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6 reasons you should stop pretending to be a thought leader

6 reasons you should stop pretending to be a thought leader Joseph Carrabis

Both before and after Steve Jobs' passing, businesses asked if it was possible to create a charismatic, entertaining, captivating, evangelistic company spokesperson -- a sort of Steve Jobs on demand. There are other go-to thought leaders and conference presenters such as Al Gore or President Obama during his '08 campaign that get mentioned, but most often Steve Jobs is the one named by business executives.

6 reasons you should stop pretending to be a thought leader

But when we ask, "Who do you want your 'Steve Jobs' to entertain, captivate, evangelize, and engage?" we hear, "We want to close more pitches," more often than, "We need a conference speaker to represent us."

The venue makes a difference. Studies in quorum sensing (collective behavior), situational attention, and situational awareness -- how, why, and where people focus, and how to get them to focus where you want them to focus -- prove that the skills necessary for a large audience presentation aren't the same as the skills required to pitch or close a deal.

Consider the differences of a pitch/close compared to the typical Steve Jobs or Al Gore large audience presentation:

  • Your pitch/close is in a conference room with maybe five to seven people on the client side and two to three people on the vendor side of the table, not in a large auditorium, grand hall, or stadium.

  • Chances are you're not an internationally recognized authority/personality or billionaire who's co-founded a technical juggernaut.

  • Your pitch is competing against every other pitch the client's heard.

  • Your pitch/close is in your head, your slide deck, and maybe some written notes. Your presentation isn't being read from huge teleprompters that keep you on topic and guide you along.

  • The client/prospect is sitting in front of you, looking right at you, not a videotron because they're seated too far away to see what you're doing.

  • The prospect/client won't interrupt your pitch/close with applause or give you a standing ovation when you're done, but they will ask challenging questions that you won't be able to answer off the tip of your tongue.

And now for the big one that differentiates large audience presentations from a pitch/close: You're asking the client to make a purchasing decision for which they will be held directly accountable.

That Steve Jobs/Al Gore persona won't work in a small pitch or close setting. But you can still be charismatic, engaging, evangelistic, and all those other nice things that will win the client/prospect's business. Here are six simple points and takeaways to keep in mind.

Solve their problem, not the world's problem

Study charismatic, evangelistic presenters, and you'll realize that they're talking about intangible problems. Steve Jobs, Al Gore, President Obama in '08, and similar presenters are great in large audience settings because they're not selling the audience anything other than dreams, hopes, aspirations, ideals, goals, and so on.

  • Steve Jobs sold the belief that technology could make people's lives simpler and better.

  • Al Gore sold the idea that people could make a difference on a global scale, and that their individual actions were important and affected every other living thing on the planet

  • Obama in '08 sold a belief that people's opinions (their vote) really could change things at a point in history when the U.S. was in two wars, on the verge of economic collapse, rocked by financial scandals, and was losing its global standing.

Now consider every pitch you've ever been in. You have limited time to make your case, and the prospect might have more distractions than bees have honey. They don't care about big pictures, big ideas, and world changers; they care about their pain and how you can stop it.

Focus on the client. Not yourself, not your company, and not on other clients you've already succeeded with. Remember location, location, location? Now it's client, client, client.

Tell them what you'll do, not what they'll do

Charismatic, engaging, enthralling presenters tell those large audiences that it's their responsibility to act to change their situation. "You can make your life simpler via technology," "You can change the climate," "You can change government." It's you, you, you.

Can you imagine being in a pitch and telling the prospect, "Oh, by the way, you need to do all the work if you want to solve this"?

The best solutions are the ones that require no behavioral change on the client's part. Imagine someone coming up to you and saying, "Do exactly what you're doing now, change nothing, and you'll make more money."

First, no one would believe it. Second, that's exactly what every client really wants -- to change nothing and get something. There's an interesting psychological corollary to this: The more expensive a solution is, the more the client expects to have to change their behaviors in order to reap the rewards. People, believe it or not, don't expect to pay a little and get a lot.

Fortunately there's an easy way to make all this work in your favor:

  • Tell them what you're going to do first.

  • Tell them everything you're going to do.

  • Provide details.

Once you've explained everything you're going to do, tell them what needs to be done on their end.

Describe what you'll do completely and make sure they understand your offer before describing anything else. It creates a kind of balance scale in their mind, and that leads to our next takeaway.

Bullet points are your friends

In front of a large audience, evangelistic presenters rarely use bullet points. However, pitches and closings need bullet points, and there's a special way to do it. We build on the previous takeaway with a little knowledge of how the brain synchronizes visual and auditory information.

Describe what you're going to do using bullet points coupled to long, explanatory sentences, or paragraphs. Pick one or two highlights or sound bytes for each bullet point while directing their attention to the detailed descriptions.

When it comes time to detail the client's requirements, again use bullet points, but this time use one or two word captions to show what is required. Explain what's involved in these one or two word captions with long, spoken paragraphs.

The brain favors visual information. Your long explanation of their requirements is listened to, but what is remembered is the one or two word bullet point on the screen. Similarly, your sound bytes -- or highlights while directing their attention to the on-screen paragraph detailing your efforts -- puts all that work you'll be doing for them into memory. This technique literally tips the psycho-cognitive scales in your favor.

A couple of things are important here. Make sure what you'll do and what they'll do are on completely different slides, and make sure you deliver on your bullet points.

Bullet points focus attention. Make sure the client's attention is focused where and how you want it to be.

Prime prospects to see what you want them to see

Every picture's worth a thousand words, but you definitely don't want prospects coming up with their own words. You want their minds filled with your words: your tag line, your marketing, your agenda, your offering, and nothing else, right?

The odd thing about seeing pictures is that understanding images relies on visual memory. Visual memory is closely tied to spatial memory -- people remember where they were, where they were going, where they were coming from, etc., when an image brings up memories. And spatial memories tend to call up emotional memories (did people enjoy themselves when they last saw that image or were in that place, etc.?).

The last thing you want to happen in a pitch presentation is to show some prospect an image and have them call up a painful or unpleasant memory. Fortunately there's an easy way to make sure prospects see what you want them to see. It's called priming.

You prime people by telling them how you want them to respond to the image before you show it to them. There's no need to be blatant, something as simple as, "This next slide shows you X, Y, and Z. The Z part's the most important, and here's what you need to know about it." Now that they're primed for what you want them to see, show it to them and -- shabam! They're seeing what you want them to see.

Tell clients what they're going to see before you show it to them. They'll focus on your message, and you'll control the conversation rather than the client creating a message of their own and ignoring yours.

The death knell is 5

I've watched a lot of presentations from engaging, evangelistic presenters, and I've never seen anybody stand up in the audience and challenge what they're saying or offering.

But you're presenting a pitch or closing a deal. The social psychology of a pitch/close is adversarial. You want to get as much of the prospect's budget as possible. And the prospect wants to get as much of your offering as possible for as little money as possible.

Part of that adversarial relationship involves being challenged. You've done as much prep and due diligence as possible, you know as much about the client as the client does, and they may still ask you a question or two that you can't answer.

Not answering one or two questions, or redirecting with something like, "I'll have to get back to you on that," works fine.

But the brain keeps track of hits and misses. Specifically, your adversary (the client) is keeping track because the more you miss, the more they think, "Is this an example of product/offering/service/follow-through, etc.?" The more misses, the more problems ahead. And when you can't answer five questions, it's time to leave. "Five" is one of those magic numbers -- a five-fingered handful is all someone can hold. The non-conscious doesn't think "five," it thinks "a lot," and if the client/prospect thinks there's a lot of trouble ahead, you won't get the deal.

Stop pitching if five client questions go unanswered, and have somebody else come back with the answers. You can come back, but make sure the other person does the talking.

Help then sell

There is no doubt that you're a genius, that your product is sliced bread, the wheel, fire, or cornflakes, and that your company is a force to be reckoned with -- to everybody but the prospect with a problem. To the prospect with a problem, you're either a solution or a waste of time. Do you really want to close the deal? Then don't sell them anything until after you've helped them.

Do not demonstrate that you can help them, but truly help them. You don't have to give them everything. You only have to give them enough to solve the problem in front of them. What's in front of them is the tip of the iceberg, and most icebergs run incredibly deep. And because you solved that problem (nobody else did), they're going to come back to you to get more help. Help them as part of the pitch, and you've closed the deal without having to ask.

Demonstrate helpfulness, not salesmanship. Be enthusiastic about your ability to help them, not enthusiastic about closing the deal. Be enthusiastic and energetic about solving their problem, and if you are, you'll close the deal.


You can be charismatic, evangelistic, entertaining, and captivating in your pitch or close; just be mindful of these takeaways to get the job done. And stop worrying about Steve Jobs.

Joseph Carrabis is founder and chief research officer at NextStage Evolution.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Businessman standing on podium" image via Shutterstock.

Joseph Carrabis is Founder and CRO of The NextStage Companies, NextStage Global and NextStage Analytics, companies that specialize in helping clients improve their marketing efforts and understand customer behavior. He's also applied neuroscience,...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Lynn Salton

2014, June 27

It's funny and it's sad... I'm over 45 and companies think I'm out of touch and no longer understand how to market because the internet wasn't in my high school. Yet I read articles like this one and I can't believe that someone actually felt this needed to be said. Marketers of my age know this stuff inside and out and believe me, we get the interwebs too. Next time you're looking to hire someone... try an old marketer, you just might find what you need.