A common representation of sales comes in the form of someone aggressively trying to sell you something you don’t need. However, this isn’t the only application of sales, and the act of selling is used in more scenarios than you may think. Money may not be changing hands, and you may not be exchanging physical goods or services, but you’re more than likely selling something to somebody every day. This could be anything from presenting the idea of a new project, advocating for a different approach to a problem, or even selling yourself — communicating the value that you bring to a team!
There is no doubt that some people are more immediately comfortable selling than others (like myself), but just like any other skill, it can be learned and improved upon. At Ro, we carve out two-three days a quarter for self guided training, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to developing this skill further. I decided on this course (Storytelling and influencing: Communicate with impact), because the syllabus indicated an approach that could be applied to every day business settings. Overall, the course breaks selling down into several components like persuasion, storytelling, and presentation. It provides some interesting ways to frame your thinking to communicate effectively, and I would recommend certain sections of it to someone that wants to improve their storytelling and communication skills.
Below is my overview of the sections from the course that I want to highlight as they included frameworks and concepts that I found most useful.
Week 1: The necessary art of persuasion
This section provides an introduction to selling, and the importance of persuasion. They define persuasion as the action or process of changing someone’s mind or behavior to do or believe something different.
If our goal is simply to inform, then presentations may not be necessary, one could just simply send out the relevant information.
However, if the intent is to persuade, then presentations are crucial because typically this means convincing the audience why certain things have to change.
To do it well you must understand what motivates your audience, which means understanding what’s important to them, which requires understanding your audience. The questions you must ask follow a seemingly obvious framework of ‘who, what, and why?’
- Who is my audience?
- What information do they find valuable?
- What are their aspirations or fears/What are they most concerned about
- Why should they listen to me?
Being able to answer these questions sets a solid foundation to what material is necessary to prepare when trying to persuade your audience.
Week 2: Storytelling
2.1 — Information processing and recalling stories
How to structure a presentation that can create both excitement and suspense.
What makes a boring presentation?
- Speakers don’t know how to structure it
- They don’t understand the information processing needs of the audience
- They don’t assist the audience in processing the information
- They can’t find the right stories
It is important to remember to speak about benefits not features when presenting. In a nutshell, a feature is what something is, and a benefit is what users can do or accomplish with it.
2.2 — Why is storytelling important?
Think of your presentation as a mix of facts and stories.
Ideal presentation structure:
- Hook — to reel the audience in
- Problem and solution to sustain attention
- Call to action to activate behavioral change
The course recommends working on the ‘middle’ part first, as this is the reason the audience is attending your presentation.
You don’t want to reveal the solution immediately. You want some suspense before revealing the promised solution.
Be concrete in your description, at the same time paint a compelling picture of the benefits that follow.
2.3 — Structure that story
You can also think of structuring your story as Situation -> Obstacle -> Solution
Situation — describe situation of client
Obstacle — what is preventing client from getting what they want
Solution — how you help client overcome obstacle and how great it is for them now
They also provided some extra tips to making a story exciting:
- Have an enemy and a hero (the enemy can be a thing — e.g. the current system in place)
- Use conflict (what obstacles do we face?)
- Omit irrelevant details
- Tell the story like you talk
- Make it visual (images bring stories to life)
- Make it personal
- Add surprise (this is as essential to a story as conflict)
Week 4 — Creating impressions and guiding influential conversations
4.1 — Group influence and impression management
It is pointed out that everyone tends to conform to social influences/norms. We act differently in groups because of the fear of embarrassing ourselves in front of others
There is often a tendency to minimize conflict and reach consensus without sufficiently evaluating and testing ideas.
To avoid group-think:
- Critically evaluate all options
- Leader should initially refrain from giving opinions
- Break into smaller groups if needed
- An impartial third-party opinion
- Have someone play devils advocate
4.2 — The three questions to influence
What do I want them to think/feel/do after the meeting?
- Think — It’s a great campaign -> It’s crucial that they adopt this marketing campaign in order for their company to survive. Fully convince yourself of the benefit you are offering.
- Feel — Use clear compelling language. Use just one intention — are you trying to reassure, motivate, or inspire?
- Do — What do you want them to do after your pitch? What action do you want them to take?
How should a meeting be structured?
- Why? Why are we here
- What? What info will we cover
- How? How will we cover it
- So what? What does it mean
4.3 — The questions that get the real answers
- 5 why’s — keep asking ‘why’ until you drill down into the core reasoning
Top questions you can ask to drill down further into a project — to get the real answer
- How is that a problem?
- For what purpose?
- What specifically?