Book Review: Daniel Pink’s “To Sell is Human”

To Sell is Human

This is a great book for anyone who is interested in learning how to be more persuasive.   Buy it if you want to be more influential and successful.

The longer version:

One of the first ideas I try to impress upon people when I teach presentation skills and public speaking is that we’re all presenters. You don’t have to speak to packed ballrooms or create huge decks of PowerPoint slides to be in the presentation business. If you’re not a hermit or a shut-in chances are you give several presentations every day, even if you are just demonstrating that you’re competent at your job, getting your kids to eat their dinner, or earning a free upgrade when you check in at your hotel. Every interaction should be thought of as a presentation because each one should be persuasive. Otherwise you’re wasting an opportunity.

In To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, Daniel Pink approaches the same idea from a different angle. Not only are we all presenters but “we’re all in sales now.” Technological changes and the rise of entrepreneurship have required each of us to be more involved in persuading, influencing, and “moving” others. But Pink doesn’t mean that we should start behaving like the stereotypical used-car salesmen so many of us loathe and fear. To the contrary, those smarmy techniques don’t really work anymore.

Using engaging anecdotes and scientific studies, Pink shows us the kinds of strategies and specific tactics that DO work when you need to be persuasive. Things like understanding the perspective of the people you want to persuade, being flexible in making your pitch, and working to honestly meet the needs of your “clients”. He even provides sample cases at the end of each chapter to show exactly how you can apply these ideas.

I look at a lot of these kinds of books, and this is really one of the best. It’s a good read and provides advice that you can start using right away. I’ve said it before, but buy this book if you’re interested in being more influential and more successful.

Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others

Presentation Skills: Introverts and Extroverts

I really liked the TED version of this presentation because of the way that Susan Cain talked about her own struggles as an introvert with public speaking. That’s not in this condensed version, but some of my other favorite parts are, including the research that shows that audiences find extroverts to be more persuasive and believable than more introverted speakers.

I love this kind of science, but the idea that extroverts are more convincing is understandable even on a common-sense level. Extroverts tend to be much more engaging and more enthusiastic, both of which help an audience pay attention and stay focused on what’s being said. Enthusiasm is particularly powerful because it can be quite contagious and help win people over to a presenter’s point of view. If you think about it, the RSA videos are kind of like the “extroverted” versions of the original talks. They’ve been edited and animated to make them more engaging and entertaining.

As a closet introvert myself, I know that I’m a much more effective public speaker because I make a conscious effort to be more extroverted. I try to bring as much energy as I can to every presentation, I tell my best jokes and stories in an attempt to be entertaining, and I talk to people that I don’t know in a way I’d probably never do if we were random guests at a party.

The difference between being an introvert and at least being able to act like an extrovert is often the difference between success and failure in a presentation. Maybe you’re not a natural extrovert, but a lot of people (including Susan Cain and myself) aren’t, and we’re doing passable jobs at public speaking. Can you manage to be an extrovert for 30 minutes? An hour? Try giving it a shot. If you’re still having a hard time, try co-presenting with someone who is more outgoing than you are. I find that I’m even more successful when I’m paired with someone who is an extrovert (or seems like they are one).

That doesn’t mean that I’m telling you to be fake, to put on a personality that isn’t your own. Audiences react badly when they perceive that someone is acting “phony.” What you want to do instead is be the best, most interesting and energetic version of yourself.

RSA Shorts–The Power of Quiet

Pitch Perfect: Apple’s iPad Mini Ad

Most presentations rely on logical arguments to try to persuade an audience–and that’s one of the reasons that so many of them fail. Charts, facts and figures tend to bore an audience and make them tune out. Making an emotional connection, on the other hand, is much more likely to be effective. It’s something that every speaker should try to include in their presentations.

When it comes creating advertising–which is really just another presentation format–Apple is the undisputed master at making people feel that they need something, even if it’s just a smaller version of something they already own. There’s a lot that any presenter can learn from how they work their magic to create that kind of desire.

Here’s a great example of how Apple deploys emotional content to sell its products. They don’t use any of the new iPad Mini’s specifications in order to make you want the new toy. This ad don’t even use any words other than the product’s name. Instead, Apple appeals to nostalgia with the childhood ritual of learning to play “Heart and Soul” on the piano, using the size difference between the two iPads to suggest a child playing along with an adult. Watching the piece for the first time during the keynote event literally gave me a warm fuzzy feeling, even though I’ve never played the piano.


Apple’s iPad Mini Ad

Informal Presentations: Building Relationships

Building relationships, not a client list

I didn’t notice the slogan on this taxi receipt until I was home from Texas and figuring out my expenses last week. But I immediately knew which driver had handed it to me.

On its own the phrase “building relationships, not a client list,” wouldn’t even register with me. It’d be just another meaningless promise, like “Chevron Cares.” But this guy had made an impression on me. When you get a taxi driver who tries to engage you it’s usually awkward. They insert themselves into your conversations when it’s not appropriate or they make small talk about the weather or where you’re from when it’s clear that they really don’t care. It’s so obvious that they’re just trying to increase their tip that I generally try to look busy with my phone to avoid the chitchat.

This guy, however, made it look effortless. He didn’t trot out the standard conversation-makers and he didn’t interrupt when my business partner and I were talking. But he helpfully explained that the insane-building we were wondering about was the Perot Museum (of course!) and entertained us with a story about a previous passenger and why we were hauling her bag around in the car with us. He made the ride so easy that it actually seemed like we already had a relationship. When we arrived at the airport he handed me his card and said “call me next time you’re in town and need a ride.” And it actually seemed like a good idea to me.

I always tell people that they should treat all of their interactions like little informal presentations. Talk to people. Learn something about them and share something about yourself. See if there’s anything you can do to be helpful to them. And, above all, be genuine. Because as soon as people think you’re acting insincere or, worse, like a salesperson, they’ll do whatever they can to distance themselves from you.

In other words, build relationships. Because you never know when they’ll be useful.

Awkward Pauses: The Value of “Um, Er and Uh” in Public Speaking

Last year I did several talks where one of the most important points I wanted to make  is that our desire to be effective public speakers is undermined when we make it our goal to be perfect public speakers. Everyone has something they could do better but focusing on these issues too much can make us anxious and undermine our performance. You want to be aware of the things you can do better and make an effort to implement them whenever you can.  But don’t feel like any little mistake is going to ruin your whole presentation.

The example I always used was my habit of inserting an “um” into pauses while I’m talking. I’m usually not even aware of it while I’m speaking, but I’ve listened to recordings of myself enough to hear that it’s an issue. It’s not something I do a lot, and I probably do it less than most people. But I’d really prefer not to do it at all. Still, I wasn’t going to torture myself over it.

“You don’t want to have a tic that so bad that it’s distracting,” I’d tell my audiences.  “I knew an executive once who said “uh” so often that people would stop listening to what he actually had to say and start counting ‘uh’s for sport. But it’s not the end of the world if you say “um” every now and then.”

And then I’d pause and say “um”. Every time I gave the talk. I have different versions of the presentation on audio and video and I say “um” every time.

The first time I didn’t even realize what had happened, why the audience was laughing. Of course this could have been humiliating, but it was actually a perfect illustration of what I was talking about. I didn’t let it bother me and the audience didn’t think less of me. In fact, they seemed to think it was hilarious.

So, as a frequent “um”-er, I was happy to see my experience validated in this article from Slate. They’ve gathered up research (I love how Slate does these articles that use science to disprove common perceptions) to show that disfluencies like “um” and “ah” won’t really ruin your speech. In fact, they suggest that using filler words or syllables can actually improve your listeners’ ability to recall what you say and help them see you as more genuine. Being too polished, it seems, can make you sound “slick” or scripted.

Much better to sound like yourself than a salesperson.  Even if that includes some, er, awkward pauses.

One More Thing: Steve Jobs Pitches an Office Building

If you’re going to try to sell a big idea (like an office building that looks like a space donut and houses 12,000 employees) you might as well bring out the big guns.

So Apple CEO Steve Jobs– who’s been on a tear with the public events this week– showed up at the Cupertino City Council meeting last night to present Apple’s proposal for their new campus.  At this point Jobs’ first-rate abilities as a salesman are pretty much unquestioned.  What I find fascinating about this clip is how star-struck the audience and the City Council members all appear.  They just can’t stop smiling at the idea that Steve Jobs is there speaking to them.

Few of us have that level of celebrity at our disposal, but this is a great example of how powerful a personal appearance– a presentation– can be when you want to accomplish something; a little human interaction can go a long way.  Tonight the evening news here in the Bay Area had a clip of one of the City Council people saying that he had no doubt that the project would be approved, even though the review process hasn’t even begun yet.

Looks like Jobs will find it considerably easier to build Apple’s new home than it was for him to demolish his old house: