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Selling Secrets From Talk Radio

April 20, 2009

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While few people would compare the staid world of corporate sales to the free speach utopia of talk radio, both the salesman and political pundit undoubtedly rely on their vocal chords to make a living. In this article, we’ll share some insider tips from the Closer’s personal playbook and advice from a professional news reporter to ensure that we’re sat up straight, making eye contact and staying on message during our next sales call.

First up, setting the stage for a great performance: this means getting the seating arrangement right. Our choices will depend upon if we running a pitch-style meeting or a more collaborative discussion with folks from both sides of the vendor client-divide.

For a traditional pitch meeting set at a conference table, we should position ourselves between  the audience and the projector screen so our viewers can easily take in the PowerPoint presentation and our face. This positioning also allows us to spot dozing audience members and gauge how well (or OMG Bad!) the meeting is going.  Unless we have a movie trailer, quality voice we should  avoid sitting behind our audience and becoming the unseen, omnipotent voice of “My friends, now is the time to buy.”

For more collaborative type discussions (and hopefully most of our sales meetings are like this) we want to act as the anchor man taking the head of the table with our victim / client to the left and our own crack sniper / bid team to the right (or vice versa if we’re in Australia).  This seating arrangement puts us in the moderator seat meaning we can decide who does the talking  simply by staring down at the lucky individual.

Next, body language. While we could fly to Switzerland for etiquette coaching, for the price of a complementary bag of peanuts here’s all we need to know:

  • To be perceived as smugly disinterested and aloof we just need to lean back 45 degrees in our seat . To make it clear that we’d rather be anywhere but here right now, slowly slide under the table for cover. Alternatively, to appear enthusiastic and engaged we just lean forward a bit. 
  • Keep hands above the table at all times. Out of sight hands beg questions that we’d rather not go into here and limits the our ability to communicate. (Playback your local weatherman in slow motion to learn the Zen of non-verbal communication).
  • Don’t fidget: common ticks includes bouncing up and down in our chairs, nervously fingering with wedding rings until our audience wonders if we’ve about to propose an extra-marital affair and pulling (our own) hair…the list goes on. If in doubt, go for the safety position of hands together and resting on the table favored by politicians at impeachment trials.
  • Oh and don’t forget to smile… just not too much because that’s bad too. We’re aiming for something between the Buddha upon attainting enlightenment and Michael Jackson prior to cosmetic surgery.

And now onto the main event: the voice. Any sales text book will note that how we speak is often more important than what we speak about … but the same books are usually thin on the specifics of how to speak effectively. Fortunately there are just 3 variables that we need to master: tone, speed and volume. Let’s get started with tone.

If we’re trying out for a spot on National Public Radio we’d be well advised to start LoooOOOWWW. Beginning our sentences with a low tone of voice (within our normal vocal range – no need to go for Barry White here) gives us room to go up as we reach our points of stress and emphasis. If we start high and get excited, we run the risk of sounding like Woody Wood Pecker and hyperventilating in an already stressful situation. Be mellow – start low.

Speed is something we can and should control. Too fast and we sound like we have a terrible secret (“I confess! I jacked up the price like never before because I know who the competition is!”). Too slow and we’d be better off auditioning for a sleep hypnosis CD rather than selling. Most of us lean towards speaking too fast, especially when we’re stressed. For such speedy individuals, speaking more slowly gives us more time to think and instantly ups our perceived IQ score by 10 points.

We should never speed up our chatter rate just because we’re running short of time – throwing out information puts our audience in a nodding-dog, glazed eye coma.  In fact we’d be better off doing the opposite by slowing down and shortening our message for the remaining time available.

When it comes to questions, the temptation is to impress the audience by telling them everything we know as fast as we can. Not a good idea. To repeat, excessive amounts of rapid information merely shuts down a conference room like a stray can of sleeping gas.  Unless we’re Barack Obama, monologues over two minutes are not recommended.  A much better strategy is to share a little insight, solicit feedback, share a littler more info and so forth until we’ve provided just the right level of detail for our audience . Dumping vast amounts of data on prospects until they yield to a deluge of verbal diarrhea is commonly referred to as “drop your pants selling” and no one wants to be guilty of that.

And finally, volume.  As kids we’re taught to address a room LOUDLY AND CONFIDENTLY SO EVERYONE CAN HEAR US.  This isn’t bad advice but if we turn our volume down just a notch while speaking slowly and starting sentences at the low end of our vocal range, the effect is well… hypnotic. People listen to and trust a quieter voice more. It takes confidence; in the immortal words of the Guinness TV ads for that famous Irish stout, it’s all about “strong words softly spoken.”  Next time we want to make an important point, try softening the voice a pip and seeing what the reaction is.

Outside of Broadway, few careers gives us the  opportunity to explore our vocal talents like selling:  learning and knowing how to use our voice is a lot of fun.  Whether we’re pitching for a billion dollar Pentagon contract or closing a startup company’s first sale, a polished vocal talent is the great equalizer of sales. 

Until the next time:  stay low, stay melllow, don’t eat too much jello.

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