Imagine this scenario: you’re the CEO on a road tour pitching your company to potential investors in advance of an initial public offering.
A million things go through your mind during each presentation. One wrong move—one wrong number—and you come away with squat.
Not so fast.
A Stanford business professor’s interesting study broke down the factors that can make the difference in these pressure-packed moments, the most important being investors’ impression of management.
Not numbers. Not headcount. Not investor return.
So, what’s the connection between pitching an IPO and pitching insurance… any kind of insurance?
The Harvard Business Review recently broke down this study in an article titled, “5 Ways to Project Confidence in Front of an Audience.” HBR’s analysis reminds us that while the world is changing quickly, some things never change.
Holding an audience (or a prospect) is as much about you as it is what you’re selling.
Here are a few excerpts from the HBR article:
“Employees, investors, and partners don’t just follow anyone — they follow leaders who have command of the business and command of the stage. Whether you’re presenting on an analyst call or speaking to your entire organization in a town hall meeting, you’re being judged on your confidence and competence, not just your content, and the way you appear and how you sound matters.”
Redbird’s take: Selling insurance is about the customer’s trust. How you carry yourself will directly impact your results.
Here are the five findings:
#1: Dress 25% better than anyone else in the room
“The evidence shows we size people up as soon as they walk into a room. And the first thing we often do — like it or not — is notice a person’s clothes. You’ve probably heard the advice to “dress to impress” but what exactly does that mean?
“Several years ago, I (the HBR author) had the opportunity to meet retired U.S. Army Commander Matt Eversmann, who teaches leadership at Johns Hopkins University. The battle he led in Mogadishu, Somalia, was turned into the movie Black Hawk Down. ‘Great leaders have an air of confidence,’ he told me. ‘In the military, it all starts with how you’re dressed the first time you meet a subordinate. Always dress a little better than everyone else and you’ll look confident.’ You’ll note that he said a little better. Your clothes need to be appropriate for the situation, but aim to be slightly more polished.
“James Citrin, a leading CEO recruiter, once advised job candidates to dress 25% “more formal” than the prevailing dress code at the company. Update your wardrobe once or twice a year, wear clothes that fit your body type, choose colors that compliment your skin or hair color, and avoid worn or scuffed shoes.”
Redbird’s take: In a world where typos are, for some, the norm, dressing for success has been lost in favor of dressing to please yourself. If you want a customer to take you seriously, dress seriously.
#2: Pace your delivery
“We can’t do much about our vocal quality without extensive singing lessons to control our breathing and pitch.
We can, however, improve our vocal delivery, specifically, pace. I (HBR author) provide the narration for my own audiobooks and the first time I walked into a studio and began reading, an audio producer told me to slow down. The ideal pace for an audiobook is a little slower than casual face-to-face conversation because listeners don’t have the added sensory inputs of watching your mouth move and facial expressions. This is about 150 words a minute.
“While you may not be recording an audiobook, the same rule applies when you’re giving a webinar or online presentation where your audience only hears your voice. Speaking too fast will harm your credibility.”
Redbird’s take: Take a deep breath. Build in moments where you pause, partly to give the audience (or your customer) time to soak in your message, and partly to give you a chance to calm down.
#3: Replace long words with short ones (this one is Redbird’s favorite)
“If you want to sound smart, use simple words. Long, convoluted sentences and jargon don’t make you sound smart at all — just the opposite. In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman writes, ‘If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use complex language where simpler language will do.’
You are going to love this next excerpt:
“Using simple words doesn’t imply dumbing down your message. You gain credibility and respect when you’re able to articulate complex ideas in simple language. Recently, I (HBR author) spoke to the co-founder of a tech company, Collective Health, that provides health-insurance plans for major corporations. He told me that because surveys show that most people do not have a sophisticated understanding of insurance terms, the company aims to write its material in language that a third-grader can read and understand. Communicating in accessible language makes it less likely that customers will choose the wrong plan.”
Redbird’s take: Insurance is about some of the most basic human (or business) needs. As an industry, insurance has shot itself in the foot for decades with customer-facing content written in a foreign language (and we don’t mean German or French). If you want to make a sale, make it using the customer’s language, not the industry’s.
#4: Rehearse under stress
“Neuroscientists who study high-performing athletes and professionals have found that the most successful practice under mild stress. In other words, they rehearse under similar conditions they’re likely to encounter during the actual event. Before an important presentation, consider gathering a few people to watch a dress rehearsal, even if it’s in your office or even your living room, rather than practicing alone in a mirror. Simulating even low levels of stress will keep you from cracking under pressure when delivering the real deal.”
Redbird’s take: This might be the most important advice for new agents. While a Medicare customer might be a more forgiving audience than institutional investors, your inability to communicate what’s in it for them will have a direct impact on your ability to close.
#5: Maintain an open posture
“Studies have shown that complex thinkers use complex hand gestures. Don’t keep your hands in your pockets or by your side. Use hand gestures that are natural and authentic. One tip is what body language experts call ‘open posture.’ Having two hands, palms facing up, above the waist would be considered open. A closed posture would be two hands clasped in front of your waist or arms folded across your chest. Standing behind a podium is also considered closed because you are placing a barrier between you and your audience. Demonstrate confidence showing you have the courage to step away from the lectern (and your notes) and work the room.”
Redbird’s take: Selling insurance, we are often sitting with a customer. Act relaxed, don’t get in their face. Let them see that you’re ready to discuss whatever is on their mind. You’re there for them.
Around our office you will often hear someone say: Nothing’s changed.
Not the internet and not smart phones are going to change the reasons customers buy insurance. The approach our predecessors used decades ago remains relevant today.