Remembering the Power of the Pause

This week, I’ve been putting the finishing touches on the audio version of my book “How to Win a Pitch.”  It’s been a lot of time at the recording studio. And during that time, I’ve regained appreciation for the power and importance of the pause.

In listening to the initial recording of the book, the biggest mistake I made was not pausing long enough at certain points.

For example, I would be reading a chapter and would come to a section where there is a new thought and a headline to introduce that thought. It might be  “Make Your Points Sound Like Substantive Bumper Stickers.” But I wouldn’t pause to emphasize the headline. Instead, I would just read through without hesitating.

Of course, the problem is that the listener isn’t reading the book and can’t see the headline. Since when you’re listening to a book — as opposed to reading it – there are no visual cues that it’s a new section. The listener can’t know it’s a new section. It can lead to confusion.   So we had to go back and add in the pauses as a way of creating a clear sense of sections and order.

It was just a reminder to me that sometimes the most important communication tool you have is closing your mouth and saying nothing.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Sales Presentation Lessons from Billy Mays

Anyone that wants to learn how to create and deliver sales presentations should take a little time to study Billy Mays, the famed television pitchman who died over the weekend.

Of course, most people in business would never attempt to pitch with Mays’s revved up, over-the-top style.  And I would never suggest such a thing.

But there are a several of things we can learn from Billy Mays.

First, energy sells.

Mays is best known for his hyped up style of almost yelling into the camera as he sold everything from OxyClean, to Mighty Putty, to Flies Away. Of course, business people should not present like a television huckster.  But they do need to speak with more energy. Too many people in business speak with all the energy of a houseplant.

Second, always start your pitch by focusing on the customer’s problem.

In his pitch for the “tool bandit”, Mays starts by saying “Tired of fumbling with your tools or wasting time trying to find them?”  Use the same approach in your sales pitch.   Start by focusing your sales pitch on the business problem that your prospect sees. If you’re pitching for the chance to build an office building, start by focusing on what your client sees as the biggest problem with the project.  If the key issue is cost, then start by focusing on how you understand that your prospect is concerned about getting the project done within budget.

Third, build a relationship.

One of the reasons that Mays was successful was that he was on television constantly. People felt like they knew him. That familiarity led to trust. Sure he was goofy. But people liked him.  Good sellers understand that a good sales pitch doesn’t stand on its own. They understand that to you greatly increase your chances of winning a sales presentation by developing a relationship with the prospect prior to the pitch.  For that reason, good sellers are constantly seeking chances to meet with and listen to the prospect prior to the pitch. Those pre-pitch encounters help  build a relationship that often pays off with a sale.

Billy Mays was a great seller of consumer products. But we can all learn from his ability to connect with prospects and make the sale.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A Sales Pitch from My Son

“Do you have ten bucks?”

That was the sales pitch from my son Elliott the other day.  Apparently, it was his day to bring donuts to one of his classes.

I was sitting in our little office/computer room when he walked in and delivered the pitch with all the enthusiasm that you would expect from a too cool 16-year-old.

Talk about the apple falling far from the tree. Good grief.

“If you ask like that?” I said. “Absolutely not.  Now if you’d like to come in and try again and really try and sell me, then I’d be happy to reconsider.”

Elliott walked out of the room and returned.  This time he smiled (actually he was suppressing a laugh) and said, “You know I’ve been asked to bring the donuts to class tomorrow. It’s something that all the kids do.  We were going to stop at Dunkin Donuts on the way to school. Could I have some money for that?”

He made such a light-hearted and fun appeal that I was genuinely happy to help out.

“Of course,” I said, reaching in my wallet for the money. “Here you go.”

Just another day in the life of a sales presentation coach and dad.

Enjoy your weekend.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

It Takes Work to Present “Naturally”

The public speaking blogs have recently had a lot to say about the importance of being “natural” when you speak. 

Indeed, one of the most common pieces of advice for speakers is “Speak to the audience like you’re having a beer with them.”  It’s advice I give all the time.

But the idea of “naturalness” is a little deceptive. When you’re standing in front of a room of listeners, you don’t feel natural. In that circumstance, you don’t feel like you’re having a beer. 

So what do you do?

First you need to know your material cold. If you don’t know what you’re going to say extremely well, then you’re not going to be able to come across as “natural.”

Next, you need to exaggerate the energy, giving more facial and vocal energy that you’d otherwise use “naturally.”  For most people, that exaggerated style will come across as “natural.” That exaggerated style will overwhelm the anxiety and come as highly connected. It won’t necessarily feel “natural” to the speaker. But it will look natural to the audience.

And it’s better to look natural than to feel natural.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What Makes Seth Godin a Great Speaker?

I love speeches by Seth Godin.

Three reasons. He’s incredibly original.  I don’t always agree with him. But I know that I’m going to get some original thought from him that he feels strongly about. And I like that. It’s leadership.

Second, he tells stories. I love stories.  He starts with a thesis and then weaves a bunch of stories around it.

Third. He speaks with passion. It’s irresistible.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Slide to Leadership Ratio

I often tell my clients that there is an inverse relationship between the number of slides you have in your presentation and the amount of leadership you display.

The fewer slides you have, the more you look and sound like a leader. And vice versa.

The idea here is that speaking and presenting are about connecting with people, building relationships, and exerting influence. Presenting is not about relaying data and information. Too many slides, and all you’re really doing is transmitting data.  If you want to transmit data, just send a memo. I can read it faster than you can tell it to me. If I have questions, I’ll call you.

Yesterday, Seth Godin wrote an interesting piece about the The Heirarchy of Presentations.  He makes the point that presenting is about influence.

The purpose of a presentation is to change minds. That’s the only reason I can think of to spend the time and resources. If your goal isn’t to change minds, perhaps you should consider a different approach.

Slides don’t change minds. You change minds with the force of simple argument, stories and passion.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

How to Win Sales Presentations with a Heavy Accent

People with heavy foreign accents often ask me what they can do to become better communicators.  Of course, accent reduction coaching is an option. And we recommend it when your accent is so severe that people have trouble understanding you.


But you can be a great presenter even if you have a heavy accent.  You need to speak with energy and focus.


Consider Freddy N., one of the leading accounting software sellers in the southeastern United States. A first-generation immigrant from Vietnam, this wonderful seller has a very heavy Vietnamese accent. His accent is so severe that he probably could use some remedial accent reduction coaching. I’ve recommended it to him.


But he has never had the coaching.


I probably wouldn’t go to the coaching either if I were doing as well as Freddy. Why bother?


One reason for his success is, ironically, that he is a very effective communicator. He is amazingly energetic in his somewhat broken English. He smiles constantly and he exudes real enthusiasm about his product.


Freddy brings that passionate attitude to every conversation. He is a high energy, fun guy to be around. During every presentation, he brings that fun guy to the pitch.


He also does a nice job of keeping his message focused.  He keeps his message to a few key points. While he is generally tough to understand, his three messages always come through loud and clear.  That focus, combined with his first-rate energy, makes this gentleman from Vietnam, who speaks mediocre to poor English, very effective in sales presentations. Indeed, he is very effective when most native English speakers are not very effective at all.


Freddy and other passionate sellers understand that the products and services are often indistinguishable to their competition. That means that the key distinguishing factor isn’t the product. The key distinguishing factor is the person attached to the product.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email