It’s Show Time! 6 Sales Demo Tips from Stage Performers



As Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

Sales demos are like shows, with salespeople as the main cast. Some are interesting, some are boring, and some blow you away and leave you hanging on the edge of your seat. Haven’t seen too many of the latter? Neither have I, but those that I have seen are all super effective at delivering an engaging and memorable performance.

Get ready for opening night

A message sent is only as good as the message received. If an astounding ROI business case is delivered with incontrovertible logic and a burning call-to-action to an audience of people who are dozing off, it isn’t going to be effective. Your audience needs to be paying attention for anything to get through to them. And in the era of web conferences, you’re competing with the likes of their personal email, social media networks, and cats on YouTube. So what’s a salesperson to do?

First, consider whether your presentation is designed with their experience in mind. If you intend to read bullet points off of a PowerPoint, your prospects will be clamoring for the espresso maker. Your audience consists of stressed and busy professionals. They’re balancing calls and meetings with home life, and they give you sixty minutes of their precious time in hopes that you can offer them something valuable—so deliver on it.

Actors and performers have a lot to teach us in this regard. Have you ever noticed that stage actors wear dark makeup in rings around their eyes? They don’t do this out of vanity. They do it because they’re highly attuned to their audience’s experience. From a distance, a great deal of non-verbal meaning can be lost if nobody can tell where their eyes are pointing. You’ll also note that they never turn their back to the audience and that they shout when they’re supposed to be whispering. Are they paranoid or tone-deaf? Nope, it’s because they are 100% focused on their audience’s ability to see and hear them. Again, the audience’s experience always comes first.

As a salesperson, you need to do the same and put your audience first. Take cues from stage performers, whose careers depend on engaging their audience, and cater to your prospects’ experience in these six ways

1. Modulate your tone

Many salespeople get into a bad habit of talking in monotone whenever they’re reciting facts and figures they memorized. They say these particular lines over and over again, to the point where they get bored of saying them. This weariness comes across in your voice and downplays the importance of whatever it is you’re saying, so snap out of it! Start proactively modulating your tone and hitting a wider range of notes so that you’re interesting to listen to. Learn from stage actors and pump some vibrancy and life into your delivery. Otherwise, all your prospects will hear is “Bueller…Bueller…Bueller.”

2. Use dramatic pauses

Dramatic pauses build suspense into your demo and interrupt the flow of conversation, making what you’re saying difficult to tune-out. Late in his career, Shakespeare started incorporating more and more dramatic pauses, as evidenced in Macbeth, in order to draw his audience’s attention to a zenith.

The podcast below is from the king of dramatic pauses, Dan Carlin. Regardless of your interest in the subject matter, notice how well he practices all of these principles including…the dramatic pause.

3. Practice the golden silence

Like a dramatic pause, silence is golden, yet it’s the most underused conversation tool on the planet. Most salespeople get so carried away with talking that they forget to stop. Like Forrest Gump, they see their goal in sight and just keep running. Some salespeople are even afraid to be silent.

Because most people feel uncomfortable with silence, when you throw a 3-7 second pause into a conversation after extolling one of your product’s virtues, you create a vacuum in the conversation which compels people to fill with something. Anything. Nine times out of ten they’ll blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, which is usually pretty honest and gives you a good gauge of where things are at. Whenever a client uses this moment to ask a question, I know that they’re thinking things through earnestly and that we’re on the right track.

4. Use hand gestures, even over the phone

Have you ever seen anyone talk on the phone and use their hands to accentuate what they’re saying as if they’re on stage? It’s less crazy than it looks. Research shows that by acting out gestures we can actually enhance and modulate our mood. Studies show that even smiling over the phone alters how you sound and that people are much more receptive. Who knew that non-verbal behavior could be audible?

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins is a big advocate of loud, boisterous shouting and chest-pounding to awaken a state of exhilaration and thus high performance. You can harness this energy for your sales calls by making sure you have either a hands-free headset or a conference phone, which not only frees up your hands to take notes or type, but also allows you to gesticulate and add depth and persuasiveness to your tone that is otherwise lost.

Remember: use hand gestures to get excited!

5. Stop telling linear stories

A common rule of thumb for demos is to tell people what you’re going to show them, show them, and then reiterate what you showed them. Pretty simple, but without some flair, this is an exhaustively boring exercise. Tweak it by making the first part a rhetorical question about why you’re going to show them what comes next. For instance, “This here is going to save you 2 1/2 hours each day. Know which feature it is?” Rhetorical questions ignite your audience’s natural curiosity and, if it’s truly relevant, keeps them paying attention because they’re going to be dying to know the answer.

No more: Tell them how you’re going to bore them —> bore them—> tell them how you bored them

Try: Tell them “why” you’re going to tell them—> tell them—> tell them “why” you told them

6. Do the Quentin Tarantino

You made it this far and now you get a black belt-level tip, the Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino is, of course, the dramatic filmmaker famous for movies like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, in which he tells the story in snapshots that are completely out of order, but satisfyingly all ties them back together before the end. It’s powerful because it ignites a series of questions like a string of firecrackers: How did we get here? Why is the main character running? And the abruptness of each scene promises to deliver interesting answers, which keep us glued to our seats.

You can use this same principle in your demos to great effect. Start out by talking about the results that your product or service delivers—be specific and reference an actual customer—and then assure the audience that you’ll use the rest of the demo time to explore the mystery of how that customer got there, and how they can do the same if they partner with you. This is especially effective when you can showcase concrete results.

And that’s all folks! It’s time for you to get out of your bland and mundane PowerPoint shell to close the deal! Spice up the conversation with dramatic pauses and straight up silences, and intrigue them with questions they’ll be eager to answer. Draw them into the drama that is your presentation and deliver a memorable performance fit for Broadway!

Are you mastering the sales demo? What tips do you have on delivering an applause-worthy performance? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.