What’s the best way to deliver an unforgettable sales pitch or keynote presentation?
Tell a story.
Stories lure an audience’s attention with relatable elements, such as characters, emotions, and conflicts. Audiences see themselves in these elements and tune into your message. This builds trust and engages the audience on a deeper level, making it much more likely your message will influence them.
Stories Have Immense Psychological Power
Consider the long-standing tradition of the parable; the life lesson at the end of the tale makes these stories unforgettable.
This human connection is the deepest power a story holds, and it has a physiological effect on an audience. If people are listening to you intently, their brains become synchronized with yours.
In her book, “The Influential Mind,” neuroscientist Tali Sharot states, “If everyone is listening intently to the same monologue, the audience’s brain patterns will look similar. If the speech is as boring as watching paint dry, each mind will drift away to its own wonderland, and the synchronization will be broken.”
The physical and psychological power of stories runs even deeper.
Stories have the ability to calm what’s known as the lizard, or reptilian, brain. In essence, the lizard brain is the voice in the back of our heads that tells us to back off, be careful, go slow, or compromise when we are uncertain of something new.
The “lizard” is actually a physical part of your brain, the amygdala. It’s the pre-historic lump near the brain stem that is responsible for fear, rage, and reproductive drive. In this scenario, it’s an evolutionary tool designed to make us cautious of potential dangers. We see something new and we wonder, “Can I eat it, or can it eat me?” Well, maybe not that exactly, but you get the idea.
In his blog, author and business thought leader Seth Godin explains how the lizard brain affects decision making. The lizard brain perceives change as a danger or risk. So as we get closer to a moment of change, resistance from the lizard brain strengthens. In essence, any time we're met with an idea that conflicts with our existing and familiar perception of reality, our lizard brain tells us to fight or flee.
Assuaging this part of someone’s brain is crucial in persuading them to your point of view. As a presenter, you want to calm the lizard brain and make your audience comfortable with your message delivery. That’s what a story does.
Stats Aren’t Your Best Tool
Stats lose your audience, plain and simple. We’ve all seen an audience check out when charts and figures are presented. But the reason behind stats’ lack of persuasive power is far deeper and more psychological than boredom.
It starts with confirmation bias. Perhaps you are already familiar with this phenomenon, but the crux of it is this: people see what they want to see. As humans, we’re deeply emotional and biased beings. The interpretive nature of data lends itself to be twisted and distorted to fit a narrative.
“But wait, I’m talking actual, factual data here. You can’t argue with that!”
No, you can’t, and yet we still do. All. The. Time.
Humans remember information selectively, and this selective memory skews toward a desired outcome. In other words, if someone doesn’t want to believe the information you are presenting them, or is skeptical to begin with, they’re likely to perceive holes in your data. Conversely, if they like what you’re telling them, they may exaggerate your message’s importance and have inflated, unrealistic expectations.
People actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis and ignore or under-weigh evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis.
What’s more, people tend to ignore data that does not support their current beliefs. Social and political media is a prime example of this. We choose to listen to and engage the channels we agree with and ignore those we don’t.
In short, there’s a good chance your sales lead tunes you out the moment you start telling them the software they’ve used for decades is costing them thousands of dollars.
It’s All in the Delivery
So if stats don’t get their attention, what does?
The best thing you can do to deliver a persuasive and memorable performance is use storytelling to win your audience to your point of view. By retelling a personal story, your emotions and energy will shine through and make you more exciting to watch.
This takes practice. Simply knowing the material and writing out notes to assist you during the presentation is not enough. Overreliance on notes stalls momentum and breaks your connection with the audience.
Think of it this way: you can’t read a manual and ride a bicycle.
You need to practice your delivery and think of it as a performance.
And after you’ve given your presentation, refine your pitch even more. Reflect on moments you felt the audience was engaged, on moments that fell flat. Chances are, you’ll have to give this pitch, or one similar, again.