When I was in my late 40’s I had lunch with my dear friend Bink. He started the conversation off by saying that he has developed a serious addiction problem. Now, you should be aware that Bink is an excellent public speaker and he knows the value of a strong opener for any conversation. It is sometimes called a hook. He had me hooked.
I was quite concerned thinking perhaps that he had become addicted to some medication he was taking. That was not the case. He became addicted to golf. Addiction was exactly the right word to use. He could only think and talk and read about golf. Golf 24/7. Lessons. Scores. Handicaps. The poor guy was severely smitten.
Whatever he had was contagious. I had always wanted to try golf, but never had the courage to take the big step of lessons and buying equipment. After lunch with Bink, I did it.
I had a golf pro who encouraged me even though I never had any real talent, other than money to pay him. I practiced my swing every waking moment of the day, even if I didn’t have a club. While visiting with friends at their summer house, I took a pool cue and stood out on the deck, in the rain, so I can practice swinging.
On a trip to Philadelphia to visit my elderly mother, I decided to drive (I usually flew), so that I can take my golf bag with me. It’s all I talked about with my mother.
She was thrilled that I was taking up golf. I think she saw the game as something that only rich, successful men played, so she believed it was a reflection of my status. It was hardly that. I heard her say on many occasions when introducing me at the apartment she lived in, “This is my Jackie. He plays golf.” At family gatherings it was all she talked about. Frankly, it was all I talked about, as well.
A few years later my mother passed away and she is buried in our family plot. Whenever I go to Philadelphia I make it a priority to go the cemetery to visit with everyone.
Once, as I was leaving the cemetery I looked on the ground to find small rocks to put on the gravestone of each member of my family. It’s a Jewish tradition to let the deceased know you were there.
But this time I couldn’t find any rocks because the grass around the gravestones was over-grown from all the rain. While walking through the high grass, I stepped on a rock and reached down and grabbed it.
It was a Titleist golf ball! Right there in the cemetery. A golf ball with not a golf course in sight. It seemed like a sign so I put the golf ball on my mother’s gravestone, and now, every time I visit, I bring a handful of golf balls for everyone in the family. I guess I hooked my family on golf, as well. In fact, Hook is how some of my golf friends now refer to me.
When I was 12, I did the things most 12 year old boys do. One day strange things started happening to me. Hair grew in odd places, smells rose from odd places and I started growing taller.
The same thing happened to all the boys in my posse; a bunch of 12 year olds all going through puberty together. We spent hours together. We would ride our bikes around the neighborhood until it was too dark to see and had great fun.
Because we were all starting to grow taller…fast, all of the boys asked their parents for adult sized bikes. Until then we were riding short, squatty bikes, but it was time to make the change to a 26 inch adult bike. We were probably a tad too short for adult bikes, but a few more months growth would fix that. Soon everyone had a new 26″ bike…except me. My family couldn’t afford a new bike, and I knew it. I asked anyway but was not surprised by the answer.
This was all happening as spring was starting to burst in the Philadelphia area. In those years I would often watch a TV show on the ABC affiliate, channel 6. It was called The Sally Starr Show. Aunt Sally was a woman in her late 60’s dressed as a cowgirl with a big cowgirl hat and 6-shooters on each hip. She was the host of the show and would announce which Popeye cartoon or 3 Stooges rerun we would see next. I loved the show.
One day she opened the show by saying “Now boys and girls, you’ll want to hang around until the end of the show and Aunt Sally (she referred to herself in the 3rd person) will show you how you can win a brand new, beautiful 26 inch Columbia bicycle.” She had me. At the end of the show she stood behind this beautiful red bike and reviewed the rules of the contest. We had to send a wrapper from Double Bubble bubble gum in an envelope addressed to Aunt Sally. Starting in a few weeks, she would pick an entry every night for a month and call the contestant up and ask a nursery rhyme question. If they got it right, they won the bike.
I practically broke my leg running out the door and down the street and through the vacant lot to get to Angies, our local grocery store, to buy 2 pieces of Double Bubble bubble gum. They were only a penny a piece, but I only had two postage stamps so that’s all the gum I needed.
On the way home I froze in panic. It was Passover and we were a religious family. Food that wasn’t “blessed” for Passover was not permitted in the house. My mother was very strict about that law. Although I didn’t check, I was pretty sure Double Bubble bubble gum was not approved for Passover by the rabbis. I was petrified that my mother would find me with the offending gum and strip me of my Jewish heritage. So, I removed the pink Double Bubble bubble gum cubes from the wrappers and put them in my pocket. When I got back to the house I could hear my mother upstairs. The coast was clear. I quickly hid the Double Bubble gum in the very rear of an end table drawer. I put each wrapper into the mailing envelopes, licked the stamps, and ran back out to find a mailbox.
And that was it. I forgot all about the contest until a few weeks later when the phone rang. We were part of a party line which meant we shared the phone line with two other families. The phone would ring each time any of the families received a call, but we each had a different ring pattern. Ours was two long rings. In our house there was never a question of who would answer the phone. It was always my 21 year old sister hoping that it was a social call of some kind for her. She answered. I happened to be sitting in the living room and watched her as she turned pale, then said “yes” and then another “yes” and then turned to me as she covered the phone’s mouthpiece. “It’s Aunt Sally” she screamed, “and she wants to talk to you!!”
I got on the phone and typical of a 12 year old boy had nothing to say. Aunt Sally did all the talking. She asked my age, where I live, where I go to school. She said the reason she was calling was because they were going to go on the air in 15 minutes and during the show she was going to pick an entry for the bike contest, and that she was going to pick mine. I didn’t understand how she knew she was going to pick my entry before the show even went on the air, but I said something witty like “OK”. She said “I’m going to call you and ask you a nursery rhyme question. I’m going to ask the following question: Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of what?” Before I can even answer she said “Water. Water. Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Let’s practice. Jack and Jill went upon the hill to fetch a pail of what?” She waited. I said “water” and she said great and said she would call me live when she is was on the air and ask me that question.
In about 15 minutes The Sally Starr Show came on live on channel 6. Aunt Sally greeted everyone standing behind a red 26″ bike and said “We’re going to try to give this away tonight, but first, let’s watch a Popeye cartoon.
Anxiety overtook the Rossin residence. As the cartoon was ending my sister had a scare. She realized that at some point in all of this the phone rang but it wasn’t our 2 long rings, so we ignored it. She ran to the phone. Sure enough, others from our party line were on the phone, so Aunt Sally would get a busy signal when she called. My sister pleaded with them to hang up and turn on channel 6 to watch. They did and a few minutes later Aunt Sally called.
I answered with a dull “hello”.
“Hi, is this little Jackie Rossin from Chester, PA”
Little Jackie Rossin. This is Aunt Sally.
Little Jackie Rossin, we just picked your envelope from all of the entries in the bike giveaway, so I’m calling to ask you a nursery rhyme question. If you get it right, you win a 26″ Columbia bike.
Alright. Here’s today’s nursery rhyme question.
Before she even asked the question my sister was standing behind me whispering “water. water. water.”
Jack and Jill walked up the hill to fetch a pail of what?
Yes. Congratulations little Jackie Rossin you just won a 26″ Columbia bike, and a carton of Double Bubble bubble gum.
The next day I was the BMOC at my elementary school. The principal took me to every class so I can tell them how I won the bike.
One post script to the story. It was no longer Passover when I remembered about the 2 pink cubes of Double Bubble bubble gum in the drawer. By this point they were stale and hard as a rock but I still chewed them with great joy and think of Double Bubble bubble gum every year when I host our family’s Seder.
For years, marketing people, management consultants and networking experts held forth on what the perfect elevator speech should sound like. You know the elevator speech. It got its name on the premise that if you meet someone in an elevator at the top floor of a building and they ask you what you do, you should be able to give a powerful blurb about yourself in the time it takes to reach the ground floor.
Some consultants pushed people to be “creative” with their elevator speech and at the same time had them load it up with benefits to the listener.That’s a lot of information in one or two initial sentences in a noisy room where no one is particularly focused.
Most elevator speeches go something like this, “Hi, my name is Ray Brown and I help my clients find inner peace by underwriting for them the best damn business insurance program in the country.” Or… “Hi, I’m Susie Brown and I’m called the Duchess of Devotion because my personal mission is to help each employee get 100% of the benefits they earned and deserve.”
Most elevator speeches are used at networking functions. You meet someone and say “Hi, what do you do?” then they unleash this fabricated salvo of words at me that sounds like they lifted a segment from a Tony Robbins seminar. It’s never conversational and always thrown at you as if it were a hand grenade. “Hi, I’m Bill Smith and I help my clients protect the ROI on their investments by executing a 9 step program that looks under every rock for traps.”
A Better Elevator Speech.
Here’s the problem with all these elevator speeches. They are canned, they are not in people-speak and they are awkward. It’s someone talking at you, not with you. Instead of starting the conversation with the “what do you do” question, pretend you are two human beings having a conversation. It might sound like this:
“Hi, nice to meet you, I’m Bill Smith.”
“Hi Bill. My name is Jack Rossin.”
Then we might chat about how and why we are at the networking function, and often from that I’ll then ask “Oh, what do you do Bill?” And Bill says something like “I’m an accountant.” And I ask “Big firm, small?” After Bill answers I might ask if there is an area he specializes in, how his business is these days, etc. If he works for individuals I might ask how all these do-it yourself tax programs have helped or hurt his business. I’m actively listening to what he just said, not waiting for my turn to speak.
Then he’s probably going to ask me what I do and I say “I’m a presentation trainer. I help people become more comfortable in business settings.” He’ll then ask me a few questions about my business. The closest I ever get to “selling” is when I tell about the coolest part of my business — watching how weak presenters become good presenters after a few hours work. I’m always careful not to inflate the results. He’ll sense I’m being honest.
Then he might offer me his business card, I do the same, we shake hands and move on. I may make a note on his card to follow up if I think there is business or referrals there.
Get rid of your canned elevator speech. Live in the moment. Answer the questions asked without too much rambling, ask more questions of the other guy then they asked of you. Be interested and interesting. Have a real conversation. Smile. Listen. Have fun, exchange cards. If something comes of it, great. If not, keep working the room. You gotta throw a lot of pasta against the wall before something sticks.
Ps: One last point. In writing this blog I started thinking about all of the events and all of the networking I’ve done in my life. Lots! I’ve found the real reward is seeing people I know who I haven’t talked with in years. Some of those people have then given me business because they remembered me fondly. I don’t think I ever got business from a stranger I met at a networking event. Perhaps you have.
These days it is very popular to use storytelling in a presentation. Audiences remember stories more clearly than any other kind of narrative and they get the point faster.
Here are 3 rules for telling better stories:
-A story needs tension. The audience needs to be aware that something may or may not happen, or that some danger might befall the storyteller, or that things are going to go disastrously wrong if something doesn’t happen the way it’s supposed to. Without that tension a story tends to be passive and not worth remembering or retelling.
-The opening of the story is an opportunity to grab the audience’s imagination. “So, as I’m sitting in the emergency room with no pants on the doctor says “You know, as chain saw accidents go, I’ve seen worse.” Work hard to find an opening that paints a picture of the tension in the story.
-A good story is made up of lots of short little scenes. It’s important that those scenes be conveyed in a seamless narrative form instead of “then this happened, then that happened, then that was followed by this…”
And a few other tips…
-Develop characters in the story. Tell us their name and something about them so we understand when you say “then Bill picked up the accordion and walked to the front of the stage..” why that’s relevant.
-Write the story out. Just because storytelling is a verbal exercise, writing the story will help you iron-out the details and language. If possible, after you write the story, put it away for a day or two, then edit again. Writing the story is just an exercise technique. Don’t read the written story to an audience. Deliver it without notes.
-Once you have a script and flow that you like, record it so you can listen to it a few times. You’ll probably want to edit further. It will get better each time.
-Stories that show your vulnerability are particularly powerful. Don’t hesitate to use them if the situation allows.
-True stories are always better than made-up stories. That said, you are allowed to use some creative license to move scenes around so that the story flows better or the points are more demonstrable. You’re allowed to embellish.
-Target the story to your audience. You probably don’t want to discuss meeting a local sports hero if you are speaking to an audience from the other side of the country.
If you’d like to tell better stories, here are two other tips. Take my storytelling workshop. Have your company host me. The best book on storytelling is “Long Story Short” by Margot Leitman.
Everything that you and your team do in a new business pitch will affect the outcome. But, there are three places you should pay particularly close attention: the open, the close and during Q&A.
The opening because your prospect is actually listening to you (it may be the only time) and it gives you the opportunity to talk about how you will solve their problems or what benefits you’ll bring to them to make them richer, better, stronger, etc.
The close because the prospect, who may not have been paying rapt attention throughout, tunes in again. It’s your opportunity to repeat your main thesis of the benefits you’ll bring to them and ask for the business.
The Q&A session, whether formal or informal, engages the prospect more than any other part of the presentation. Q&A is also an opportunity to get key players, who may not have had a lot of opportunities to present, to get involved.
Body language becomes very important during Q&A. Here are a few things to remember:
- Eye contact is critical, especially for dicey questions. The moment that you answer a question by looking down or at the ceiling, you are telegraphing that you are not confident with the response.
- Make sure you share the eye contact. If prospect A asks the question, start the eye contact with him, but at some point look at others across the table, as well.
- Lean in when answering the question. Don’t sit up straight and never lean back. Sit as close to the conference room table as you can.
- If you are standing when asked the question, take a step towards the person who asked as you answer. Never step back.
- Animated hands are powerful when answering a question, but, don’t touch your face. It’s a tell.
- Smile. That smile says you are confident in the answer you are giving. As importantly, most people look angry when they don’t smile.
- When asked a question that requires a “yes” or “no” response, answer in a full sentence. “Yes, because….”
- Posture is crucial. You look more confident with a strong posture, and you’ll look weaker with a slouching posture. This is important because by the end of the pitch most of us have lost our strong posture. Pump it up again. (See Filling the Space Blog)
- Avoid saying “That’s a good question.” It’s a habit to get out of. It makes you look like you don’t know the answer.
- Be honest. If you don’t know the answer say so, but promise to get back to them the same day with the answer. They will respect you more.
- If your colleague is answering, make sure you look interested in the response. It wouldn’t hurt to nod occasionally in agreement.
- Avoid piling on. If your colleague answered the question, you don’t need to add your two cents.
- Note to the CEO, or leader of the pitch. Allow others on the team to answer questions. Don’t hog the answers and don’t add more information after each question is answered by others.
- Watch the prospect’s face as you answer. If there is doubt, ask “Did I answer your question?”
The Q&A session can make or break the pitch. It should be rehearsed. If possible, slot the Q&A session before you close the pitch, otherwise you will be ending the pitch with odds and ends questions, instead of a powerful close and ask for business.
One of the misconceptions people have about public speaking is that they think it’s all about speaking. Certainly the words you speak are important, and try making a presentation without words…but research, especially in the last 10 years indicates that audiences rely on body language for content much more than words.
One of my clients lost a pitch he should have won because he crossed his arms while the prospect was explaining something to him. The prospect interpreted that move as my client being judgmental.
One of the most powerful body language techniques came out of research from Stanford University. I call the concept Filling the Space. It’s a simple concept that say the more I fill your visual frame…within limits…the more persuasive I am to you and the more confident I appear. The obvious way for me to fill your visual frame is to get closer to you. Next time you see people making presentations, note how much less impactful the speaker who is farther away appears.
But, there are other ways to fill the space in addition to proximity. I can fill the space with hand and arm gestures. Within limits. I don’t want arm gestures that are so exaggerated that I look like I’m trying to land a plane. And, research tells us that the audience is far more likely to understand what you are saying if you use hand gestures while speaking. So, don’t keep your hands at your side. Keep them in front and active.
Another way to fill the space is with slight steps in one direction or the other. Not pacing but a step or two in this way or that.
I can also fill the space by making better eye contact. The more I look at you, the more you look back, so that starts to control your visual frame.
I also can fill the space with my volume. If I speak in a bigger voice…not shouting…that fills the space, as well.
If you start to use some of these techniques you’ll become an infinitely more powerful speaker immediately. Play with them slowly and work them into your repertoire. You’ll find that filling the space is a powerful presentation tool.
For years I have been haunted by Steve Jobs, the presenter. He was an exquisite presenter, with a great style, presence and charisma. We can all learn things from how he worked.
But for years, I had to combat those clients who read enough of Jobs’ presentation philosophy to be dangerous. Jobs preferred graphics over words in his slides. Clients tried to do the same thing, but they had two problems; they didn’t have the confidence to reduce the word count on the slides for fear they might miss something. And, they used stock art and stock photos. Some of the graphics were good. Most were gratuitous and had little to do with the point of the narrative.
Jobs didn’t have to use stock photos for his slides. He had a huge art department that spent months creating the perfect slide to convey the point Jobs was making. Most of us don’t have such an art department, or budget, at our disposal.
So, while everyone tried to emulate Jobs’ presentation style, they couldn’t. But, not just because of the slides.
Jobs was famous for preparation and rehearsal. He worked his presentation until it was close to perfect and tweaked every word to get things just right. Many of the clients I’ve seen put in a minimum amount of time for preparation and almost nothing for rehearsal. If you are going to copy the great man, you gotta do everything he did.
Jobs was a minimalist. He didn’t try to cover every product and every feature and every selling point when he presented a new product. He had one big takeaway and 2 or 3 support points. Most clients aren’t comfortable unless they empty the closet of every selling feature they can think of.
The greatest disconnect that most clients have with Jobs’ style is the product itself. Jobs had spectacular, mold-shattering, beautiful products that the world had never seen before. Imagine if you are the presenter and what you have to show is a telephone no one has ever even imagined that also plays music and becomes a pocket laptop. That’s a really easy thing to present. You own the audience from the moment you take it out of your shirt pocket. You don’t need lots of slides to explain it or justify it. The mere demonstration of the product does it all for you. OK, now imagine you are presenting instead, a line of shoes that are new but very similar in every way to what’s out there in the market now. Or, you are presenting a process for auditing financial records which is a newer version of the one you introduced last year. It is impossible to present them the way Jobs did. The audience just won’t respond. You may need to justify the presentation with more content, more words on slides, more data.
I am a great admirer of how Jobs presented. He was a genius. I loved that his slides were sparse, that he was disciplined to stick to a few points, that he spoke to the audience and not the screen behind him. He had a terrific, yet simple mantra: concrete/simple/emotional.
“Look at the new iMac. It’s thin and light (concrete), it’s so thin it can slide into a manila envelope (simple). Isn’t it fabulous (emotional).”
There are lots of things we can learn from him (Read: Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo). But, applying all of his techniques to each person’s presentation is never going to work.
Every presentation and pitch ends with a Q&A session. It is an incredibly important part of the overall presentation and it should not be left to chance.
It breaks the format of the pitch. Your presentation has gone along a certain path with you and your team talking and, for the most part, the prospect listening. Now the tables have turned. That change in format will cause the prospect to tune in anew to what you have to say. He or she is no longer lulled into the predictable rhythm of your presentation.
I haven’t seen research on it, but I suspect that overall, prospect attention is very high during Q&A, surpassed only when you opened the presentation.
Attention drops during the middle section of most presentations, which is why you’ll often hear questions from prospects on things you discussed in the pitch but that they didn’t hear. When a prospect asks a question about something you covered previously, there’s no need to remind everyone that you already covered it. Simply, answer the question.
Many presentations assume that the Q&A will come at the end of the pitch. Don’t do that. You don’t want the pitch to just peter out after all the questions have been asked. Put your Q&A before the close; this way your prospects’ questions have been answered and their attention is peaked before you deliver your close, thank everyone, and ask for the business. I suggest you say something like “before we close the meeting, are there any questions you would like to ask.”
Make sure your prospect knows they can ask questions at any time; a presentation I attended recently started with the group leader saying they would take no questions until the end. It killed the connection between presenter and audience.
Taking questions as they arise says you are confident in what you are presenting. Somewhere in the beginning of your presentation tell the audience that there will be a Q&A session near the end, but they should feel free to ask questions at any time.
A couple other guidelines:
- Not everyone on your team has to answer every question. Don’t encourage piling on with additional answers.
- Get out of the habit of starting every answer with “that’s a good question”. Just answer the damn question.
- You might have a question for them based on what they’ve been asking. Now is the time to ask it.
Finally, at some point during a Q&A, you will be asked a question you don’t know the answer to. Look at this as an opportunity. Be 100% honest and say you don’t know the answer, BUT, you will find the answer and get back to them before the end of the day. This now gives you permission to call the prospect to discuss your pitch further.
Remember the story of Winston Churchill who said he needed to stay at home and work on his extemporaneous remarks for an event he was going to the next day. If you have a suspicion that you might be called on to give a speech, especially if you are the owner of a company, or the head of a division, or the head of an organization, or the sibling of an honoree; be ready to give a toast.
Don’t try to be funny. Comedians hone their material for months. It’s highly unlikely that you are going to hit the ball out of the yard with a funny remark. Don’t even try. Just be yourself and if a funny thing comes out of your mouth, enjoy it along with everyone else.
A toast is the time to thank people and acknowledge good work, hard thinking, dedication, great food, terrific ideas. Everyone loves to be singled out for their achievements. Just be careful to have a list of the people you want to thank so that you don’t overlook anyone.
Tell a story
If you can find a story that relates to what the event is all about start by telling that story. Literally, start with the story…
“I want to tell you a story about…”
Remember that stories don’t have to be exact. You don’t have to tell everything that happened. You don’t need to give us side bar and back story information. Just tell the story then go into your acknowledgements
“I want to thank…”
And then close it up.
If other toasters thanked the host for the great party, you don’t need to do so, as well. Find something else to say that no one has used.
Be sincere, even if it is mushy. If you want to use the toast to thank someone for the impact he made on your life, do so. It will be a great toast.
It’s not about you
Sometimes in toasts I hear the speaker referring to themselves more than the person they are toasting. Try to keep yourself out of the story other than necessary.
Don’t be crude or rude.
Avoid stories where you have to repeat off-color remarks or sordid activities. Keep it clean and keep it on a higher level. I’m a person who can have a pretty foul mouth, but when making a toast, I’m a choir boy.
If you are the host, never force people to make a toast. This is a purely volunteer activity.
Have a close
Have you ever noticed that when someone is giving a toast they get to the end and seem to run out of steam? You raise your glass thinking it’s time to drink when the speaker gets a second wind? Then they seem to be coming to the end again and you raise your glass and they fool you again. Have one ending and get the hell off the stage. You may think of a better one two seconds after you deliver the first, but thems the breaks. Close the toast. Smile. Drink. Leave.
When all else fails…say the following.
“What a great event. Let’s wish our honoree all the best. To Joe! Congratulations. Now let’s enjoy the party!”.