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Sarah Haston: Communication skills learned at the movies

Sarah Haston • Updated Mar 13, 2018 at 1:00 PM

I know it sounds crazy to learn communication skills at the movies, a place where people are not usually supposed to talk. It is a place, however, where you can escape, imagine and pretend. 

I absolutely love movies, all movies. Now, I will admit that recently the majority of the movies I have seen were selected by the cutest 8 year old and 10 year old I know, but nonetheless – I love the movies.

The latest movie I saw was “The Greatest Showman,” and not that it matters to this story, but I loved it. I thought it was amazing. If you were to look at the skills that the Greatest Showman presented in the movie – it is fair to say that he was an excellent salesperson…

Sales is all about building – and managing – relationships. And just like the relationships you have with your spouse, children or friends, the relationships you form with customers and clients require ongoing and active communication. There are a few particular communication skills I’d encourage anyone to master if they want to see their sales skyrocket. Here are some of the fundamentals.

• Active listening: Here’s a rule of thumb, when talking with a potential customer or client, you should listen more than you talk – a tough thing for extroverted sales reps to do, but critical for making sure you gather all the information you need and don’t miss any key details. Make sure you’re always listening to understand – not thinking about what your reply is going to be, but actively absorbing everything you’re being told. I am so guilty of this. My husband will be the first to tell you, I always interrupt. This is something on which I personally need to focus more time.

• Body language and non-verbal communication: Here’s something that may be controversial. I honestly think that most clients will make up their mind about you based not on what you say, but on your posture and your eye contact. Indeed, direct eye contact is critical, and so is keeping your body language open; don’t cross your arms or turn your body away from the client. There are times today where a gentleman or a lady can turn someone off immediately just by the way they present themselves during the conversation. I am not strictly thinking about appearance, but body language is so important. It is hard to talk to someone if you feel like they don’t want to hear it. If you are selling me, and I am telling you what I want, I want you to look at me, not your feet or not at a piece of paper or someone else in the room.

Knowing your audience: I always like to say that you can’t deliver an elevator pitch unless you know the people in the elevator. Before meeting with a client, do any research you can to get to know them better; and after meeting with them, write down any salient points that might help you to customize future pitches and presentations. This is always critical… you can’t sell to someone if you don’t know who they are. It is imperative that you get to know someone. I had someone call my office the other day to sell me advertising and as he talked to me about Lebanon, he couldn’t remember the name of Cracker Barrel. If he spent just a few minutes on the frontend before he made the phone call, he would have had better luck at getting the sale. 

• Showmanship: By showmanship, I don’t mean gimmicks – but rather putting together a polished and professional presentation. This can really make a big difference. Again, I stress that restraint is key – just do something to build an identity and to capture attention. It is important to utilize modern technology for your presentation. Have a power point, use a microphone, if you need one, don’t have stickers on your laptop and don’t use template for your presentation… spend a little time and money to brand your presentation. This says so much about you. Also, it’s OK to stand up during a presentation, have some energy and smile. This shows others that you are passionate about what you are talking about. You can practice in the mirror and see how you look. Would you buy from you? 

• Trust: One of the key aspects of sales is earning trust – and one of the best ways to do that is to take time to answer questions, offer clarification, or accept feedback on your presentation. Show that you’re not just there to give your spiel; you’re there to connect and to offer value. People do buy from people they like and trust comes into the likeability factor. You have to earn trust and it takes time, but the great salesman – just like the Greatest Showman – in the end, earned everyone’s trust.

Sarah Haston is economic development director in Lebanon.

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