My mother’s name was Mercy Stone Goodwill. She was only thirty years old when she took sick, a boiling hot day, standing there in her back kitchen, making a Malvern pudding for her husband’s supper. A cookery book lay open on the table: “Take some slices of stale bread,” the recipe said, “and one pint of currants; half a pint of raspberries; four ounces of sugar; some sweet cream if available”. Of course, she’s divided the recipe in half, there being just the two of them, and what with the scarcity of currants, and Cuyler (my father) being a dainty eater. A pick-and-nibble fellow, she calls him, able to take his food or leave it.
This is the opening paragraph of Carol Shields’ novel The Stone Diaries (which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995). The first time I read it, sitting on a hard-backed kitchen chair outside my neighbourhood laundromat in Toronto, I was captivated. I could feel the “boiling hot day”, taste the rasberries and currants, see the scribblings on a recipe divided in half. And I absolutely had to know what happened to Mercy Stone Goodwill. In fact, this paragraph is the reason I’ve read all of Carol Shields’ work and return to it again and again.
“Show, don’t tell” is one of the guiding principles of good writing … and also one of the hallmarks of an excellent sales presentation. Companies that move prospects towards a demo of their product or service understand this, but often lose business when the presenter uses language that is more “tell” than “show”.
For example, as the presenter of a demo, let’s say you are moving data or icons around a screen to show how easy it is to combine information or generate reports. As you do this you could say: “So by grabbing this and moving it over here, then clicking here. the information will appear as a pie chart.”
Or you could say to your prospect: “What if you have a meeting coming up with investors and you’d like to present your information in a graphic format. You would simply use your mouse to grab this infomation here and move it over here. Then, when you click on this button, your information will be visible as a pie chart and ready to share with your investors.”
Even without a demo, showing is still more powerful than telling. As The Phone Lady, I can say to prospects “I train people how to communicate effectively on the phone”, or I can say “I’ll work with your sales team in a series of one-hour tele-training sessions that allow them to retain the communication skill set and increase your booked appointments by up to 25%”.
When you give your prospects something to “see”, in their mind’s eye or on a screen, and continue to make them the central character of the scenario you create, you will grab their full attention.
If you want to increase the number of prospects that are captivated by your product or service, pay close attention to your language. Are you showing … or telling?
Enjoy your phone work everyone!