Public Speaking Lesson from Abraham Lincoln

Happy Birthday Abraham Lincoln. He was known as a wonderful speaker and story teller. Like all good speakers, he spent a great deal of time preparing for his speeches.

Mr. Lincoln thought his speeches out on his feet walking in the streets: he penned them in small scraps — sentences, & paragraphs, depositing them in his hat for safety. When fully finished, he would recopy, and could always repeat easily by heart — so well thoughted, shotted, and matured were they.
–William H. Herndon lecture, January 24, 1866

That quotation, by the way, comes from an interesting website describing Lincoln as a speaker.

Treasury Secretary Gets Tough Lesson in How Not to Win a Pitch

If you want to sell and idea, give a specific plan that your audience can evaluate. The more detailed, the better. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that the proposed financial bailout yesterday did not immediately sell well.

Now I have not suddenly decided that I’m an expert on issues of global finance. And I have no idea whether yesterday’s proposed bailout of the financial sector by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner will ultimately succeed. I certainly hope it succeeds.  We have many clients that are hurting. And that is not good for my company.

But here’s the quote from this morning’s New York Times that grabbed my attention.

But the initial assessment of the plan from the markets, lawmakers and economists was brutally negative, in large part because they expected more details. (Emphasis mine).

Clearly the lack of detail in Geithner’s plan did not go over well.  My only point is that anyone who wants to learn how to deliver a successful sales pitch can learn something here.
The best way to sell an idea is to propose a specific solution to a problem that your listener faces. Your prospect will get more excited about your idea the more your plan looks like a clear solution. 
So if you want to win a pitch, propose a clear solution with as many details as you can provide.

Foul Language In Presentations Distracts from Your Core Message

Most of us know that using foul language in a presentation is a bad idea. But now we have some research to help us understand why.   According to studies detailed in the New York Times, curse words certainly do a nice job of getting an audience’s attention. But they also distract the audience from your core message.

The article provided a fascinating overview of the history of vulgarity.  Who knew that “wretch”, “rascal”, “punk”, “gadzooks” and “meddle” were once considered no less vulgar than George Carlin’s famous “seven words you can’t say on television?”

But the article also detailed the scientific evidence for how foul language can impact listeners and ultimately undermine a presentation.

First, there is ample evidence that “bad words” do a great job of eliciting a response from listeners. The article detailed a study in which researchers measured the physiological response to curse words through the use of electrodes on the arms and fingertips. Upon hearing foul language, the article said, “Their skin conductance patterns spike, the hairs on their arms rise, their pulse quickens, and their breathing becomes shallow.”

So if you want to get a rise out of an audience, some juicy swear words will certainly do the trick.

The problem is what happens next.  Once they hear the words, the audience then becomes very distracted and has a hard time getting the rest of your message.  In another study, researchers showed subjects lists of words including a few obscenities.  The subjects did a great job at remembering the vulgarities.  But they had a very hard time remembering the other words. 

Once in a while we have discussions with our clients about the use of foul language and when, if ever, it’s appropriate.  The research on the issue is pretty clear.  Sure the bad words have impact.  But they also distract the audience from your message.

If Someone Yawns During Your Speech, It Might be a Compliment

Next time you’re giving a speech and you see people yawning, you don’t need to be offended. It may actually be a compliment, a sign that your listeners are so fascinated that they’re trying extra hard to pay attention.

That’s the conclusion of State University of New York at Albany researchers Andrew C. Gallup and Gordon G. Gallup Jr. in a study outlined in the journal Evolutionary Psychology.

The psychologists, who studied yawning in college students, concluded that yawning is a way of cooling the brain and making it operate more effectively.   The brain burns up to a third of the calories we consume, and as a consequence generates heat.  According to Gallup and Gallup, our brains, not unlike computers, operate more efficiently when cool.  Yawning enhances the brain’s functioning by increasing blood flow and drawing in cooler air.

“Since yawning occurs when brain temperature rises, sending cool blood to the brain serves to maintain optimal levels of mental efficiency,” the authors wrote.  “So the next time you are telling a story and a listener yawns, there is no need to be offended – yawning, a physiological mechanism designed to maintain attention, turns out to be a compliment.”

On the other hand, if your audience is actually snoring, you probably need to come to Speechworks.

Bill Gates Connects with Audience Using Live Mosquitoes

Software Billionaire Bill Gates grabbed his audience’s attention yesterday when he unleashed a jar of mosquitoes on his audience. He was trying to make a point about the problem of malaria in the Third World. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working to eradicate malaria.

“Malaria is spread by mosquitoes,” Gates said while opening a jar onstage at the Technology,Entertainment, Design Conference — a gathering known to attract technology kings, politicians, and Hollywood stars. “I brought some. Here I’ll let them roam around. There is no reason only poor people should be infected.”

Gates was using a tried and true method of connecting with an audience — the physical demonstration.  His chief rival Steve Jobs has long used the physical demonstration to connect with audiences. Jobs is famous for finding fun ways to produce the next new thing from Apple. When he introduced the MacBook Air notebook computer, he slid it out of an inter-office mail envelope to demonstrate its thinness.

To Win Business, Deliver a Solution-Oriented Pitch

If you want to start giving the kind of sales presentations that win business, get rid of the “dog and pony show” and deliver a solution-oriented pitch.


A solution-oriented pitch sounds like an insightful, personalized business analysis that is highly valuable by itself. It’s a presentation that demonstrates that you are well on your way to solving the client’s key business challenge.


Place a Dumpster in Your Client’s Driveway


A solution-oriented pitch is like the blue dumpster that a building contractor left in my driveway one April afternoon. 


Let me explain.


My wife and I were planning a major renovation for our house. We obtained bids from three contractors. Mark was the highest bidder by about five percent. One day, I came home from work and in the corner of my driveway was a huge blue construction waste dumpster. I was stunned.


My wife didn’t know anything about it. I called Mark and asked if he knew anything about it.


“I put it there,” he said.

“But we haven’t selected you,” I told him. “You’re higher than the other bidders.”


 “We’re always a little higher,” he said. “But you’re interested in getting this project completed by the end of August before the kids go back to school. If you’re going to do that, you’re going to have to get started right away. I put the dumpster there so that as soon as you pick me, I’ll be ready to start demolition right away.”


“If we don’t pick you, what happens with the dumpster?” I said.


“I’ll haul it away and pay for it myself,” he said. “I’m taking the entire risk there. I just want to get started. And if you pick me, I’m starting right away.”


Maybe it was a pressure tactic. However, my wife and I saw it differently. We thought Mark was showing us how badly he wanted the business by expending resources for our benefit before he actually had the job. He was working at solving our problem before he was even hired.  He got the job.


Demonstrate That You’ve Expended Resources to Solve the Client’s Problem


A great pitch should be like the dumpster in the driveway. It should be a demonstration of how you have expended resources and begun solving your prospect’s problem before you’ve even been hired.


Of course, just expending resources for your prospect isn’t enough. You need to show that you understand your prospect’s problems and have a good plan.  That takes work.


The best pitches present solutions so detailed and compelling that they make the prospect think, “Wow you guys have really thought through this problem and have come to us with some substantial work demonstrating a commitment to solve it.”


Get your prospects thinking that way, and it becomes very hard to turn you down.


Let’s say that you sell medical supplies and an outpatient surgical center has asked you for a presentation on your gloves, masks, gowns, and other sterile garments.


What would a poor seller do?   He would show up and give a presentation going through all the various products that his company offers, talking about the features and benefits. Then he’d end the presentation by asking for an order. This is a standard “dog and pony show.”  The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t show any sense of familiarity with the client’s business challenges.


Before Pitching, Seek a Chance to Analyze the Prospect’s Business


A good seller — a seller interested in using a solution-oriented approach – would accept the invitation to give the presentation in the following way:


 I’d love to give you a presentation.  But before, I come, I’d like to take a tour of your facility, speak to some nurses, and your purchasing agent.  That will allow us to give you a presentation that will best meet your needs.


If a full tour were not possible, the good seller would at least ask for the chance to speak to a few decision-makers prior to the presentation.  He would seek any information possible to allow him to present a solution-oriented presentation.


Armed with detailed information about the key business issues, the good seller would then be able to position his presentation as a solution to some key business problems. That would position him to lay out a solution-oriented pitch.


During the Pitch, Lay Out the Client’s Business Problem. Then Propose a Solution


The model for a solution-oriented pitch is simple. You begin by detailing the client’s business problem.  Then you detail a solution that should stand on its own as a valuable piece of consulting work.


Just like Mark our builder, you’re putting a “dumpster” in the client’s driveway. Don’t spend any time talking about the history of your firm. Don’t talk about how many offices you have worldwide. Don’t talk about your revenues. Who cares?


Don’t even talk about your credentials. Your credentials will be apparent as you talk about your solution and how you’ve implemented similar solutions for other clients. Focus the presentation solely on what the client really cares about—a solution to her business problem.


The presentation might go something like this:


Over the last week, I’ve done an audit of how you’re using various operating room supplies including gloves, masks, and gowns.  We think you’re probably spending 10 percent too much. We also think your infection rates are unnecessarily high. And we think that we can improve the safety of your team members.


First, let’s talk about costs . . . .


Second, let’s talk about infection rates . . . .


Third let’s talk about improving the safety of your team members . . . .


Instead, of sounding like a typical salesperson hawking products, the good seller’s presentation sounds like a consultant who has identified a business problem and has started working on a solution.  That’s called putting a dumpster in the prospect’s driveway.


And that’s the kind of sales presentation that wins business.

Justice Scalia Gives Lesson in How Not to Answer Questions

Justice Scalia

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia lashed out at a student during a question and answer session yesterday in West Palm Beach Florida.  

“That’s a nasty, impolite question,” said Scalia. He was responding to a question from 20-year-old Sarah Jeck, a Florida Atlantic University honors college junior. 

According to the Sun-Sentinel, “Jeck stood in front of 750 people and asked Scalia why cameras are not allowed in the U.S. Supreme Court even though the court hearings are open, transcripts are available and the court’s justices are open enough to go “out on book tours.’

He initially refused to answer the question.

Suffice it to say that berating the questioner is not a good way to handle Q&A during a presentation.  Presentations are for the listeners. If they have a question, you should take it seriously, even if you see it as hostile.  

If you get a hostile question, calmly answer it. Lashing out will only make the audience turn against you.

Or worse yet, earn you a nasty article in the newspaper.

Listen to Recording of “How to Win a Pitch” Webinar

If you want to learn how to create and deliver great sales presentations, check out yesterday’s webinar “How to Win a Pitch.” 

To hear the webinar click here.

This is the first webinar I have done for “How to Win a Pitch” and I’ve gotten some positive feedback. The program was sponsored by B2B Power Exchange and it’s president Chris Pareja. 

If you click on the webinar, the photo you see beside the program is actually of Chris, not me. I’m including my own photo with this post to avoid public confusion.

Enjoy the webinar and let me know what you think.

Want to Be Funny? Make Fun of Yourself.

“Can you teach me to be funny?”

I get that question a lot.   The answer is that you can learn to be funny. But it helps if you have a little natural talent.

The most important principle of humor is to make fun of yourself.

Here is an article from The Daily Beast, a news and opinion website, about the writers that write humor for political figures’ speeches.

The article states that the first rule for humor is “be self-deprecating.” 

The second rule is “repeat as necessary.”