Five minutes. That’s how much time your seller has in the waiting room before their next appointment. Have you trained your team to make the most of those five minutes? They could thumb through the old People magazines one more time. Or they could warm-up the way that improvisers do, so they can make the most of the meeting, no matter how it goes down.
Chicago’s Second City has been using improvisation to create sketch comedy since 1959. They launched the careers of comedy greats like Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey and Bill Murray. Improvisers are experts at navigating tough moments. They know how to stay nimble in the face of ambiguity, roll with redirections and engage a tough crowd – the same skills that can make sellers more successful. Go backstage with The Second City to borrow these five tips to help your team make the most of those five minutes. These are the skills that help improvisers – and your sales force – to manage the moments when life goes off the script.
1.) Check Yourself Before you Wreck Your Deal. No matter how much you have prepared your message, your vocal and physical presence can undermine your credibility and kill the relationship. Take a moment to breathe deeply, relax your shoulders and sit up straight. This simple physical check-in ensures an open, confident physicality. More importantly, it supports your voice. By being aware of your physicality you can minimize physical or verbal cues that indicate nervousness or frustration.
Do This: Instead of hunching over your materials, take a moment to breathe and sit up straight. Once the meeting begins, relax. One behavior that can make a big difference: plant the finish of statements with strong eye contact. Looking away as you land a point gives a subtle cue that you don’t trust yourself and neither should they.
2.) Stop Talking. Quit prepping for a dramatic monologue. Improvisers learn to “bring a brick, not a cathedral.” Remember, a conversation is a dialogue, so know when to stop talking and just listen. Listening isn’t just the polite thing you do while the other person speaks; it’s the opportunity to deeply understand another person’s point of view.
Do This: Arm yourself with great, probing questions. The quality of a relationship is built on the quality of your listening: If you never give them the chance to talk, you’ll never have the chance to listen.
3.) Use “Yes, And.” In an improv performance, the audience is invited to shout out anything. Yes, anything. The performers have incredible confidence in their ability to manage this chaos because they use “Yes, And.” This is the art of first acknowledging what the other person has said and then building from there. It is the opposite of an immediate no. In fact, “yes, and” is a great way to manage objections, the ultimate “no.” It requires empathetic listening to first fully understand the human need of the other person, and then building from there. It’s not the same to say “Yes, you feel that way, but you are wrong.”
Do This: Before your meeting, get into a “Yes, And” mindset. In the meeting, when you are faced with objections, reiterate their perspective to show full understanding and then build from there. Most importantly, don’t fight no with no.
4.) Shift the focus to the other person. It’s nearly time for your meeting, and you’re frantically reviewing your materials. You have a lot to juggle between boning up on technical knowledge, digesting your company’s fancy new marketing sheets, adapting to the doctor’s dwindling window of time and remembering the new sales methodology that just launched. Improvisers know the feeling, balancing awareness of their audience, their message and their ensemble every moment. The ones who master the craft learn a simple way to tame the chaos: They shift their focus to the other person. Everything comes together – story, voice, physicality – when you put the focus on the other person. It might not always be elegant, but it’s empathetic and connected.
Do This: Stop cramming, and put your focus on being present, open and aware. After all, people won’t remember everything you say, but they will remember how they felt in your presence.
5.) Choose The Right Hero. Every story has a hero. Consider the framing of your story by considering whose story you are telling. The most compelling heroes change or transform. If you only tell the product story, you miss out on telling the story of how it can transform the physician or patient experience. Great stories are memorable, and a simple tale of Before and After sticks with the listener longer than facts and features.
Do This: Know your product, but also practice the story from the physician and the patient’s point of view. Instead of saying “patients often find…” give a specific person, place and time. “A young mother in New York.” “A lawyer near retirement who was struggling with…” Details make the story memorable. Images engage the listener’s brain in an active way that bullet points and lists can’t. If you engage the heart of the listener, you can engage their brain and your message will stick.
In truth, every conversation your sellers have is improvised. You’ve helped them prepare their story, but have you given them practice in adapting the story in the moment? Help them to set aside the script, put down that People magazine and use that prep-time to become more connected and adaptable. That way, when that five-minute wait becomes twenty-five minutes – and the meeting time gets cut in half – they’ll know just what to do: They’ll improvise!
Andrew Eninger is the head of the writing program at The Second City, and a program designer for Second City Works. Email Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.