Learning to Give a Sales Pitch from a Piano Teacher

I heard this story the other day about how a piano teacher sold a nine-year-old boy on the value of playing piano.

The teacher shows up for the first piano lesson and the boy answers the door. “I’m sorry,” the boys says, “But I’m not really interested in taking piano. It’s my mom’s idea. You can go.”

The piano teacher, who was slightly amused, wasn’t immediately dissuaded. After asking to come in, he asks the boy, “What type of music do you like?”

The 9-year-old says, “I like Coldplay.”

“You mean like this?” says the teacher, who sits down at the piano and starts playing the some Coldplay from memory.

The 9-year-old is hooked.  After a shorter than usual lesson, they go outside and play soccer.  Later that night, the boy starts practicing the piano without being prompted from his parents. He is looking forward to the next lesson.

Of course, the lesson here is that if you want to sell your audience, you need to tap into their buying motive.  People buy for their own reasons, not your reasons. 

To win your next pitch,  find your prospect’s equivalent of  teaching them to play “Coldplay.”  Show them how you can make that dream come true.

Public Speaking Tip from Roger Federer

Roger Federer’s win at the French Open has made me happy in a way that I didn’t expect. And it is a lesson for anyone that wants to build a relationship with an audience.

The lesson is this: if you want to bond with an audience, show your humanity to them.

I still get a little sense of satisfaction just remembering Roger dropping to his knees in tears for his 14th Grand Slam victory and his first on the red clay of Roland Garros. I’m truly happy for him.  And I’ve never met him. I’m just a fan.

I think a lot of people feel the same way. The reason, I believe, is that Roger has has shown himself to us over the last year in a very personal, vulnerable way.  When he lost to Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open earlier this year and then at Wimbledon last year, he cried both times. 

While almost no one can really identify with Roger’s extraordinary skills on the tennis court, we can all relate to his frustration.  By not hiding it, we have grown to love him for more than his skills. We’ve grown to care for him as a person.

The same is true with speaking. If you want to bond with your audiences, show your real self to them.

Can Grooming Make You a Grand Slam Champion?

It was a big French Open weekend for tennis fans like me. I was glued to the men’s final yesterday morning and the women’s final Saturday morning. Of course, Roger Federer won the men’s tournament.

But the lesson for today comes from the women’s winner, Svetlana Kuznetsova.   It seems that how you look can make you a champion. At least one very important tennis journalist, Peter Bodo of Tennis.com and ESPN.com attributes her resurgence in part to her grooming.

Here’s how Bodo described Kuznetsova’s press conference after her victory over Dinara Safina.

“But it was about her own downside that the new Roland Garros champion was most articulate when she sat before the world press, wearing a white sports jacket with some sort of sparkles embedded in the fabric, her streaked blonde hair still pulled back in that pony tail that may be the perfect symbol of her makeover. And that’s a transformation that may be deep-reaching.”

“We don’t like to put too much stock in appearances, but sometimes they tell us a great deal. And for long periods in the interim since Sveta won that first major in New York, she seemed oblivious to how she looked, to the point that she sometimes seemed disheveled, unprepared, unprofessional. This mattered because the carelessness and the lack of self-respect that it implied showed in her patchy, undisciplined game – and her results. And while the implications of all this may be discomfiting, it’s undeniable that tennis players, especially top players, are generally very fastidious about their appearance and, if anything, overly conscious of style, grooming, and fashion. Their workplace, after all, is in the public eye.”

How we look impacts how we feel about ourselves and how we perform.

Communication and Leadership Lessons from Capt. James T. Kirk

“A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted.”


Those are the wise words of James Tiberius Kirk, Captain of the Starship Enterprise, and hero of “Star Trek,” the latest revival of the space exploration adventure franchise.  Captain Kirk had apparently endured many boring presentations by Federation colleagues.


In honor of his revived fame, here are more Kirk quotations relevant to communication skills, persuasion and leadership.  These quotations are from the 1960s television program.


“Conquest is Easy, control is not.”


Roaming the universe, the Starship Enterprise crew was always dealing with issues of conquest and control.  But this quote also goes to the heart of what great communication is about. It’s about the challenge of exerting influence over others.


Great presenters influence others by focusing on value to the listener. If you want a client to comply with a set of expensive regulations, you’ll have more success if you can show that compliance will increase revenues, reduce costs, or increase competitiveness.


“The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play.”


This quote sounds like an exchange with Mr. Spock over a chessboard.  But it also touches on the idea that one of the true tests of a leader is the ability to make complex things simple.  This is particularly true in business today where the economic and regulatory environment is becoming increasingly complex.  


Here’s a question you can ask yourself before your next speech that will allow you to simplify any topic: “Assuming that my listeners won’t remember everything, what are three things I really want them to remember?”


 “We humans are full of unpredictable emotions that logic alone cannot solve.”


Kirk was always teaching Spock, the ever-logical Vulcan, about human emotion. And one of the most important ways to influence an audience is with emotion and passion.  Great communicators don’t rely solely on logic. They show passion to build a personal connection with the listener.

Let’s say that you must pick one of two excellent firms to help your firm navigate a complicated financial transaction.  Both firms have excellent reputations.  How do you decide?  Part of the calculus will simply be who you connect with better on a personal level.


“Genius doesn’t work on an assembly line basis. You can’t simply say, ‘Today I will be brilliant.'”


The same is true with speaking. Becoming a great speaker takes sustained effort over many years. Over time, you develop stories and a style that connects with audiences.


Three years ago, I started working with an executive at a huge Atlanta company. For the first speech we worked on together, he did a nice job.  Since then, he has worked at his speaking skills, seizing opportunities to give presentations.  Just this week, I saw him speak again.


“I’m amazed at your progress,” I told him.


“It’s funny how practice really works,” he said.


“We’ve got to risk implosion. We may explode into the biggest fireball this part of the galaxy has seen, but we’ve got to take that one-in-a-million chance.”


Many people, when they get up to speak, fear that the universe will explode. But if you want to be a leader, you must face that fear.  The key to managing the fear of public speaking is to rehearse your presentations extensively.


“No more blah, blah, blah!”


No explanation needed on that one.

Which Generation Has the Best Speakers?

In an interview recently about my new book “How to Win a Pitch”, someone asked me the following question: “Why are business people today such bad presenters? Is it a generational thing?”

I answered that I thought the younger generation generally gives better sales presentations than the older generation.  The older group is used to the old way of standing up there and telling about the company.  In other words, they stand up and talk about themselves when the prospect just wants to know a solution to a business problms. 

The younger group is more attuned to shorter attention spans and therefore is more willing to cut right to what the audience is really interested in — a solution.

But I don’t have any data for this. It’s just my sense from working with lots of people. There are certainly lots of poor presenters in both groups. But the younger group seems more willing to learn to get it right.

I’m interested in knowing your opinion.

Lesson in Voice Energy from a Harmonica Dude

I’ve started dabbling in the harmonica.  And the interesting thing about learning something new these days is that you quickly learn that YouTube is a wonderful resource. 

In my websearching, I’ve run across an interesting fellow named Adam Gussow, who is a blues harmonica player as well as an English Professor at Ole Miss.  He is apparently the most prolific uploader of free YouTube instructional videos on the harmonica.

To my mind, he is also a poster-child for the power of vocal passion to get listeners excited about an idea.  The video below is an introductory video for raw beginners. 

For reasons that aren’t completely clear to me, many harmonica videos are delivered from the musicians’ cars.  In this video, Gussow is also seated in his car. 

His excitement about the harmonica is positively contagious.     It just goes to show you that to get people excited, you don’t need PowerPoint. All you need is your voice, some passion, and a harmonica.


Lessons in Connection from Reading in a Sound Studio

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been making an audio version of my new book “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals that Will Distinguish You from the Competition.”  It’s been an interesting experience going to a professional sound studio (It’s apparently where the Allman Brothers do much of their recording).  And I feel like I’ve learned something about how to connect with listeners with the voice.

At each session, I would settle myself in the sound studio wearing headphones. In front of me would be a big microphone and a music stand to hold my script. I would be sitting on a stool. The sound engineer would look at me through the glass and give me the signal to begin. Inevitably I’d begin to read too fast and begin stumbling over words.

To get through it, I had to slow down. Otherwise, I just wouldn’t be able to properly pronounced every word. But as I slowed down, I was also very aware that I didn’t want to lose any inflection or passion in my voice. So I imagined that I was reading a story to my daughter Annie.  I thought to myself, how would I read this if it were “The Cat in the Hat?”

That is when I was able to really start to feel like I was connecting.

I think we need to bring the same approach when we’re on conference calls. You probably do need to slow down the rate of your speech a little. Without visual cues of in person communication, your voice needs to be more precise because it’s carrying the entire communication burden.  But don’t let the precision erode vocal energy.  Speak with the same energy and vocal variety that you would have if reading a book to a child.