presentation skills

Einstein, Allen, and Tommy Boy

Since I began offering what amounts to be a “comedy writing for salespeople” training & workshop, people react to what I offer the same way they do to a new Star Wars trailer: thrilled and confused. In short, I want sales reps to simultaneously obtain their prospects' attention, and show a grasp of their challenges.  Let’s kick things off with a quote:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”  -Albert Einstein


If Einstein was around today, his LinkedIn profile’s tagline would read “Influential Thought Leader In Stuff You Don’t Understand”.  However I disagree with Einstein, as I’d change “insanity” in the above quote with “stupidity”. Though, in his defense, he invented a theory of relativity, while I struggle to score likes & shares on LinkedIn. If he was around today, he’d have reverse-engineered LinkedIn’s algorithm while trimming his moustache and be in fact a leading influencer. The irony is that the solution to my own problem is to post something antagonistic on LinkedIn like “Me: Smarter than Einstein. Fo’ Realz, YO!” (nothing like sowing the seeds of outrage to drive interest in your own brand, but I digress).

So many potentially fruitful businesses or ideas within businesses are burned to the ground because of incompetence, greed, ego, and a lack self-awareness. So much innovative thought & morale are tossed into metaphorical bonfires because leadership doesn’t have the will or desire to fix basic problems. So, it’s hilarious when leaders make the same mistakes over and over again. Except when they’re our bosses.  Then it’s tragic.

“Comedy = tragedy + time” - Steve Allen



This equation is far more meaningful to me than anything that know-it-all Einstein ever proved. Back in 1937, Hindenburg jokes were taboo, but today, it’s a metaphor for disaster. Yet, in the business world, struggling through hard times just to someday laugh about them is neither a payoff nor an option.  Repeated insanity experienced by employees in the present, is an utter tragedy, which not only affects profitability, but also diffuses morale and lower productivity. Ominous stuff. Nothing says “hilariously good times” like mass layoffs.

Good salespeople are like psychiatrists. We let prospects traumatized by operational frustrations vent their problems in a forum we offer them.  Our role is to listen and prescribe the right medication to cure the patient, and get them back to a healthy operational state.  That said, the first step in asking for help, is knowing it’s needed. Part of our role is to help our prospect admit (or see) that they need to open up to us. To do that, we need to:

1)    Get their attention;

2)    Display empathy;

3)    Be respected & liked.

On the other hand, stand-up comedians are the ultimate attention-getters.  We seek buy-in from their audience because we speak about relatable challenges/observations, and frame them in a way that drives engagement. And like the comedian, sales reps need to achieve this quickly. Attention spans are shorter than ever. Whether it’s on a cold call, or during a demo/sales pitch, a well-crafted, well-placed joke can do it all in a couple of short sentences.  

Consider the following, which I crafted for an employee at a company that sells pre-built predictive analytics tools to clothing retailers – everyday, comedic fodder.  Test yourself, and deliver it out loud. Imagine you’re onstage and need to project, and deliver with some charisma:

Clothing retailers are building their own predictive analytics tools in order to make more informed decisions, but building software is not core business. That’d be like if Oracle opened a “Big and Tall” shop. 

I know, I know: too soon. This joke will not be appreciated by everyone, but it doesn’t care. It wasn’t written for comedy club or my Netflix special.  It’s for a very specific audience – the vendor’s prospects. Helping prospects laugh about their problem can become their first step in fixing it.  Such jokes show the prospect that the rep understands a challenge they face, their industry, and it should get the prospect to – at the very least – crack a smile and crawl onto the couch for deep therapy. 

If you're in Montreal, check out my therapy most Sundays at my weekly stand-up show in Montreal:

A First Step Toward Success

One thing that's become clear to me since I began performing stand-up comedy, is that it's daunting to most.  When people learn that I write & perform stand-up, I frequently hear that attempting stand-up “takes guts”. That's absurd. All stand-up takes is passion...for failure. Making crowds laugh takes resiliency - which is a nice way of saying "the groundwork is hellish, but what a payoff". 

I hear similar (but far less dramatic) declarations about a career in sales ("OMG. I could never do that!"). Many break out into sweats from even contemplating the pressure of pitching, negotiations, and ringing tiny gongs in public. The correlation between the people who could "never do stand-up comedy" and the people who say they could "never be in sales" is higher than Bitcoin's value or confusion among the masses about what the hell Bitcoin even is.

Sales reps can really benefit from knowing how to craft and crack jokes onstage, but most are scared. I get the fears, but my opinion is that without even realizing it, you've been in WAY more stressful situations, and the upside to your sales game is tremendous. There's no equivalent of the rush you get when a roomful of strangers validates your random, bizarre observations & experiences, or thoughts on things like on how AI can play a role in keeping your restroom tidy.

Conversely, the consequences of not getting laughs are a mild loss of dignity, pride in self, and the realization that stuff you find funny - isn't. That said, if you bomb your 3-5 minutes of stand-up comedy the audience judges you temporarily and won't remember you. Audiences aren't as cruel as you think. Instead of replaying your ineptness over and over in their minds, you'll just be forgotten. Audiences rarely remember anyone  once the show's over. In the fact that if the crowd LOVED the headliner, he/she will likely be forever known as  "That Last One".

The repercussions of failing in sales are slightly more drastic. If you don't hit your quota, your employer asks you for your security badge back, while conveniently forgetting to pay you your base salary & commissions. Consider replacing that old headshot of you on LinkedIn where you're folding your arms for no good reason.  All of this is extremely alarming.

Sales reps can benefit in so many ways from even attempting stand-up (it's all covered in my training & workshop). If you’re a sales rep thinking about getting into stand-up (and I don’t mean hitting an open mic just to make a few friends laugh with a wild story from your college days, ), and want to invest some free time in building 5 minutes of funny, I’m going to mentor you on this blessed, wretched journey in a way that only sales reps can appreciate. So, if any gardners or astronauts are reading this - you may not fully appreciate the next few blog posts.

Final announcement: I'm launching a new service to help SDR teams better connect with prospects. I'd like to pilot something with 2-3 sales teams.

Please contact me: jon at jonselig dot com. 

Next post: "A Point of Clarification".  Likely available, Tuesday, January 9th, 2018.  Appreciate this? Subscribe to my email list, or share (like you promised you'd do in your 2018 resolutions).

Don't worry. He's falling upwards.

Don't worry. He's falling upwards.