Let Me Tell You a Story…

By Jeff Beals

If you ask any historian to name the greatest leaders in western civilization, there’s a good chance the 16th president of the United States will make the list. He willed his country to victory in the gut-wrenching Civil War, issued the Emancipation Proclamation and facilitated the eventual ratification of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery.

A number of traits contributed to Abraham Lincoln’s greatness. He possessed a brilliant intellect. He had an uncommon amount of common sense. He was a thinker, someone who philosophically examined the world and crafted a rationalized set of personal beliefs by which he steadfastly lived.

While he was blessed with many talents, Lincoln’s greatest attribute may have been his ability to communicate. He was a skilled orator who eloquently wrote many of his own speeches. He listened sincerely when others spoke. He empathized. He mastered the art of interpersonal communications several decades before the term “interpersonal communications” was coined.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to credit Lincoln as one of history’s greatest communicators. But of all the communications techniques he so successfully employed, there was one where he especially shone.

Abraham Lincoln was a remarkable storyteller.

Lincoln succeeded under some of the most difficult leadership conditions any U.S. president has had to face. To communicate is such times, he often resorted to stories. Instead of berating the incompetent generals who blundered in the Civil War’s early battles, Lincoln educated and motivated them by using stories. To smooth over ruffled political feathers with members of Congress, Lincoln would pull out a story and use it to establish common ground.

Among history’s eminent leaders, however, Lincoln was not unique in his reliance upon stories. Political leaders throughout the ages have moved the masses by using stories to communicate their political platforms. In modern days, big-time CEOs use storytelling to mobilize international staffs in the quest for billions of dollars of profit. Jesus Christ himself used parables and story-based lessons to enlighten his disciples.

Indeed, stories pack a punch. They’re powerful. They paint pictures. They work, because our human brains are conditioned to listen to and be receptive to stories. Long before the written word, and long before Gutenberg invented the printing press, people used stories to communicate histories and traditions as well as norms and expectations. In other words, our ancestors sat around the fire every night and told stories. The propensity to tell and listen to stories is essentially a part of our DNA.

So, if people are so receptive to storytelling, you and I would be foolish not to use stories in our work. Good storytellers tend to be effective leaders and successful salespersons. If you manage people, teach them and motivate them by conveying important information through stories. If you sell products and services, use a story to paint a picture in your prospect’s mind. By making the product or service part of a story, prospective clients mentally project themselves into the story. Once someone makes that kind of psychological commitment, they’re much more likely to buy.

Let’s say we asked the same prospective client to sit through two sales presentations for competing products. Both salespersons touched on features and benefits. Salesperson One was very straightforward and focused on delivering factual content. Salesperson Two was accurate but explained the features and benefits using stories. A couple of the stories were about previous clients who enjoyed positive results from using the product. I guarantee the second salesperson has a higher likelihood of landing the client.

One of the most important skills in sales is the ability to overcome objections. Well, if you get an objection, tell a story to keep the deal alive. Are you ready to deliver your close? Make it more desirable by couching it inside a story. Has the process become mired? Advance it by telling a story.

Whether you are managing a staff, selling a service, delivering a speech, trying to persuade voters to elect you or attempting to resolve a conflict between two of your colleagues, make it easier by spinning a yarn. Stories reassure people and disarm them.

As you make a commitment to including more stories in your daily work, keep a couple things in mind:

1. Stories must be relative to the situation at hand.

2. Know when to shut up. If a story goes on too long, it loses its effectiveness

3. Think about the work you do and determine what kinds of stories could be effective in certain situations.

4. Catalog stories in your mind. Look back on your own experiences as well as the experiences of your colleagues. Make a list of stories to have at your disposal, so you can use them whenever it’s expedient.

Every product, service, business and person has a story, probably multiple stories. The trick is to pull out these stories and use them to your benefit at the appropriate times. After all, if President Lincoln used stories to save a country, we would be wise to use them to save our businesses and careers.

Jeff Beals is an award-winning author, who helps professionals do more business and have a greater impact on the world through effective sales, marketing and personal branding techniques. As a professional speaker, he delivers energetic and humorous keynote speeches and workshops to audiences worldwide. To discuss booking a presentation, go to JeffBeals.com or call (402) 637-9300.

You are welcome to forward this article (with author citation) to anyone who might benefit from it.

Relax. You’re Doing the Audience a Favor

By Jeff Beals

When you see the old films of Elvis Presley performing live on stage, you can’t help but notice his energy, his extreme talent and his confidence. A guy would have to be awfully darned confident to perform the way Elvis did especially considering how edgy he was for that period of time.

Wait a minute…Not so fast.

A look at Elvis’ life history might surprise you. At times, Elvis suffered from stage fright, that terrible feeling characterized by shallow breaths, accelerated heartbeats, dizziness, sweaty palms and a dry mouth.

Well, if the King of Rock & Roll struggled with stage fright, the rest of us shouldn’t feel so bad. Almost everyone deals with that inconvenient form of social anxiety at least sometime during his or her life. I speak professionally, and I still get a tinge of it every once in a while.

Fortunately, stage fright can be managed. Learning how to control it is important, because most professionals have to speak publicly on a periodic basis. In a loud and crowded marketplace, your success may very well depend on your ability to deliver the goods in front of an audience. The better you are as a speaker, the more business and career opportunities you’ll enjoy.

Know that stage fright is a very natural part of public speaking. Some nervousness is a good thing, because it pushes us to prepare, concentrate and do a good job. When you run the risk of embarrassing yourself in front of a large group of people, you are likely to focus on the task and do your best.

The key to overcoming stage fright is to manage it. Here are a few tips that help me deal with it:

Accept stage fright as a fact of life – The first few times you speak, you will be nervous. As you become more experienced, most nervousness will subside. For your first speech, just stand up and force yourself to do it. Once you start speaking and get a few sentences out, the nervousness usually fades.

Stall for a bit – If your heart is pounding and your lungs are breathing rapidly as you approach the podium, take a few moments before you jump into your script. Straighten your papers, adjust the microphone, thank the person who introduced you and say something nice about him or her. Look out at the audience and smile before you begin talking. This small sequence of events can help you catch your breath and settle into speaking mode.

Don’t let the joke be on you – A lot of people will advise you, “tell a joke at the beginning; it loosens up the crowd and calms the speaker’s nerves.” That’s true as long as the joke is actually funny. A bad joke goes over like a lead balloon. If you are not positive your joke is funny, and that you are capable of delivering it properly, don’t do it. Nothing flusters an inexperienced speaker more than a joke that bombs.

They’re only human – Here’s some age-old advice: “pretend the audience members are all wearing underwear.” I can’t say that I’ve ever done this, but I like the spirit and intent of this advice. In other words, audience members are only human. They have as many or more problems and inadequacies as you do. Don’t build them into some monolithic gathering of super beings. Most of them would be nervous too if they were in your shoes.

A friendly face – Pretend you are talking to one person you know very well. It could be a spouse, parent, best friend, whoever. This personalizes the audience. For most people, it’s much easier to talk to a trusted friend instead of a room full of strangers.

Get a little cocky – Remind yourself that the audience is there to see and hear YOU. That means you are doing them a favor. You are providing them with education, entertainment and energy they do not currently have. They are lucky you are willing to take your valuable time to give it to them.

Confident body language regardless of how nervous you may be – When I am introduced as a speaker, I stand up, and walk confidently toward the podium. I look the introducer in the eye and give him/her a firm handshake. It’s hard to explain why, but an outward show of confidence helps me feel more confident on the inside too.

Pauses aren’t as long as you think – Don’t panic if you lose your place or if you become short of breath during the speech. Simply pause until you find your place. To the speaker, pauses seem ten times longer than they really are. Actually, pauses are important speaking tools. They break up the monotony and can wake up a drifting audience member.

Dream about the end – With each sentence you utter, you move closer to the end reward – the applause. Remind yourself that your hard work, concentration and endurance of stage fright all pay off when the speech is done.

Be proactive – The more you prepare, the more confident you are about your material. Secondly, as the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. Practice not only makes your speech better, it makes you more comfortable. The day before a speech, drive to the venue. Simply seeing the place and knowing the route to get there can put your mind at ease.

Arrive at the venue early – If you are weaving in and out of traffic desperately trying to beat the clock, you will be flustered before you even get there. Arriving early allows you to chit-chat with audience members ahead of time. This helps you to bond with audience members and serves to “warm you up” before going on stage.

Finally, take some time the day before or the morning of the speech to “visualize” success. It is common for coaches to have their athletes imagine themselves making great plays. I believe in the power of positive visualization and use it frequently. When I am driving to any important event in which I have to perform or accomplish something, I imagine myself being confident, knowledgeable and successful. Try it sometime. It really works.

Jeff Beals is an award-winning author, who helps professionals do more business and have a greater impact on the world through effective sales, marketing and personal branding techniques. As a professional speaker, he delivers energetic and humorous keynote speeches and workshops to audiences worldwide. To discuss booking a presentation, go to JeffBeals.com or call (402) 637-9300.

You are welcome to forward this article (with author citation) to anyone who might benefit from it.

Value Lives in Your Client’s Mind

by Jeff Beals

If you want to sell more widgets, stop selling widgets.

If you want to sell more real estate, insurance or financial planning services, stop selling real estate, insurance and financial planning services.

If you represent Tupperware, Avon or Pampered Chef, stop selling those things too.

The world’s most successful salespersons don’t sell products and services. They sell VALUE. In other words, instead of selling insurance, you’re selling security, protection and peace of mind. Instead of selling Pampered Chef products, you are selling prestige, coolness and an easier way to prepare gourmet food.

Now, before all you “non-salespersons” stop reading this article, consider this: Regardless of what you do for a living, you are in sales. Everyone sells. Here’s why: 1. If you work for a company, you have a moral obligation to promote that company whenever you have the chance. After all, your job might depend on it. 2. You’re always selling yourself – possibly for a new job, a promotion, a better assignment within an existing job or for perks/benefits. 3. If you have an idea that will make your employer more successful, you may have to sell that idea to the ultimate decision maker. 4. If you are involved in a civic or philanthropic organization, you may have to sell the organization’s mission in order to raise funds and attract volunteers.

Suffice it to say, you are indeed working in sales. Everyone is in sales. That’s why it’s so essential to understand the importance of “value” in your work.

That point was driven home when I attended a recent workshop facilitated by Steve Lishansky, CEO of Boston-based Optimize International, a consulting firm that coaches Fortune 500 company executives. Lishansky teaches that clients are eager to pay for those individuals or companies that provide them with compelling value.

You don’t want to be paid for the job, hour, gig, order, product, showing, presentation, contract, deal, project etc. You want to be paid for the value you bring to the client. And if you do a truly effective job of establishing value, you then can receive regular income from that client on an on-going basis. As Lishansky teaches, you must be seen as an investment, not an expense.

How do you go about convincing a client that you provide great value? Lishansky identifies several prerequisites.

Delivery – Consistently deliver outstanding results. With so much competition in the world, clients have the right to assume that all providers are competent. Make sure you are more than competent in your operations.

Interpersonal Communication – You will have a hard time determining what the client values if you don’t communicate thoroughly and listen carefully.

Relationships and Trust – Do what it takes to build a strong bond with your clients.

In the seminar, Lishansky asked participants to close their eyes and imagine their most difficult clients. Then he asked us what was noticeably different between those clients and our best clients. The answers all came down to relationships. If the relationship is strong enough, you can trust your clients to tell them what they need to hear as opposed to what they want to hear. Even if the client gets mad, your relationship is so strong, that he or she won’t leave you.

Once you establish trust, you pave the way for value, because as Lishansky says, “value lives in your client’s mind.”

Next, we must understand what Lishansky calls the Client Clarity Paradox: 1. You understand what is most important to your client; and 2. You can do something about it. Importantly, numbers 1 and 2 must happen in this exact order. The problem is that many professions get the order backwards. They are too focused on proving they can do something for the client before they take the time to truly understand who the client is, what is important to the client and what problems the client desperately needs to solve.

As you continue moving forward in your career, and you sell whatever it is that you must sell, remember Steve Lishansky’s teachings on value. Focus on the client. Determine what is most important to him or her. Remember that value lives in their minds, not yours.

Ultimately, you are not in the product- or service-selling business. You’re in the results-selling business. The right results, along with a trusting relationship are what your clients truly value.

By the way, you can learn more about Steve Lishansky at OptimizeIntl.com.

Jeff Beals is an award-winning author, who helps professionals do more business and have a greater impact on the world through effective sales, marketing and personal branding techniques. As a professional speaker, he delivers energetic and humorous keynote speeches and workshops to audiences worldwide. To discuss booking a presentation, go to JeffBeals.com or call (402) 637-9300.

You are welcome to forward this article (with author citation) to anyone who might benefit from it.