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Small Business Digest


The Lost Art of Persuasion: Winning Over Even the Toughest Group

People who present for a living, whether as a CEO selling ideas to the board or a salesperson trying to win new business, are finding their jobs tougher than ever.

They face relentless competition. People are bombarded with messages from the media, the Internet, and other sources. It's getting harder and harder to break through the clutter, yet that's what is necessary to do in order to persuade an audience. Many are falling back on an ineffective crutch: PowerPoint.

"Sellers have become projectionists, throwing words onto a screen while listeners read ahead and sellers plod behind, mouthing what's already been displayed," says Paul LeRoux, coauthor (along with Peg Corwin) of Visual Selling: Capture the Eye and the Customer Will Follow (Wiley, April 2007).

"PowerPoint's electronic barrage of words, bullet points, and sentences threatens to turn the art of persuasion into a lost art."
LeRoux is on a mission to break presenters from the seductive PowerPoint routine. 

He believs that when a person allows himself to play second fiddle to PowerPoint text, the selling efforst are crippled. By adopting the principles of visual selling--which basically means drawing attention to yourself and shaping images, room environments, personal appearance, and gestures for maximum impact—a presenter can give dynamic presentations that truly persuade.

According to LeRoux, presenting ideas with images rather than text says four important things about a person:

  1. The person is different from the average presenter. From the first visual, it separates the presenter from competing ideas, dramatically and non-verbally.
  2. The work and service also will be personalized. Tailored image presentations are more difficult to create than text slides, and they the person will go the extra mile.
  3. The person is smart enough to speak without huge cue cards on the screen.
  4. The presenter is creative. Rather than presenting the same old material the same old way, the person is demonstrating his ability to think conceptually.  The images reflect imagination.

"People respect individuals who exhibit these four qualities," says LeRoux. "Even without saying, 'I'm dependable; I deliver,' you're conveying these facts. They understand implicitly that the person who is creative, who is smart, who makes an effort, and who is different is more likely to deliver than someone who is not."

Here are six tips, excerpted from LeRoux's book, on regaining control of presentations:

People remember pictures, not words. Use this principle as an advantage. Researchers tell us that the mind stores and retrieves pictures more efficiently than words. A face is easier to remember and recall than a name. Cognitive psychologists call this phenomenon "the picture superiority effect." A presenter can leverage it to sell ideas by presenting powerful images to the audience, unsupported by text, as the pitch is given.

Use PowerPoint images, but stay away from text.
  Instead of posting a lot of dry text that is then read aloud, use an image to convey the meaning. "If you do read it aloud, your audience is insulted. Aren't they smart enough to read for themselves? Either way, PowerPoint text takes the focus off you and drains the persuasiveness right out of your presentation," says LeRoux.

Don't try to sell ideas with a handout. When a speaker distributes a handout before his speech, the focus of the audience is lost.  LeRoux doesn’t say that handouts can’t be used, but suggests you wait until after the presentation."

When presenting to a group that insists on a handout, give them an "image deck." This will satisfy their need to "follow along" without distracting them. It's true that there are situations in which a group demands a handout. When this happens, print full-page versions of the image slides and duplicate them to create a handout. This is an acceptable compromise. With an "image version," the audience will not be overly distracted. With a text-driven handout, heads are down and eyes are glued to the copy. With "image handouts," people rapidly peruse the entire document and return their attention to the presenter.

The viewer's "fast take" occurs because image pages only broadly indicate where the seller is heading. It gives the skeleton of the message, but it doesn't flesh it out in a way that is absorbing. Images need a presenter to fill in the details. As a result, listeners will listen that much harder while the presentation is occurring.

Do use strategic hand gestures. When a person is under pressure, adrenaline surges and a person wants to do something with his hands.  A person shouldn’t try to squelch this natural impulse by hiding hands behind her back or jamming them in her pockets. Instead, use gesturing to your advantage--to indicate size ("small" costs or "huge" margins) or action (sales will "skyrocket" or we'll "check off" results).

Learn the simple technique that creates instant enthusiasm. No doubt about it, enthusiasm sells. In fact, "enthusiasm" is a Greek word that translates roughly to "the god, the spirit, and the energy within you." Yet, it's the hardest of all delivery skills to learn or to teach. But LeRoux says there's an easy technique anyone can use to convey heart, drama, and passion: just speak up.

"Increase your volume and, like magic, enthusiasm usually appears," says LeRoux. "It is a direct, one-to-one relationship. When a person speaks more loudly, he is also more likely to display body language that communicates his enthusiasm. Oh, and by the way, a microphone does nothing to produce enthusiasm. It's a crutch. I suggest that, unless you're in a large room speaking to forty or fifty people, you don't use one at all."

It should be clear from these tips that there's no mysterious "speaking gift" involved in delivering compelling presentations. With practice and coaching, anyone can learn to sell visually. And speakers who do, consistently outshine the competition to win new accounts, convince stockholders, or bring home venture capital monies.

"You don't have to be a 'born speaker' to convince a group," says LeRoux. "That's a myth. You simply have to be trained in proven techniques for selling your ideas, not merely 'telling' them. You must abandon the put-'em-to-sleep-with-a-PowerPoint approach and seize the attention of your audience. Selling visually is a tangible skill--and you can master it."

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