By Bob Johnson

I can’t recall who, in my deep and distant past, told me that headline quotation, but I obviously didn’t forget it. And, after spending the past 20-or-so years as a trainer and presenter, I believe the reverse also applies: every presentation is a sale. That is, when a speaker delivers a presentation they are more often than not selling an idea or a concept, or urging an audience to take a particular course of action, and it seems the most successful presenters have a few things in common.

Here are just a few that salespeople might like to take on board.

LESSON 1: Engage the emotional side

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Maya Angelou, who died in May this year, once emphasised the importance of making people ‘feel’ when she said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

Successful, professional salespeople know that customers buy for basically two reasons:

To solve a problem (buying for logical reasons); and

To make themselves or someone else feel good or better (buying for emotional reasons).

In other words, salespeople are dealing with customers’ needs and wants. The ‘needs’ are mostly purchased logically, while the ‘wants’ are purchased more emotionally.

And here’s the twist: we often buy emotionally, and then defend the purchase logically. That older gent you see driving his little red 50-year-old sports car may tell you it’s an ‘investment’ but the reality is that it just makes him feel fantastic every time he slides behind the wheel (which no doubt gets more difficult with age).

Key message:

Make sure your sales presentations go beyond the pure facts and logic. Triggering your customers’ emotions helps them remember your message and increases its impact.

John Scully, highly paid CEO of Pepsi was lured to join Apple when Steve Jobs finally said to him, "Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”. Now, that’s an emotional sell!

LESSON 2: Use plain English

Speaking of Steve Jobs, when he introduced the iPod to the world, Jobs could have gone on about Apple’s new portable music player, weighing a mere 184 Grams — about the size of a sardine can — had 5GB of memory, long battery life, and lightning-fast transfer speeds…but he didn’t.

Instead, he simply said: “iPod: One thousand songs in your pocket”.

Just this week I was with a group that included representatives from the local business chamber, the City Council, Federal Government and local media, discussing an upcoming professional selling workshop they’ve contracted me to present. When giving them the example of an oven with pyrolytic technology, initially, all I got was blank looks. When I simply said, “You will never, ever have to clean this oven”, every one of them shouted, “I want one!”.

Key message:

Have you taken out all of the jargon and techno-babble from your sales presentations?

Do you ensure that any technical data and statistics are put in the context of how these will benefit the customer? Is their meaning clear and easy for customers to digest?

If you want to improve your ability to persuade people, be like Steve Jobs and use simple language that’s free of jargon. Engage the customer’s imagination; use stories or similes (“It’s like when you…” or “it’s as if…”) to give your message context and clarity.

LESSON 3: What’s the story?

Authors of Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath, gave students at Stanford University the task of delivering a one-minute persuasive speech. Everyone presented on the same topic; half the class arguing for one point of view and the other half arguing the opposite point of view.

When the debate was over, the students were asked to rate the effectiveness of the presentations, noting the key points made by each speaker.

Here’s the data the authors collected from this exercise:

  • On average, the students used 2.5 statistics during their one-minute speeches
  • Only 1 in 10 students used a personal story to make their point.
  • 63 per cent of the class remembered details from the speeches that used stories.
  • Only 5 per cent remember the statistics that were shared.

The researchers drew this conclusion from the data:

“The stars of ‘making the message stick’ were the students who made their case by telling stories, or by tapping into emotion, or by stressing a single point rather than ten.”

The bottom line

Recognised top presenters do more than just provide information; they communicate meaning, and they do it with passion.

Outstanding salespeople don’t simply tell customers what it is, they use their customer’s imagination to paint a vivid picture of what could be. Then, all they need to do is provide the customer with a way to get to that better tomorrow.

Bob Johnson is the principal of Applied Retail Training. You can contact Bob via email.