In the process of having a children’s book published, I’ve learned that the toughest audience in the world isn’t a CEO, a tough-as-nails VP, or a former military-turned-procurement person. It’s a squirmy five-year-old. Kindergartners don’t like to listen. They do like to interrupt. And they have an instinctive habit of turning the page before you’ve finished reading. I’ve had to adjust my writing techniques in order to wrestle this audience’s attention. And I’ve found that many of those lessons help with B2B sales messaging as well.
The next time you find yourself reading a story to your daughter, nephew, or grandchild, pay close attention to these five messaging hacks authors use to keep kids engaged. They may come in handy on your next sales call.
1. Be kind to short attention spans.
Most picture books max out at 16 spreads, or 32 pages. That gives authors and illustrators just enough room to tell a complete story without losing the wiggly kindergartner’s interest. Of course, grown-ups don’t have any more patience for long stories than kids do; we’re just better at pretending. So use a format like the 5-Point Pitch to make your message concise and easy to follow. Then pepper your sales story with surprising statistics, eye-opening observations, and interesting anecdotes to shake up the meeting and keep your prospect engaged.
2. Tap into imagination.
Even kindergartners know every good story has a beginning, middle, and end. But how easy it is to forget the basic storytelling ingredients when talking about your widget and its two dozen super-important features. In your next presentation, trash the bulleted list and appeal to your audience’s imagination by borrowing the same plotline you might find in any children’s book: A problem arises, your customer fixes it with your solution, and everyone lives happily ever after.
3. Use pictures to fill in the gaps.
In most children’s books, the illustrations do about half the legwork of getting the story across. And for good reason: In a landmark study in the 1960s, participants who were shown 600 pictures demonstrated a 98% retention rate.* And according to OSHA, people remember a message six times better when they hear and see it.** We humans are simply better at learning with our eyes than with our ears. In your next sales meeting, try telling part of your pitch with a whiteboard, prop, or picture. Visual aids like these don’t just help your prospect remember – they also give your vocal chords a break and make your pitch interactive.
4. Practice your message out loud.
Have you ever read a children’s book aloud and found yourself enjoying the rhythm of the phrasing? Just like children’s books, sales pitches are meant to be spoken. So be sure to read your message aloud when working on it. Have fun with ear-friendly devices like alliteration and rhyme, while avoiding tongue-twisters and long sentences that leave you out of breath. Doing so will make your message easier for both you and your prospect to remember.
5. Don’t just explain. Entertain.
Kids can sniff out a moral from a mile away. So can sales prospects. There’s a tendency to fear your audience won’t “get” your message and to compensate by force-feeding them more details, more examples, more facts, and more features. But a more effective way to rescue their attention and win them over is to season your information with a fresh joke or funny story. As emotional intelligence expert Travis Bradberry notes, “Likeable people balance their passion with the ability to have fun.”*** By making your pitch not just informative but entertaining, you can help your prospect understand what you have to say and like what you have to sell.
There’s an old adage that you don’t really understand something until you can explain it to a child. Oftentimes the intended audience for your message is a CEO with only a high-level understanding of your industry, and yet most B2B sales messages are anything but high-level. If you fear your message isn’t being heard, simplify it by putting it into children’s book terms. Eliminate the jargon, use more conversational words, and maybe even run it past your resident five-year-old.
Next time you go into a meeting, make believe you’re a children’s book writer. Your pitch might just live happily ever after.
* “A review of visual memory capacity: Beyond individual items and toward structured representations.” Journal of Vision, May 2011
** “Presenting Effective Presentations with Visual Aids” U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA Office of Training and Education, May 1996
*** “13 Habits of Exceptionally Likeable People”, Forbes, January 2015