12 March 2010

Sales, showbiz and speaking

This post was prompted by an invitation from Angela DeFinis to contribute to her 'blog carnival' on the theme: 'The Impact of Public Speaking on Top Sales Performance'.

I've sometimes been mystified by the willingness of large companies to squander huge amounts of money on sales events without bothering to spend a little extra on preparing key speakers to make the most of such occasions.

One of the most extreme examples of this came at the UK launch of some major new products by a famous American multi-national corporation.

They had hired one of the country's best-known radio and television presenter (daily rate: £15,000.00) to chair a discussion with their directors from the stage of one of London's West End theatres (daily rate: £ quite a lot) - from where 'the show' was transmitted live to several more theatres around the UK for others to see on cinema screens (daily rate: £ quite a lot more).

They had also hired me (daily rate: £ very little) to go to one of these distant venues and report back on how it came across to the local audience.

All went well until just before the coffee break, when the TV presenter introduced the company's marketing director to say a few words to bring the first session to a close.

The director was suddenly beamed up from his seat on the stage to appear the screen, where he'd been filmed on a balcony above the factory floor where we could see the new products being assembled in the background.

With his eyes glued to a teleprompter, and an expression on his face serious enough for a funeral oration, he spoke in a flat and regular monotone that sounded like an audition for the the voice-over part of a speaking robot in a science fiction movie.

The verbatim transcript of his final 'few words' went as follows:

"... I hope you're all as excited by these new products as I am."

The 400+ viewers in the theatre where I saw it exploded into a collective and extended fit of laughter, before adjourning for coffee in a thoroughly jovial mood.

Although I'd be the first to admit that humour can be a powerful weapon in the armoury of public speakers, I don't think this kind of hilarity was quite what the company had in mind for this particular point in the proceedings.

Luckily for me, it made the job of writing the report they were paying me to write that much easier, as I was able to make the very obvious point that, if your directors are going to say that they're excited about something, it's worth spending a few extra pounds on getting someone (e.g. me) to train them to sound as though they really are excited.

As for why the audience laughter went "Ha-ha-ha", rather than other options like "Ho-ho-ho"or "He-he-he", it was almost certainly because they were latching on two of the last three vowel sounds in the marketing director's final words - i.e. the 'a' sounds in "..as I am" - for more on which, see HERE.

Or, for more on the subject, you can download the original paper by Gail Jefferson - ‘On the Poetics of Ordinary Talk’, Text and Performance Quarterly, 1996, 16(1), 1-61 - by clicking HERE).


Nick said...

It often amazes me how poorly heads of companies, like this marketing director was, are at marketing themselves and their message. They just think they can spend a whole heap of money and get someone else to take care of it.

Where is the excitement and energy in them?

Max Atkinson said...

Quite so, Nick. And the 'best buy' of the day was probably the £15,000 paid to the TV presenter, who did as professional a job as possible under the circumstances.

angela said...


First of all thanks so much for contributing to our latest Blog Carnival.This is a great post! I was reminded recently that people only know what they know and in this case the marketing director was obviously in the dark about the importance of "congruence." He needed your help (desperately from the sounds of it) to sync up his message and delivery. Too bad everyone missed the boat on this one--but so glad we were privy to the lesson.

Vittles said...

Humor is a great way to get attention of the audience, but what is important to send the message or else it's better to get a stand-up comedian to do it.

AML said...

This is why it's better to hire a writer for you than do it yourself if you're sure what to do.