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 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 many 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.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

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Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International