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Four great sales techniques hidden in "The Big Short"

Infuse life into mind-numbing topics and sell more than ever


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If you told me before I watched The Big Short that a champagne-drinking Margot Robbie in a bubble bath would help me better understand how subprime mortgage bonds worked, I would have called you crazy.  And that wasn’t the only complex economic concept this fast-paced film sheds light on while still managing to entertain. Through the use of analogies, props, quotes and celebrity guest appearances, The Big Short provided a veritable fish stew (see Tip #1) of pop culture and attention-generating devices capable of bringing life to some potentially mind-numbing subjects.

“Economics is actually fascinating, it’s the language of power—but somehow we’ve been conditioned to treat it like it’s boring,” Adam McKay, Director; The Big Short

The Big Short provides hope for salespeople who sell a product or solution typically treated as boring or complex, which, with the exception of driverless cars and robots, is most products in my experience. Presentations and demos are often some combination of dull, painful and forgettable.  But as The Big Short proves, they don’t have to be.  With a bit of planning and effort you can make a seemingly dry or complicated subject relatable and memorable.

Here are four techniques used in The Big Short and how to apply them to your presentation or demo to enhance interest and comprehension for greater results:

  1. Leverage the power of analogies.  Comparing a new or complex idea to something familiar, is an incredibly effective – and efficient – way to help your audience quickly grasp that new idea.  In the movie, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain compares collateralized debt obligations (CDO’s) to day-old fish, when thrown into a stew makes a whole new dish, resulting in additional revenue for the restaurant. But wait, there’s more…The unlikely pairing of popstar Selena Gomez and behavioral economist Richard Thaler explain the mysterious synthentic CDO by comparing it to a blackjack hand that is bet on – and rebet on -- by multiple parties at a casino. This makes it easier for the audience to understand how an investment can be leveraged well beyond it’s initial value. 

    Business application: Are there aspects of your product or solution that are fairly complicated, detailed, or perhaps just unfamiliar to your prospect? An analogy or metaphor can help your prospect quickly gain a clearer understanding of it better than a long dry, technical explanation. It just requires that the analogy holds up as a good comparison to the actual concept.
     
  2. Create instant recognition with props.  Like a good analogy, the right prop can also quickly convey a concept in a visual and memorable way.  Point in case: In the movie Ryan Gosling plays a spray tanned investment banker who uses a game of Jenga to demonstrate the volatility of the mortgage bond market, generating a real and relatable “aha” moment when the structure collapses.

    Business application: Consider what you could use in your presentation to visually demonstrate your message to your prospect.  For example, say you have a product or solution that replaces the need for numerous other products.  The use of a common item, like a smartphone, can quickly illustrate how a single device folds multiple functions into one convenient package.
     
  3. Command attention by breaking the fourth wall.  There are many times throughout The Big Short when characters turn and talk directly to the camera.  This theatrical technique called, “breaking the fourth wall,” is used to grab viewer attention and make them feel more involved. And it works.

    Business application: Look for moments in your presentation to speak directly TO your audience, not AT them. Let them know this is not a one dimensional monologue. Leave space for your prospect to interact.  
     
  4. Set the tone with the right quote. “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” The movie opened with one of Mark Twain’s less familiar quotes to set the tone for the film and foreshadows events to come.

    Business application: Tone and foreshadowing are two powerful elements to use in your presentation and the right quote can do both in a very economical way. To find the right quote, look to your presentation’s theme, the point you’re trying to make or challenge that you’re addressing.  Opt for lesser-known quotes as your audience will likely have heard many of the more familiar ones and this limits their ability to make an impact.
     

There’s no excuse except laziness for a boring presentation.  After all, if The Big Short can make subprime mortgages fascinating, imagine what you can do with your product or solution!

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Julie Hansen

Julie Hansen, author of Sales Presentations for Dummies, helps sales and business executives craft and deliver winning presentations and demos by applying today’s best practices from business, acting, improv, and storytelling. Julie’s techniques for leveraging proven performance skills in presentations have been adopted by Fortune 500 companies across the globe, including IBM and Oracle, as well as local Colorado companies. Learn more about sales workshops and keynotes at  PerformanceSalesandTraining.com, start a sales conversation at Julie@actingforsales.com  or connect with Julie on LinkedIn.

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