Category: Sales, Visual Aid

When trying to sell a complicated idea, most business people fire up their PowerPoint and start creating slides and charts.

I ask myself, “What would Aristotle do?”

That’s what I did recently when I worked with Chris, a consultant who had invented a 17-step process for dramatically shortening the amount of time it takes to get a pair of socks from the factory in China to the store shelf at a Wal-Mart or Bloomingdales. This speech was to a convention of retailers hungry to save money by streamlining the logistical supply chain. Chris wanted to persuade them about the value of his method.

I asked Chris the same thing I ask everyone when I first start working with them. “So why don’t you tell me about your speech?”

“I just want to lay out the 17-step process that I’ve devised,” he said as he produced a deck of 40 slides painstakingly laying out the process in excruciating detail. Looking up from his slides, I examined his face for any hint of irony. He wasn’t smiling. I looked closer. He maintained a completely straight face.

Chris was serious!

The problem was that his speech would be 30 minutes long in front of 250 retailers, none of whom would be able to follow his highly technical process. His company had paid about $50,000 in sponsorships for this keynote opportunity. His colleagues knew that Chris tended to get too technical. This speech was a train wreck waiting to happen.

His boss hired me to help avert disaster.

This was definitely a job for Aristotle.

Indeed, whenever you must speak to lay people about complex things, it’s a good idea to remember the tools used by the Ancient Greeks. Over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle and his Greek colleagues studied persuasion (they called it “Rhetoric”) with the same intensity that consultants today study the logistical supply chain.

The Ancient Greeks decided that there are ultimately only three tools that we use to persuade: “Logos”, “Pathos”, and “Ethos”.  Logos is logic.

Pathos is emotion. Ethos is personal style and credibility.

Today, business people attempt to persuade largely with Logos, logic. That’s why corporate presentations are dominated by numbers-filled spreadsheets and those overly complicated process-flow diagrams that look like what Jackson Pollack might have created if he had decided that PowerPoint was a great artistic medium.

And that’s why Chris had initially planned to base his speech exclusively on a painfully detailed examination of his 17-step process. “If I just lay out the process logically,” the thought goes, “everyone will buy into it.”

And that’s OK if you’re speaking to five engineers and you have a couple of hours and plenty of time to answer questions. But if you’re going to get 250 retailers to buy your ideas in 30 minutes, you had better plan on using more than just logic.

So while we did logically outline the basic principles of the process, we had to rely on Aristotle’s other tools to get buy-in.

We turned first to pathos.  Chris told a story about how much time is wasted with certain shipping processes. He described the paper wasted by a single shipment of socks: the countless invoices, bills of lading and other shipping documents. During his speech, he produced a stack of paper to allow the audience to see the waste of resources and then touched on how his approach automates the process of eliminating paper.

When a story makes the audience feel the problem and the solution, that’s pathos. And it’s a wonderful way to persuade.

Next we turned to ethos. The Ancient Greeks knew that people tend to believe you if you come across as credible and likable. And they decide whether you seem credible and likable based on how you look and sound. In Chris’s case, we worked on making sure that he knew his material so well that he could speak in his natural, fluid, friendly tone. By working on smiling and speaking with energy, he came across as highly likable and credible.

The retailers loved him. But they weren’t persuaded by the logic of his arguments alone. They also bought into his ideas based on emotional and personal appeal.

So next time you have to get people to buy into your complicated ideas, don’t turn to your PowerPoint. First ask yourself, “What would Aristotle do?”

Speechworks is a communication and selling skills coaching firm. We teach professionals how to craft and deliver complex messages in a simple, persuasive manner. Since 1986, through workshops and one-on-one instruction, we have helped countless individuals become better presenters and communicators. You can reach us at 404.266.0888, speech@speechworks.net or on the web at www.speechworks.net

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