When I was growing up, I was very stubborn. I used to get incredibly frustrated when someone didn’t understand what I was saying. When my dad said no (he was also stubborn) without even listening to my very logical rationale. When my sister wouldn’t lend me her dungarees. When my teacher told me off. I knew I was right, so why weren’t they convinced?
So much has been written about effective communication. There is the statistic that your words only account for 7% while tone of voice contributes 38% and body language 55%. Stephen Covey would say that you should seek first to understand, then to be understood. Amazon is full of books on techniques for presenting and training, persuading and selling.
Effective communication is paramount both at home and at work. I give a lot of training sessions and workshops and making them engaging and effective requires a great deal of planning; I need to know who my audience is, to be confident in my material, to be clear on the key messages I want to get across. Now that I work as a consultant rather than being employed full time, I also need to write effective proposals to get new clients, to come across well in interviews, and to showcase the value I’m adding to the business. Not to mention each and every encounter I have with peers and senior directors, each one an opportunity to give my ‘elevator pitch’ on the great work I’m doing.
In a way, it’s all selling: persuading someone, convincing them, winning them over, getting support. The concept of sales, though, has such a negative connotation. It’s sleazy and disreputable; you picture a used car salesman who’s trying to fob off a pile of junk. And it’s uncomfortable: you want your amazing work to speak for itself, you hope that you’ll be rewarded simply for doing a good job. I’ve come to realise, though, that selling is central to a lot of what we do, and we’d do well to listen to what the best salesmen have to say about landing that big deal.
To this end, one of the books I’ve just finished reading is Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. (Actually, I bought and listened to the audio book for the journey to and from my sister’s for this bank holiday weekend. Genius.)
Klaff is convinced that the answer to effective pitching – getting and holding your audience’s attention, managing the power balance, closing the deal – can be found in cognitive science and neuroscience. And of course, as you would expect, he does a pretty good job of convincing the listener that his approach works.
The fundamental premise on which it is all based is that your audience’s state of being is different to yours. The fact that you’re enthusiastic doesn’t mean that the target will be. The fact that you’re rationally outlining the detailed analysis behind your argument doesn’t mean that your listener is following. As Klaff explains it, you as the presenter are engaging with your neo-cortex, the most evolved part of your brain that deals with conscious thought, reasoning, and language; while your audience is actually responding with their “croc brain” as he calls it. The croc brain is much less evolved and will respond very quickly to any new information by being bored, scared, or confused.
So you have just a few minutes to capture attention – even Seinfeld says he has just three minutes before the audience loses interest – and 20 minutes, the length of the average human attention span, for your whole pitch. What’s your big idea? What’s your ‘secret sauce’? What action do you need the target to take? What do need them to feel?
Klaff offers a number of techniques to reframe the situation when there is an imbalance of power, to tell a story that breaks the analytical mindset, to keep your target intrigued and interested in what you have to say, to win respect so that they want you rather than the other way around, to get them emotionally engaged, and to get the deal at the end of your meeting. While it’s all focused around a business pitch setting, you can apply a lot of the same principles in other professional and personal encounters.
So it’s not enough to be smart, or even to be right. In the end, what matters is how you get your point across to the other person. And there is a lot more to it than you think…
By the way, audio books: what a great way to ‘read’ books with our busy schedules. This one was read by the author, which, given that the author is talking about pitching, made his words come alive with much more impact than when simply reading them from a page. The only downside is that I can’t now simply to refer back to a particular section or list of points. I really feel that publishers should give you access to other formats when you buy, i.e. you should get the e-book when you buy the audio book or the physical book. But that’s another story…