Don’t make the same mistake as Donald Trump

You’d be forgiven if, after reading the title of this post, you asked, “Which one?”

Don’t worry, we’re going to leave politics and policies aside, so that narrows it down, at least somewhat.

Instead, I want to discuss a mistake that the President made during his address to the United Nations on 25 September 2018. This might come as a surprise, but many speakers make the same mistake, particularly when they are making a sales pitch.

Only 40 seconds into his speech, Trump said, “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country. America’s … [laughter from audience] … so true … [more laughter].”

As the laughter spread throughout the General Assembly Chamber, he paused a moment and then admitted, “Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK.”

Readers of my blog and social media platforms know that I am no fan of the President and that I disagree with the majority of his policies and positions. Nevertheless, I have also acknowledged the potent simplicity of his speaking style, particularly when it comes to connecting with his base.

And, as my stand-up comedian friend Mel Kelly noted in a recent conversation I had with him, Trump did respond well to the unexpected reaction by “calling the room”, a technique used by comedians to acknowledge when a joke doesn’t work. So he did win the audience back, at least for a few moments.

But all that aside, Trump made a gaffe when he started his speech by boasting of his accomplishments. Not only did he come across (yet again) as self-centred, many in the room would not consider his accomplishments to be worthy of praise.

So what is the connection with sales pitches? Fortunately, most people are not nearly as self-centred as Trump. However, when they pitch to potential clients, many of them make the same mistake that Trump made at the UN:

They begin by talking about themselves and their companies.

This is putting the cart before the horse. I’m not saying that you or your company or your successes or your ideas aren’t important. They are. But the people in the audience, and the problems with which they are struggling, are more important.

So if you are pitching a product or service to a potential client, start with them. Show them that you understand their problems and then work your way to how you can help. And if you want to talk about your company’s reputation and successes as a way to boost your ethos, you can do so towards the end of the presentation.

In their seminal book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath write:

The most basic way to make people care is to form an association between something they don’t yet care about and something they do care about.

It will come as no surprise that one reliable way of making people care is by invoking self-interest.

So whenever you are pitching a product or service, start with the audience and their problems. Make sure that they understand that you understand them. Then they will care. And when they care, the chances are greater that your sales pitch will be a success and that you’ll leave smiling.

Like Donald Trump.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
This entry was posted in Audience, Delivery, Structure and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Don’t make the same mistake as Donald Trump

  1. Pingback: Gore Vidal on the inability of politicians to write (or read) their speechesManner of Speaking

  2. Pingback: Don't make the same mistake as Donald Trump | Shopping Money PR

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