Listen
  2. Understand
  3. Don’t sell to the unsellable

But there’s more. To listen and understand is to open the door to trust, but that’s only the first step.

I quoted the late great Zig Ziglar earlier, “If people like you, they’ll listen to you.”

However, I didn’t add his follow-up statement, “But if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.”

In part two of this article, you will discover how to develop and foster trust with a new paradigm that’s taking the sales (and speaking) world by storm. Stay tuned.
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In my previous two blog articles we discovered many reasons why storytelling is the most powerful component of public speaking. We examined the elements that make a compelling story, and we explored key concepts such as conflict and character building. In this article we will learn how to further polish our story writing skills by studying the three narrative modes.

There are as many different writing styles as there are writers. However, it is possible to break down every writer’s work into three basic stylistic modes. Since storytelling is an art there is no “perfect” style. However, it is possible to avoid the most common mistakes which result in trite, clunky, or otherwise ineffective stories. These issues usually stem from an over or under-use of one or more of the three modes. If you learn to recognize, develop and manipulate each mode, you’ll be on the royal road to storytelling success. Here they are:
 
   1. Reporting

Reporting is the simplest form of storytelling.  It can be heard whenever you listen to the news on the radio or television. When you report something, you relay events as if you are summarizing. The following passage is an example of a fictional passage written in the reporting style…

“That night, I called to John’s house.  He told me he wasn’t interested in being part of my plan to form a protest in response to the new government taxes.  I explained how unfair it was, and how disorganised the politicians were, but John was adamant he didn’t want to be involved.”

As you can see from this passage, the story clearly has a timeline, plot, scene and characters.  However, when any passage is written in this mode, the details of the elements of the story tend to be sparse. You don’t get to know much about any scenes or characters. Further, any conflicts that occur will not be clearly presented or even understood. And, while there may be a climax to the scene (as above), there is no obvious message or theme.

Young children tend to use the reporting style when they relay stories, for example, “Then we went to the circus. Then we saw the clowns. Then we had chips and a drink. Then we… Then we…”
Before we leave the reporting style it is important to note that it does have an important place in storytelling, and it does have advantages. For example, reporting does “get to the point” in what it is trying to describe. It is also extremely succinct. And of course, it allows you to pick up the pace between more important scenes and events.
 
   2. Transporting

Transporting is a powerful narrative style that thrusts the listener right into the story.  Transporting works by painting scenes, engaging the senses, and bringing characters to life through tangible and kinaesthetic descriptions and dialog.

If your writing allows a listener to picture a scene in their minds; if it engages several senses; if it allows listeners to visualises characters; if they can hear characters’ voices directly through quoted dialog AND allows the listener to form a relationship with everyone involved, including the storyteller… THEN you are successfully transporting.

Transporting allows the storyteller (and listeners) to go back in time and experience the story as if they observers, sitting at the side-lines, experiencing everything as it happened. Transporting is the most powerful mode of narration, however, there are disadvantages to overusing it.  Let’s re-write the above passage in the style of Transporting…

“The night I decided to call to John’s house I threw a thick heavy coat on.  It was freezing outside, and windy to boot. The estate where John lived was utterly quiet; devoid of sound but for the wind.  John’s house was a five minute walk; every step against the wind. I felt the chill cut through me as I made my way up the steps towards John’s front door. I grabbed the heavy brass knocker and rapped the door four or five times.

John could be best described as a hippy out of time, an aging “new ager” with an axe to grind about everything. He wore a permanent smirk on his face, giving people the not-entirely-untrue impression that he looked down on the rest of humanity with disdain.

I cupped my hands and breathed warm air into them. “Hurry the hell up, John”, I whispered looking around the overgrown weed-ridden garden.

Finally, the door swung open. Some 70’s rock music I didn’t quite recognise blasted from behind his ruddy red face, smirk very much intact.

“I know why you’re here”, he said, “I told you already I’m not interested.”

“We need you”, I said, “You know the tax is unfair, and you know we need someone who can make a speech to the crowd.”

“It won’t make any difference”, he said, making a move to shut the door.

I wedged my boot in front of the door.

“The politicians haven’t a clue what they’re doing”, I said, “If we…”

“Forget it”, John said.


The results of writing in a transporting style is that the story is more compelling and memorable. As you can also see, the story becomes a lot longer. What can we do to fix the length?

The trick is to give the listener just enough to experience the story first hand while concentrating only on what you have decided are the important aspects of the story. Of course, what you decide is important depends on what you are trying to say with the story. In the context of public speaking, ask yourself, “What is the main point, overall purpose or message of my story?”  This will determine what you can deliver in the transporting style. Anything less important can be reported.

Let’s re-draft the above passage with a balance of Reporting and Transporting…

“The night I decided to call to John’s house I threw a thick heavy coat on.  It was chilly outside, and I walked against the wind for the five minutes it took to reach John’s front door. I knocked five times.

Finally the door opened and I was greeted by John’s ruddy red face.  John was a hippy out of time, an aging “new ager” with an axe to grind about everything.  He wore a permanent smirk, giving people the not-entirely-untrue impression that he looked down on the rest of humanity with disdain.

“I know why you’re here”, he said, “I told you already I’m not interested.”

“We need you”, I said, “You know it’s unfair, and you know we need someone who can make a speech.”

“It won’t make a difference this time”, he said, shutting the door.

I wedged my boot in the door and pushed in.

“The politicians haven’t a clue what they’re doing”, I said, “If we…”

“Forget it”, John said.


The result is shorter and tighter while keeping the essence of the story intact. You will notice that some chopping and changing of the order of some sentences can improve the flow of the story. You will also notice that the dialog and character descriptions have been left largely intact. This is because it’s very important to connect with the main characters in a story. Ancillary characters do not need much detail or attention, especially if you are stuck for time.

In the passage above we have more of a sense of the conflict between the characters. This is achieved through dialog. Direct dialog (which is always transporting) is so important. Many speakers fail to quote key characters in their stories, much less describe them in any significant detail. I’ve lost count of the number of times I heard speakers say things like “my team did this”, “they agreed that”, “my sister said this”, “my family traveled with me” and yet we never got to know those characters. “Just who are they?” I often find myself asking. At least give your characters a name, for goodness sake. And please give them a voice!

   3. Philosophizing

Philosophizing is very important for the public speaker, because speakers will frequently use stories to support facts, opinions, ideas and/or messages. Even if your overall purpose is to entertain (with no clear message) you’ll likely have a theme or moral. You may also want to emphasize different ideas or add commentaries of your own that you deem interesting. This can be done by a character within the story, or by you, the speaker. Philosophizing also lays breadcrumbs for the listener to understand your eventual message, moral or theme.

Let’s use the latest draft of our sample passage and introduce a little philosophizing to point towards a message “Sometimes flattery gets you nowhere!” The philosophizing statements will be in bold…

“The night I decided to call to John’s house I threw a thick heavy coat on.  I suspected I was wasting my time but I decided I would try to talk to John.  John was a hippy out of time, an aging “new ager” with an axe to grind about everything.  He wore a permanent smirk, giving people the not-entirely-untrue impression that he looked down on the rest of humanity with disdain.  Maybe I could use that to my advantage.

It was chilly outside, and I walked against the wind for the five minutes it took to reach John’s front door. I knocked five times.

Finally the door opened and I was greeted by John’s ruddy red face.  “I know why you’re here”, he said, “I told you already I’m not interested.”

I felt I was already I was up against a brick wall.

“We need you”, I said, “You know it’s unfair, and you know we need someone who can make a speech.”

I was trying to appeal to his ego but he was having none of it.

“It won’t make a difference this time”, he said, shutting the door.
I wedged my boot in the door and pushed in.  This was my last chance.

“The politicians haven’t a clue what they’re doing”, I said, “If we…”
“Forget it”, John said.

As he slammed the door I realised… sometimes flattery gets you nowhere!
 

If you chose to share a different message, such as “You should never let a refusal discourage you!” you would change the philosophizing statements accordingly; perhaps resulting in this…

“The night I decided to call to John’s house I threw a thick heavy coat on.  I suspected I was wasting my time but I decided I would try to talk to John.  John was a hippy out of time, an aging “new ager” with an axe to grind about everything.  He wore a permanent smirk, giving people the not-entirely-untrue impression that he looked down on the rest of humanity with disdain.  Maybe I could use that to my advantage.

It was chilly outside, and I walked against the wind for the five minutes it took to reach John’s front door. I knocked five times.

Finally the door opened and I was greeted by John’s ruddy red face.  “I know why you’re here”, he said, “I told you already I’m not interested.”

I felt I was already I was up against a brick wall.  His refusal to help was proving difficult so I tried appealing to his ego...

“We need you”, I said, “You know it’s unfair, and you know we need someone who can make a speech.”

“It won’t make a difference this time”, he said, shutting the door.

I wedged my boot in the door and pushed in.  I knew this was my last chance.

“The politicians haven’t a clue what they’re doing”, I said, “If we…”

“Forget it”, John said.

He slammed the door, and at that moment I decided I wasn’t going to let John dissuade me.  I was going to speak to the crowd myself.  Sometimes a refusal is all you need to find your place and step up!


You can see from this exercise that, with minor tweaking, you can tailor a story to make many different points. The philosophizing statements will be the ones you will need to tweak accordingly.

As I mentioned earlier, different writers have different styles. This is a result of having different affinities and preferences for the different narrative modes. J.R.R. Tolkien loves to transport, hence the size of The Lord of the Rings. If you read Oscar Wilde you will quickly realize he is a philosopher.

Let me finish with some final tips:

If you find your stories are a little boring or dry, you are likely reporting too much. If you find your stories tend to be lengthy and protracted, you are overdoing the transporting or otherwise adding too much superfluous information. If your stories are a little confusing or hard to draw ideas from, you are missing out on philosophizing, which can add a stability and a steer.

With time you will discover that you can mix the modes together within a single statement. It takes practice, but practice makes polish makes prose. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Every artist was first an amateur.” Storytelling is an art. As such, if you want to become a great storyteller, the best thing you can do is write, write, write.

As a public speaker, please use stories to teach, entertain, persuade and/or inspire someone somewhere sometime soon. Everyone loves a good story.
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