Best of CoBiz: What’s my (sales) line?

One of the most common questions I am asked as an actor is “How do you memorize all of those lines?” Even for someone with a less than perfect memory, that is the easy part. A tougher question is, “How do you make them sound like your own…performance after performance?”

The actor’s goal is to communicate the message and vision of the writer in a way that engages and affects each audience. In the same way, our goal as salespeople is to communicate the company’s value proposition in a way that engages each customer and inspires action. Often this involves using a company produced presentation or sales script.

Salespeople notoriously dislike working with scripts. Perfectly understandable, since we are rarely given any instruction on how to properly learn them or deliver them with any kind of authenticity or style that showcases our personality. While actors learn a variety of techniques for taking the words “off the page” and bringing them to life, salespeople are handed a script, instructed to memorize it and hit the phones or the street. No wonder many of us sound like we’re doing bad Shakespeare or, shunning the script entirely, improvise our way through it in vague and inconsistent manner.

Mastering the art of delivering a script or presentation will dramatically improve your chances of closing a sale, so take the time to learn a few do’s and don’ts of script-reading techniques from acting pros:

1. Don’t jump to memorization. The first thing most sellers (and many amateur actors) do when they get a script or presentation is give it a cursory read before going straight to memorization. When a good actor first gets a script he reads it through several times, allowing thoughts, ideas and questions to develop naturally as he gets more familiar with it. Improper and immediate memorization is one of the biggest mistakes salespeople make when working with a script and a primary reason they end up sounding canned and insincere.

2. Don’t pre-determine how to say it. A trained actor does not try out specific line readings or emphasis until he knows precisely what he is saying and why (see #3.) Good actors rarely deliver their lines exactly the same way every time. Pre-determining where to pause, apply emphasis or gesture creates a habitual and mechanical delivery that is tough to break. When you are connected to the words, focused on the moment and listening and responding to your prospect, you should sound fresh and different each time.

3. Do know your intention. Forget the actual words themselves and focus on the meaning of each line. What are you really saying? Why are you saying it? Think about the subtext. If you are a real estate broker and ask a prospective client who is trying to sell his house on his own, “What are you doing to market your home?” are you really hoping to pick up some new marketing tips? Or are you trying to make the point that without proper marketing, their home is not likely to sell? I’m guessing it’s the latter.

4. Don’t leave any sentence unturned. If you don’t understand what you’re saying or why you’re saying it, neither will your prospect. If you quote figures or statistics and don’t know where they came from, stop and investigate before proceeding. If you stumble over a particular word or phrase, research it or revise it. Familiarizing yourself fully with your script will increase your self-confidence and allow you to explain any points if necessary.

5. Do rehearse properly. It’s a common misconception that over-rehearsing a script will cause you to sound phony or canned, when precisely the opposite is true. In theater, there is no such thing as too much rehearsal. An actor might rehearse anywhere from six to twelve weeks for a typical show. A script or presentation – whether it’s on the Broadway stage or business stage — is a fluid, evolving thing. You should know your lines so well that you don’t have to struggle for the words or meaning. Only then can you focus your energy on delivering your message in an impactful and persuasive manner while remaining flexible enough to adjust to your prospect’s verbal or nonverbal responses.

When it’s done right, reading from a script should look and feel natural and new each time. If you want to effectively engage and move your prospects to take action, don’t leave it to chance. You can bring even the dullest of business scripts to life and inject your personality into them by learning a few tricks of the acting trade.

Categories: Sales & Marketing