During our recent quarterly strategy pow wow, the TMGA family took a break from the meeting brain drain to join Pitch Lab for some professional development and team-building QT.
The number-one fear of the average American is public speaking. Number two is death. Cue the Jerry Seinfeld joke: “So you’re telling me that at a funeral, most people would rather be the guy in the coffin than have to stand up and give a eulogy.”
That’s pretty crazy, right? But crazy because it’s almost universally true.
“If someone says they never get nervous, they’re lying,” says Jay Mays, Managing Partner at Pitch Lab. “Everyone gets nervous. It’s not about killing the butterflies. It’s about getting those butterflies to fly in formation.”
Pitch Lab is a Denver-based team of comedians and storytellers that take clients through workshops that break down common techniques of the most successful stand-up comedians to illustrate how to present everything better – everything from a joke to a sales deck.
“If someone says they never get nervous, they’re lying. Everyone gets nervous. It’s not about killing the butterflies. It’s about getting those butterflies to fly in formation.”
– Jay Mays, Pitch Lab
Turns out stand-up comedy is a lot more than shits and giggles. It’s possibly the best teacher of confidence for sales and service providers. To get our butterflies all flying in the same direction and engage in some lighthearted after-hours family bonding, the TMGA office teamed up with Pitch Lab to learn how to be more confident presenters, more engaging sales pitchers, and overall better service callers.
Here are the top-seven takeaways from our workshop on how to overcome stage fright and build connections when selling and speaking with clients.
Hack #1: Be mindful of your nonverbal communication.
According to studies, 93% of communication is nonverbal.
“Body language is vital to any client-facing professional services person,” says Mays. “You are the differentiator.”
Hack #2: Reframe the threat as an opportunity.
When we get nervous, we naturally try to calm down. That’s the worst thing you can do. Instead, change your nervousness to excitement. Anxiety and calm are light years apart on the emotional spectrum. But anxiety and excitement are a lot closer.
So just keep telling yourself, “I am excited. I am excited. I am excited.” You’re not going to feel much different, but what science shows us is as you’re reframing that anxiety as excitement, your performance goes up.
Hack #3: Break down audience barriers.
Before your presentation begins, try to say hello to audience members and get their names as they’re entering the room and settling in. That way, you’re not pitching to a large room. You’re pitching individuals, making it feel like one-to-one relationships.
“Then you’re not talking to strangers,” Mays says. “You’re just having a conversation.”
Throughout your talk, vary your eye contact, and try to hit every single person during the course of a pitch.
Hack #4: Command the room.
The first way you command a room is not by talking but through silence. The dramatic pause is a powerful tool, especially for those who talk fast.
“You’re not talking too fast,” says Mays. “You’re not pausing enough. Don’t forget to pause and give the audience time to catch up, build a rhythm, and ratchet up the tension. This is a magical place in sales and in customer service. Use uncomfortability to your advantage to close all along the way, and not just when the contract is signed.”
Altering the volume of your voice, as well as having someone introduce you are additional ways to command a room. If you don’t have someone to intro you, start clapping to get started.
“If you want to be engaging, you have to ask for it,” Mays says. “You have to demand it upfront.”
Hack #5: Break the fourth wall.
“Don’t forget to pause and give the audience time to catch up, build a rhythm, and ratchet up the tension. This is a magical place in sales and in customer service.”
– Jay Mays, Pitch Lab
While commanding the room, mention the surroundings obvious to you and your audience. If the lights go out, you’re not going to continue your presentation, you’re going to acknowledge the darkness and use the moment to your advantage to engage the crowd.
Hack #6: Be fully visible.
What do stand-up comedians do when arriving on stage? Almost always, the first thing they do is go to the mic stand, remove the mic, and relocate the stand off to the side.
“Your audience needs to be able to see you so they can trust you,” Mays says.
In a sales meeting, if you’re the salesperson, don’t sit behind your open laptop. Take written notes in a notepad to remain fully visible.
Hack #7: Move with a purpose.
Nobody owns the comedy stage better than Chris Rock. He prowls back and forth, captivating his audience who can’t help but walk with him with their eyes. Then he crouches and attacks with his punch line. In this same vein, there are also scenarios on the sales and service stages where it’s effective to move around so clients can see and engage with your movements.
But your movements have to support your words. One way to think about this idea is to break up the stage into different sections based on what you’re talking about. In one location, you might paint the picture of the existing problem, and once moving to a separate location, you deliver the solution. When sitting during a sales pitch, this tactic can be deployed by standing up to emphasize a key point.
But never, never, never try to manufacture it. To move with a purpose is to be authentic and do what’s natural.
“Don’t move around a lot if it’s not natural for you to move around a lot,” says Mays. “If it’s your natural personality and way to stand still, then stand still.”
A Company That Improvs Together, Stays Together
To put these hacks into practice, the TMGA team engaged in some improv comedy techniques proven to ignite creativity, collaboration, problem-solving, and listening amongst co-workers or clients.
Those techniques included “mirroring,” where one person delivers a short message, and a partner repeats it exactly, including body language.
“How frequently are we really taking it all in, not just what’s being said?” posed Mays. “How often are you actually actively listening instead of just waiting for your turn to talk?”
“The workshop was even more fun than I expected. I learned a few new tips that I can take along to client meetings and pitches, and I’ve already seen positive outcomes.”
– Jacqui Gray, TMGA
Next came “one-word stories”, where four people stand shoulder-to-shoulder and collaborate to tell a single, cohesive story one word at a time.
“The cardinal sin of improv is saying ‘no,’” says Mays. “You have to build on scenes. That’s also what we have to do in sales pitches.”
TMGA’s Miranda, Kristina, Hamilton, and Michael worked together to build a scene about going to Coachella that ended with: “Be ready to catch the plane. I should pack my jorts and fanny pack.”
You know what they say: those companies who improv together, stay together.
Are you interested in hearing our app marketing pitch (jorts not included)? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.