Strategies to improve your sales persuasion skills

by Donald Horne16 Jun 2015

You probably spend a large chunk of your life getting others to do things for you: persuading your boss to give you time off; influencing your spouse to spend time with you; convincing the kids to go to bed.

But right now we are talking about major deals. You have to stand at the front of the room, take a deep breath, and make such a compelling case that they can’t say no. Here’s how you can do this:

1. Take a breath
First off, it is important to start breathing. 

When you’re nervous you can hold your breath. This makes your brain stop thinking. It triggers a fear response in the brain: you retreat into defensiveness. You just want to run away or punch someone. So breathe.

Practice deep breaths right down into your belly as you rehearse your presentation. Unclench your fists. Move your elbows away from your rib cage. If you find it hard to breathe, here’s a tip: speak lower and slower and your breath will slow down.

2. Prepare the words
Begin as you mean to end—calmly. Prepare the first two sentences. Practice them until they sound natural and normal. Then the rest will flow. You should also prepare the rest of the presentation, of course!

3. Use images and props
If you stand up and use visual aids, your audience is more likely to be onside. And, according to research, they will spend 26% more on your product. Examples of visual aids include posters, photographs, PowerPoint images or actual props. If your audience tends to fiddle with pens or rubber bands or phones, give each person a prop; it will keep them focused as they listen. And if the prop promotes your business, that’s even better.

4. Practice what you will say
It may seem obvious, but practice what you will say. It feels silly, but the more you do it the less it becomes so. Practice not just the words but how you will say them. People read your intention from your gestures. Consider what gestures you want to use, and choreograph your presentation. If you want to come across as open, open up your gestures. If you want to be seen as thoughtful, adopt the pose of the thinker. But you must practice this so it comes across naturally, not like a kid doing show and tell at kindergarten.

5. Don’t read to me
In case you haven’t heard, there is an epidemic of death by PowerPoint. Your PowerPoint slide is not a substitute for palm cards. Do not put every word you will say on the slide. Choose an image that prompts you to remember what you need to say, or an image that intrigues the audience.

If you must read to me, then read me something significant. If you feel you must have all the words on a slide, then pause so people can read the words for themselves. Then say what you want to say.

6. Focus on them, not you
Working with hyperconfident, powerful people, I am constantly surprised to find how much some of them dread public speaking. Consistently, they focus on themselves and their shaking voice, their wobbly knees and whether someone will find out that they are fake.

To calm your nerves, focus on the audience. The old advice of picturing them naked is just one device for doing this. I suggest you pay attention to the small signs that tell you they are listening and interested. When your focus is on them, the room and its energy, then you can give them what they want. As an aside, know you always have the option to say: “I don’t know—I’ll get back to you.” You don’t need to know everything. In the age of the internet most information is available with a quick Google search. People do not expect you to be the internet.

Take a moment upfront to clarify the audience’s “WIIFM” (what’s in it for me). When you know what they want out of it, you know how to sell them rather than tell them.

7. Tell stories
People will forget facts. They remember stories. Tell a “once upon a time” story or a ‘funny thing happened on the way to the forum’s story — like a case study. Make it relevant and follow the three-step formula:

1. Incident (what happened)
2. Point (the punchline or payoff)
3. Benefit (why I am telling this story)

Telling a story alone has an impact. Telling an enjoyable story and then making it relevant to the audience (the benefit) lifts you to professional level. If you can read, illustrate, and engage your audience, you’re well on the way to convincing everyone.

Cindy Tonkin can be contacted by email:



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