Series on Persuasive Speakers: Being empathetic

The biggest secret to being a persuasive speaker is actually very simple. Connect with your audience. Show them you care. And if the time comes, prove your empathy.

Born into poverty, Joe Girard sold 13,001 cars over the course of 15 years-not fleet sales but sales to individual car buyers. He holds the Guinness World Record for being the world’s greatest salesman. In 1973, he sold 1,425 cars, and in one month, he sold 174-a record that still stands today. HBR (Harvard Business Review) senior editor M. Ellen Peebles spoke with Girard about overcoming personal hardship and how he created thousands of relationships, one at a time. Now out of the car business, he speaks to people around the world about how to sell.

“When you bought a car from me, you didn’t get just a car. You got me. I would break my back to service a customer; I’d rather service a customer than sell another car. After a few years, there was pandemonium outside my office, there were so many people waiting to see me. So I started seeing people by appointment only. And the reason people were willing to wait a week for an appointment rather than go buy from someone else right away is because they knew that if they got a lemon, I would turn it into a peach.”

“People are sick to death of sitting around in service departments. When I was selling cars, my right-hand man could go to the service department while the customer’s car was at the curb and get three or four mechanics to come right out with toolboxes and take care of the customer in 25 minutes. Sometimes they would install $15 or $20 worth of parts-a lot of money back then-and the customer would say, “How much do I owe you?”

“Nothing,” I’d say. “I love you. Just come back.” You get service like that, where are you going to buy next time? That’s what makes businesses big: word of mouth. If you create it, it’ll make you. If you don’t, it’ll break you.

And the reason I could get the mechanics to come out right away is that I loved them, and I let them know. I made a deal with a nice Italian restaurant, and every third Wednesday I would take all of the service people to dinner-the people who wrote up the service orders, mechanics, the parts department, everyone. I would eat with them and tell them how much I appreciated them, how much I loved them. Once a year, I invited all the service people and their families over to a big barbecue at my house, to eat with me and my family. This is something that all executives should think about: There are service people in every company. They are the ones you wine and dine. You say you love your customers. What if they aren’t so likable?”

“It’s like a marriage. You need to like each other. And if you treat people right, you will love them. I told my customers that I liked them, that I loved them, all the time. I would send a card every month with a different picture, a different greeting, and the card would say, “I like you.” I would close a sale, and I would say to my customer, “I love you.” I even gave them buttons that said, “I like you.” People may have had to wait for an appointment, but when I was with them, I was with them body and soul.”

“I grew up in the ghettos of Detroit. I started selling cars in 1963 at the age of 35. I was out of a job, had no savings, and was in serious debt after a failed home construction business, and my wife told me there was no food in the house to feed our children. I pleaded with a local car dealer for a desk and a phone and promised that I would not take business away from any of the other salespeople. I wore my finger black dialing a rotary phone trying to get leads, and that night, when all the other salesmen had gone home, I saw a customer walk in the door. What I saw was a bag of groceries walking toward me. I literally got down on my hands and knees and begged, and I made my first sale. The customer said that with everything he had bought over the years-insurance, houses, cars-he had never seen anyone beg like that. Then I borrowed $10 from my boss against my commission and bought food for my family. So I appreciate every person who bought from me so much. I would tell them, “I thank you, and my family thanks you. I love you.”

Categorized as Media

Series on Persuasive Speakers: Connecting with the audience

The ability to speak and persuade your audience is one of the most important weapons you need in your arsenal if you want to grow as an entrepreneur and succeed. This is the story of Adam Braun, an ordinary person who followed his passion, defied the skeptics, conquered paralyzing stage fright, mastered his pitch, and created something extraordinary.

Every ninety hours the nonprofit Adam started with $25 — Pencils of Promise — opens a new school in developing regions. Today Adam’s organization has broken ground on 200 schools and delivered 15 million educational hours to children in Laos, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. It all started when Braun turned 25, left a six-figure job, and decided to create a life story worth telling. But first he had to overcome a terrifying fear of public speaking.

“The ability to captivate another individual through storytelling is essential to the early stage growth of a company,” Braun says. “I spent a lot of time refining how I presented our work through thousands of conversations. I learned the parts of our story that got people’s eyes to light up and their heads to nod. I also learned when they started to fidget or their eyes glazed over. Through persistent communication we refined the language through which we describe the organization. It still remains the most critical part of driving the growth of the organization.”

Braun wasn’t always a confident speaker. “You can’t find someone who was more scared of public speaking than I was. My heart raced, my hands were shaking, and my eyes would burn like I had just cut an orange and rubbed my eyes with it. My body would literally shut down,” he acknowledged. Braun realized he had to grow in confidence, refine his public speaking skills, and hone his pitch if he hoped to attract the really big donors required to take his nonprofit to the next level.

Three little girls that Braun met in the small village of Pha Theung, Laos, would prove to be his muse and they remain an essential component of his pitch. In March 2009 Braun was scouting the location for the organization’s first preschool. In the tiny village where the average family makes under $300 a year he met the girls who would become his first students. Braun took out a simple Canon point-and-shoot and recorded a short video. Adam shows the 40-second video in his presentations. “There’s an authenticity to the footage because it’s not super high quality and it’s in the first person. You feel as though you are witnessing a special moment. The video is less than one minute long and it’s a powerful element for drawing out an emotional response.”

Once the video is over Adam advances to a photograph taken four months later showing the same girls sitting in their seats in the first Pencils of Promise PMSEY school. “Showing the before and after is incredibly powerful and allows people to go on an emotional journey that elicits a lot of reaction,” Braun explained.

In one speech Adam was incredibly nervous and “consumed with anxiety.” His voice began shaking. His body was shutting down. “But when I showed the video of Nuth, Nith, and Tamund [the three preschool girls] I was reminded of why I was there and began to speak more confidently.” Braun received a standing ovation that day and his confidence was strengthened immeasurably. Braun learned two important lessons. First, the more you speak publicly the more confidence you’ll gain. “Put yourself in the arena. When you do it often enough you overcome personal challenges that lead to fear.” Second, confidence comes from talking about what you know, telling personal stories, and speaking from the heart.

Braun is a student of persuasion. He knows the human brain has an emotional and a logical, or “rational,” side. “The rational center leads us to make conclusions and the emotional center leads us to action,” says Braun. “A great pitch must acknowledge the viability of the product or service, but the focus must be on igniting the person’s emotional core. ”

After thousands of pitches, Braun has also learned a valuable lesson about one-on-one conversations. “I made the mistake early on of thinking I could win people over by giving them a compelling reason to change somebody else’s life. What I learned over time is that as humans we naturally have self-interests. The most powerful way to engage someone is to provide them with an avenue through which they can change their own life and feel good about doing so by changing another.” Braun achieves this goal by listening for 75 percent of the conversation and talking for the other 25 percent. “It’s not about the presenter; it’s about the chance that the audience has to become the hero by completing a well-defined task,” Braun suggests. “When I do a one-on-one pitch, I’m more interested in understanding the person on the other side of the table than in getting them to understand me.”

I believe that you cannot inspire others unless you’re inspired yourself. Braun is living proof of my theory. Although Braun refined his skills of persuasion over time, his energy and enthusiasm comes from his unshakeable commitment to make a difference and to design the life of his dreams. “Every person has a revolution beating within his or her chest. Regardless of age or status, if you’re not satisfied with the path you’re on, it’s time to rewrite your future. Your life should be a story you are excited to tell.”


Categorized as Media

Series on Persuasive Speakers: Overcoming stage-fright

Fear of the unknown is very logical. Often however, when we overcome those fears, we can reap rewards that we never could have thought of achieving otherwise.

In addition to being a great novelist, Mark Twain was one of the most popular public speakers of his day. He too however was not someone who was born with this talent. In this address, which followed a musical recital by his daughter in October 1906, Twain recounts his first public appearance–“the first and last time” he experienced stage fright (also known as public speaking anxiety).

“My heart goes out in sympathy to anyone who is making his first appearance before an audience of human beings. By a direct process of memory I go back forty years, less one month–for I’m older than I look. I recall the occasion of my first appearance. San Francisco knew me then only as a reporter, and I was to make my bow to San Francisco as a lecturer. I knew that nothing short of compulsion would get me to the theater. So I bound myself by a hard-and-fast contract so that I could not escape. I got to the theater forty-five minutes before the hour set for the lecture.

It was dark and lonely behind the scenes in that theater, and I peeked through the little peek holes they have in theater curtains and looked into the big auditorium. That was dark and empty, too. By and by it lighted up, and the audience began to arrive.

I had got a number of friends of mine, stalwart men, to sprinkle themselves through the audience armed with big clubs. Every time I said anything they could possibly guess I intended to be funny, they were to pound those clubs on the floor. Then there was a kind lady in a box up there, also a good friend of mine, the wife of the governor. She was to watch me intently, and whenever I glanced toward her she was going to deliver a gubernatorial laugh that would lead the whole audience into applause.

At last I began. I had the manuscript tucked under a United States flag in front of me where I could get at it in case of need. But I managed to get started without it. I walked up and down–I was young in those days and needed the exercise–and talked and talked. Right in the middle of the speech I had placed a gem. I had put in a moving, pathetic part which was to get at the hearts and souls of my hearers. When I delivered it they did just what I hoped and expected. They sat silent and awed. I had touched them. Then I happened to glance up at the box where the Governor’s wife was–you know what happened.

Well, after the first agonizing five minutes, my stage fright left me, never to return. I know if I was going to be hanged I could get up and make a good showing, and I intend to. But I shall never forget my feelings before the agony left me, and I got up here to thank you for her for helping my daughter, by your kindness, to live through her first appearance. And I want to thank you for your appreciation of her singing, which is, by the way, hereditary.”

Under the title “Mark Twain’s First Appearance,” this speech originally appeared in Mark Twain’s Speeches (Harper & Brothers, 1910)

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Series on Persuasive Speakers: Use of Story-telling

Various recent research studies have shown that to persuade people, you need to tell them a story. It’s a tool that’s more useful than PowerPoint presentations, say career experts, who note that storytelling can also be used on a day-to-day basis to sell ideas to one person or a hundred. But being an effective storyteller requires preparation.

Paul Smith had 20 minutes to sell the CEO of Procter & Gamble, and his team of managers, on new market-research techniques for which Mr. Smith’s department wanted funding. As associate director of P&G’s market research, Mr. Smith had spent three weeks assembling a concise pitch with more than 30 PowerPoint slides.

On the day of the meeting, CEO A.G. Lafley entered the room, greeted everybody and turned his back to the screen. He then stared intently at Mr. Smith throughout the entire presentation, not once turning to look at a slide.

“I felt like maybe I hadn’t done a very good job because he wasn’t looking at my slides like everyone else,” says Mr. Smith, who also noticed that the other managers didn’t seem very engaged. “It didn’t occur to me until later that he did that because he was more interested in what I had to say than in what my slides looked like.”

The experience prompted Mr. Smith to alter his approach. These days, he uses far fewer slides and a lot more anecdotes, turning his presentations into stories his audience can relate to instead of lecturing them on what needs changing. As a result, Mr. Smith says, he’s subsequently had much greater success getting his ideas across. In four subsequent presentations to Mr. Lafley and his team, they’ve followed along more closely, asked more questions and given better feedback, says Mr. Smith.

Even with digital and social-media tools, employees often struggle to convey ideas to each other, to managers and to customers. That’s why companies such as FedEx, Kimberly-Clark and Microsoft are teaching executives to tell relatable stories as a way to improve workplace communication. Move beyond facts and figures, which aren’t as memorable as narratives, says Cliff Atkinson, a communications consultant from Kensington, Calif., and author of “Beyond Bullet Points.” Many people in business think raw data is persuasive. But when you’re dealing with people from other departments and in different fields who don’t understand how you got that data, you can lose them pretty quickly.

“You have to step back and put yourself into their shoes and take them through the process of understanding,” says Mr. Atkinson. “That requires you to distill the most important facts and wrap them in an engaging story.” Find ways to connect with your audience on an emotional level, says Mr. Atkinson. Neuroscientists have discovered that most decisions—whether people realize it or not—are informed by emotional responses. Do some legwork to find significant events in your audience’s lives or your own that you can base your story on or use to reinforce your points, he says.

This can include dropping in anecdotes about taking care of a sick family member or a memorable customer story, says Mr. Smith, now a corporate trainer and author of “Lead With a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire.” Mr. Smith’s book mentions a story told by a single mother to P&G about the trade-offs that she made to support her children. Her experiences, more than anything else that year, convinced P&G executives to lower their price on shortening.

Mr. Atkinson suggests organizing your story into three acts and starting by establishing context. You want to let your audience know who the main characters are, what the background of the story is, and what you’d like to accomplish by telling it, he says. You might open, for example, by describing a department that’s consistently failed to meet sales goals. Move on to how your main character—you or the company—fights to resolve the conflicts that create tension in the story, Mr. Atkinson says. Success may require the main character to make additional capital investments or take on new training. Provide real-world examples and detail that can anchor the narrative, he advises.

The ending should inspire a call to action, since you are allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions about your story versus just telling them what to do. Don’t be afraid to use your own failures in support of your main points, says Mr. Smith. Whatever you do, don’t preface your story with an apology or ask permission to tell it. Be confident that your story has enough relevance to be told and just launch into it, says Mr. Smith. Confidence and authority, he says, help to sell the idea to your audience.


Categorized as Media

Series on Persuasive Speakers: Choice of words

Many entrepreneurs are so passionate about their new startup idea that they can’t believe any intelligent being, investor or customer wouldn’t react just as excitedly after a quick introduction. They don’t realize that they can often kill their credibility — and future opportunities — by communicating only with passion, responding with a cynical comment or giving up too soon.

The art of getting others to see things as you see them — usually called persuasion — is a key one for entrepreneurs, and it needs to be honed from the first day that you formulate your new idea. You have to persuade the right partners to join and build the solution, the right investors to fund it and the right customers to buy it. Good marketing is just a subset of these efforts and skills.

Take the story of the blind beggar and the advertising writer as an example. This story shows the difference that persuasion and effective communication can make to an idea.

An old blind man was sitting on a busy street corner in the rush-hour begging for money. On a cardboard sign, next to an empty tin cup, he had written: ‘Blind – Please help’. No-one was giving him any money. A young advertising writer walked past and saw the blind man with his sign and empty cup, and also saw the many people passing by completely unmoved, let alone stopping to give money.

The advertising writer took a thick marker-pen from her pocket, turned the cardboard sheet back-to-front, and re-wrote the sign, then went on her way. Immediately, people began putting money into the tin cup. After a while, when the cup was overflowing, the blind man asked a stranger to tell him what the sign now said. “It says,” said the stranger, “‘It’s a beautiful day. You can see it. I cannot.’ “

Much later it was interpreted into a popular video on the web. This story illustrates in a timeless way how important choice of words and language is when we want to truly connect with and move other people.

Categorized as Media

Series on Persuasive Speakers: Becoming a great orator

If a man wishes to become a great orator, he must first become a student of the great orators who have come before him. He must immerse himself in their texts, listening for the turns of phrases and textual symmetries, the pauses and crescendos, the metaphors and melodies that have enabled the greatest speeches to stand the test of time.

Winston Churchill is one of the most revered leaders in history. As the prime minister of Great Britain during World War II, he inspired the nation and the world with his passionate, compelling speeches. He was certainly one of the most influential persons in British history, and his speeches are consistently ranked as the best ever given. Here are a few lessons we can learn from Churchill’s magnificent oratory skills.

First, and perhaps most importantly, it’s possible to become a great speaker even if you’re not a natural at public speaking. Churchill himself was not born a great orator. In fact, he had a slight stammer and a lisp when he was young. He spent hours and hours crafting his speeches, practicing and perfecting each word. His good friend Lord Birkenhead said, “Winston has spent the best years of his life writing impromptu speeches.” He put in countless hours of work making his speeches flawless to incite inspiration in a desperate audience. His dedicated effort obviously made a difference to millions in an extremely trying time.

You don’t have to be a natural at presenting to be successful at it. Even one of the greatest orators of the twentieth century had to practice, practice and practice to perfect the craft. “Continuous effort– not strength or intelligence– is the key to unlocking our potential,” Churchill said.

Churchill spoke in short, crisp sentences, which gave his speeches a poignant directness. He got his point across quickly and effectively. While he was eloquent and articulate, he was also blunt and concise. This is an extremely effective way to present. It’s important to speak with eloquence, but it’s also necessary to be clear and blunt. Remember, the average person has an attention span of 18 minutes. Keep your material crisp and tight, yet engaging.

Like all great orators, Churchill emphasized his speech with rhythm and repetition. His speeches’ rhythmic manner caused the audience to hang on his every word, waiting with bated breath for what came next. And like always, repetition reinforced the point to which he was speaking.

His most famous speech, We Shall Fight on the Beaches, given on June 4, 1940, employed both of these methods. Consider this quote from the speech: “A miracle of deliverance, achieved by valor, by perseverance, by perfect discipline, by faultless service, by resource, by skill, by unconquerable fidelity, is manifest to us all.” Notice the repetition with by, by, by, and say it aloud to hear the rhythm. Or of course the memorable line “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” The poetic usage of the phrase “we shall fight” which lends it a awe inspiring aura. It just sounds great.

Repetition is the easiest to use, in terms of employing its use and the effectiveness of doing so. The audience is guaranteed to better remember the information presented if you do so.

Churchill was also masterful at using vivid imagery. He spoke in a grand, epic way with brilliant words and moving description. He spoke in a way that painted a picture in the mind of the listener. This was especially important in the early twentieth century when the purely auditory radio had to suffice for information and entertainment. People wanted to paint a picture in their mind while listening to a speech, and Churchill achieved precisely that. Take, for example, this excerpt from We Shall Fight: “They had to operate upon the difficult coast, often in adverse weather, under an almost ceaseless hail of bombs and an increasing concentration of artillery fire. Nor were the seas, as I have said, themselves free from mines and torpedoes. It was in conditions such as these that our men carried on, with little or no rest, for days and nights on end, making trip after trip across the dangerous waters, bringing with them always men whom they had rescued.”

Listeners can create a clear picture in their mind of the scene Churchill is describing. “Ceaseless hail of bombs,” “nor were the seas free from mines and torpedoes,” “days and nights on end.” This vivid description creates a scene, a remarkable scene that doesn’t leave the mind quickly. Use as much vivid imagery as possible throughout a presentation. Again, this is the kind of thing that sticks in the audience’s mind. It emphasizes the story aspect of a presentation. Audiences remember vivid, engrossing imagery.


Categorized as Media

Series on Persuasive Speakers: Capturing audience attention

One of the key points to keep in mind when delivering a public speech is the ability to grab the audience’s attention. After you grab their attention, it is also important to retain it. Some great speakers have been known to use various literary techniques to entice the audience and keep them interested. Take for example the historic “I have a dream” delivered by Martin Luther King Jr., where the civil rights leader used the phrase poetically in nine succinct paragraphs.

Excerpt from the speech: Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

Categorized as Media

Series on Persuasive Speakers: Practise, Practise…

One of the most persistent myths is the notion that inspiring leaders who are great in front of an audience are naturally gifted speakers. It’s quite the opposite. Nobody’s been born holding a PowerPoint clicker in their hand. Leaders who are “gifted” in the art of delivering presentations worked at it really, really hard over many, many years. Most of us see the end result but we don’t see what it took to get there. This is true of business leaders as well as many leaders on the world stage.

Nothing ever comes easy. Great public speakers look effortless because they put a lot of effort into being great.“Up until the age of 20, I was absolutely unable to speak in public,” says billionaire Warren Buffett in the new book Getting There: A Book of Mentors by Gillian Zoe Segal. “Just the thought of it made my physically ill.” When he started his first job selling securities Buffett realized that public speaking skills were a requirement for success. He signed up for a Dale Carnegie course. Warren Buffett considers his Dale Carnegie diploma the most important degree he has. “I don’t have my diploma from the University of Nebraska hanging on my office wall, and I don’t have my diploma from Columbia up there either—but I do have my Dale Carnegie graduation certificate proudly displayed.”

Buffett didn’t end his public speaking training after the course finished. He immediately signed on to teach a class at the University of Omaha. “I knew that if I did not speak in front of people quickly I would lapse back to where I’d started.” According to Buffett, learning to be a better public speaker “certainly had the biggest impact on my subsequent success.”

For example, in 1964 Senator Barry Goldwater lost the presidential election in a landslide to Lyndon Johnson. Bad news for Goldwater turned out to be good news for one up and coming speaker: Ronald Reagan. According to H.W. Brands in the new biography, Reagan: The Life, one nationally televised speech, which Reagan gave in support of Goldwater, propelled Reagan to the top of the party. After the speech, “Many Republicans concluded that their party had nominated the wrong man,” writes Brands.

While Reagan may have been surprised at his good fortune, Brands makes the argument that Reagan wasn’t unprepared. “He had been honing his broadcast skills since his days in radio, and all those talks for GE had served like a long off-Broadway run before a main-stage premier.” Brands is referring to the eight years that Reagan spent as host of General Electric GE -0.22% Theater on television. As part of his contract he toured forty states, giving speeches to a combined 250,000 employees at 139 GE plants across the country, honing and refining his presentations with every speech. In fact Reagan was still unsteady in his speech at the Goldwater convention. Brands writes that Reagan was ‘awkward’ until mid-way through the speech when the crowd rose up and applauded a line. “Their encouragement calmed Reagan down.”

Reagan was elected Governor of California two years later in 1966. Most of us know Reagan as “The great communicator” for his inspiring speeches during his presidency, but few people know that Reagan became great only after years and years of speaking in front of an audience.

There are two lessons to take away from the careers of Buffett and Reagan. First, take every opportunity to give a presentation in front of an audience, no matter how small. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. Second, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll never be a great speaker simply because you might feel uncomfortable today. I’ve met plenty of leaders who were not only uncomfortable—they were downright terrified of public speaking at one point in their lives. Today they’re considered among the world’s most inspiring speakers. You have the same potential. Don’t talk yourself out of it.


Categorized as Media