If you can act from the heart, you will win your clients over. Julie Hansen, Founder of Performance Sales and Training, and author of Sales Presentations for Dummies and Act Like a Sales Pro, shares how acting skills help bring the best part of you to your presentations and other interactions. Acting is more than memorizing lines; it's understanding what motivates you and your client, and how to tell a compelling story where everyone wins.

The best acting starts from within, and I think the best sales starts from within.”

Julie Hansen | author, Sales Presentations for Dummies and Act Like a Sales Pro
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Kevin Micalizzi: Welcome to the Quotable Podcast. I'm Kevin Micalizzi. Today we'll be speaking with Julie Hansen. Julie is the Founder of Performance Sales and Training, and she's the author of Sales Presentations for Dummies and Act Like a Sales Pro. And today we're going to talk about how you can take some of those skills that actors use and translate them to delivering better presentations for your customers. So, Julie, thank you so much for joining me today.

Julie Hansen: I'm thrilled to be here, Kevin.

Micalizzi: So, Julie, for our listeners who aren't familiar with you, would you share a little bit about yourself?

Hansen: Sure. So I started out in sales, and I've sold for about 20+ years, a lot of different solutions, and really got into acting about my second year in sales. And so I've always incorporated a lot of acting and improv skills in my own sales career and then also when I coached as a manager. And I adapted that into a coaching platform that I use.

And now I focus on presentation skills, demo skills, virtual sales skills to help salespeople connect with customers more impactfully, more successfully, and have more meaningful conversations that really drive sales.

Micalizzi: From when you and I first did a call to talk about coming on the show, I've been thinking about this. When you say "acting for sales," I think a lot of people immediately jump to you're playing a role to fake someone out.

Hansen: Mm-hmm.

Micalizzi: We tend to use acting in that way. I know what you're talking about is dramatically different than that. Would you kind of give us the picture of what we mean by acting for sales?

Hansen: Absolutely. And it's interesting. I thought that salespeople would have more of a different perception of that, kind of the old-fashioned acting, which isn't even how good actors act today. It's very [unintelligible]. We've come a long way. But most salespeople recognize that when they're in front of a customer, they are in a role, you know?

And I love this quote that Johnny Depp said. And of course, Johnny Depp has played so many out-there parts, as you know, some very unrecognizable. And he said, "With any part you play, there's a piece of yourself in it. Otherwise, it's not acting; it's lying." So there's always that authentic piece of ourselves.

And I think we play a lot of different roles in our lives. Like right now, we're in our business role, and you're in the interviewer role, and I'm the interviewee. And we're coaches, we're moms, we're siblings. And we don't necessarily turn into an entirely different person, right? That's schizophrenia I think, right?

Micalizzi: Yeah, totally.

Hansen: Right? But we bring the best parts of ourselves to that role to accomplish the goal or connect with another person. So it's all about being authentic in your role as a salesperson.

And the fact is, when you are in front of a customer, it is an elevated conversation. Nobody wants to see the me that's home surfing through Netflix in their presentation. They want me to be at my best, right?

Micalizzi: Right.

Hansen: So it's all about what role that is you're [at your] best.

Micalizzi: And it's more than performance skills.

So you're talking about really taking that professional image of yourself and learning how to portray that, not just learning how to speak the lines and have — I guess I'm trying to ask — it's the difference between learning just basic presentation skills and really learning how to deliver your business personality, your business persona, when you're presenting?

Hansen: Absolutely. It is some of the more basic presentation skills. And I know that they mean well, but they teach people how to say a certain line and emphasize different words, and that is the worst form of acting. For instance, if you were to see a show that actors put on every night and you went two or three nights in a row, you would not see a good actor deliver those lines exactly the same way every night.

Micalizzi: Right.

Hansen: Because they're always in the moment. They're always reacting. So acting is much broader. It starts from within. The best acting starts within. I think the best sales starts from within because it's all about "What is my intention here in this conversation?" And as an actor, you really learn how to bring what's inside of you out to connect with the other person. So there are just a lot of different techniques.

And yeah, some of them are about using your voice well and your body, and that's very important. But it's also, what is the subtext? Am I just saying these words or am I saying them with some kind of intention? Am I connected to what I'm saying? The best script in the world means nothing if it's not delivered well, if the person has not internalized that to make it real for themselves and communicate it to their recipient.

Micalizzi: Right. It makes me think, what's your motivation?

Hansen: Yeah, it really is. And this is funny, because when I work with a lot of sales teams, I'll have salespeople deliver some really powerful value line. And if I didn't hear the words, they could be telling me they're validating my [party]. If I just listened to the intonation, I said, "You know, without the words, I don't know whether this is good news or bad news" because they're not connected to what they're saying. They're just getting information out.

And that information on its own as we know doesn't engage people. It's not memorable, it doesn't inspire them to make any changes. So if you're not really connected to your material and know why you're saying it and how you want your audience to feel, then it's not going to land as you would like it to.

Micalizzi: So how do you get started in looking at your presentations and sorting the best way to deliver them?

Hansen: That's a great question. There are a lot of different angles to approach, and it's like "How do I work on my delivery? How do I work on the language, the content?" It really starts from internally like "Why am I saying this?" A lot of times, salespeople get a script or a presentation, and these are the key points you want me to get across. Great.

So they usually put it into their language, which is fine. Some people like to have a more scripted presentation, and that's fine too. But you want to think beyond. These are words that somebody else gave you. And it's not a natural thing. I think we underplay how unnatural it is to take somebody else's words and make them our own.

Micalizzi: Yeah.

Hansen: Marketing departments hand you presentations like "Go out. Deliver this. You'll be great." It's like "You didn't write it. You didn't come up with it. And you've got to find a way to make it real for you."

So there are a lot of different ways that actors practice with their lines, with their content, to really start to internalize what they're saying to be able to connect with it. And it starts by just analyzing the script, analyzing the presentation. "Huh, why am I saying this? If I can't explain to myself why I'm saying this, I have no business saying it to another person because it's not being thought through, right?

Micalizzi: Right.

Hansen: It's like I've got to know why I'm saying every line, and I have to know how I want that line to make the other person feel, so I can think about some intention and say, "Okay, in this part of my presentation, how do I want my prospect to feel? Do I want to engage them? Am I trying to challenge them? Am I trying to reassure them?" And just by being very clear in what your intention is, you'll find that your words come out much more connected to the content and just have much more resonance to them, and they connect with the other person.

Have you ever had someone apologize to you and you know they're not sorry?

Micalizzi: Oh gosh, yes, very insincere.

Hansen: Right. And they don't use other words. They still say "I'm sorry," right? But it's the intonation, it's the intention they have behind it. There's the "Karen, I'm sorry," just, you know, I'm really sorry, or there's the "I'm sorry," like let's move on, okay? I don't want to talk about it anymore.

Micalizzi: Right.

Hansen: And it's all what's going on underneath the words. And I think we downplay that in business, and we just get other people's words, and we're supposed to be great at reciting them. And news flash, nobody has training in this, so why would you be naturally good at it? Some people get good after practice, and that's great. But I think salespeople could really use some techniques to help them take language they didn't write and deliver it in a meaningful and impactful way.

Micalizzi: Now I know the first reaction, and I've done this many times. You get a presentation, and you stand in front of the mirror, and you try to deliver it. I like what you're saying here though because I need to figure out, and any of the listeners who are trying to do this need to figure out what they're trying to accomplish with each of the things they're saying. So I would say that almost gives you the motivation.

Hansen: It does.

Micalizzi: So you know the outcome you want, so you need to figure out "Okay, how do I get to that?"

Hansen: Right.

Micalizzi: Am I following you?

Hansen: Absolutely. And what you're saying is you're encapsulating the idea that it starts from the inside. This acting in front of the mirror or practicing in front of the mirror, I don't know where that got started, but it really is not helpful because what happens is you start to go externally "Oh, that looks good when I do this. Oh, I should smile there."

Micalizzi: Exactly.

Hansen: And it's not connected to what you're saying internally. Now if I said something to you, and I really wanted to motivate you, I wouldn't have to stop and think about, should I emphasize this word or that word? Should I gesture here? I know that if I'm going to motivate you, my body's into it. I'm saying, "Kevin, we've got to do this." I'm not thinking, "Okay, I should emphasize got to; I should wait here." It's internal. You're all connected.

And what happens is as salespeople and businesspeople, we don't always have that freedom with our body and our voice to go with those internal impulses. So part of this acting technique that I use with sales teams is to do that actor's warm-up. If you go backstage at any theater, actors are back there, they're stretching, they're vocalizing, they're trying to release that energy so they can use their body or their voice to support their message.

So if you're thinking about your intention of what you want to get across, you don't have to think about "What do I do with my hands? How do I emphasize this line? Where do I smile?" And when people focus on those external things first before they've connected with their material and gone through some of this internal process, it comes across very phony. And I think that's where the concept of acting, this idea of well that's acting, yeah, that is bad acting is what that is.

Micalizzi: So I figured out what I want to accomplish, the areas I'm touching on, how do I make it more personal? How do I interject myself into that? What you were talking about, that whole taking the line somebody else gave you and making them your own …

Hansen: When we're in front of an audience, when we're in front of a prospect or an actor on stage, those nerves tend to draw you down and, we get even smaller.

And so you have to constantly fight against that. So what I have salespeople do is run through these warm-up exercises where you're delivering your content and you're just pushing yourself like bigger than you think you need to be, like you practice in a lot of different ways, like going real big with your presentation, like over the top. You know how you've seen an over-the-top actor? I always think of Al Pacino or somebody, just, "Here's what we're going to do for you today!"



Just have fun with it. First of all, it helps you familiarize yourself with what you're saying. It helps you find your personality. It's silly. It's fun. It breaks some of those habits that you get into like "And now I'm going to talk about this. And then on the next bullet point, blah, blah blah." So it helps you find those different moments in your presentation like "Huh, why did I really emphasize that? That's interesting. That's fun."

When you're in the real presentation or the real conversation, you're not going to bring that over-the-top level, and that's not usually a problem. But you will naturally settle on a place that's maybe a little more of your personality, a little bigger than you would be if you just walked in, no warm-up, just nerves tamping your energy down even farther so that you're just very generic, you sound like every other salesperson.

Micalizzi: So to combat the fact that most of us will start too small, you rehearse really, really big so that hopefully you end up in the middle?

Hansen: Yes. Because people have their comfort zone. And when you're nervous or anxious, you gravitate toward that comfort zone, and those nerves push your comfort zone to the bottom of your comfort zone, which is not an engaging, connecting place to be. That is not where you're at your best. So as actors, you're always working against that energy.

And if you're not keeping that energy flowing, working with it, practicing with it, channeling it, it will paralyze you in a way. And then you get those nerves like, "Oh gosh, what do I do with my hands? What's my next line?" You can't be in the moment because you're too anxious about what you're doing there.

Micalizzi: I'm assuming that you have some exercises that you normally do or you recommend? Do you have like a blog post or a write-up on some of the ones you prefer?

Hansen: I do. On my resource page on my website, which is Performance, Sales and Training.com. If you go to resources, I have like a seven-minute power warm-up.

Micalizzi: Wow.

Hansen: And it just takes you through just some quick vocal warm-ups, physical warm-ups just to get loose and open. And it's great to do just when you start your day to start to be aware of your voice and your body, and get loose and allow yourself to use those tools.

One thing that actors do that they know to do is to warm up. They don't just eat a sandwich and then go out on stage, right? They know they've got to be at 100% the minute that curtain goes up or the minute the camera goes on. And the conference room, the computer monitor, the phone, whatever, that is your stage. And you need to warm up your instrument to be fully ready and prepared to have that conversation.

It gives you more confidence, gives you more energy, and it just helps you show up at 100%.

Micalizzi: Definitely. And we can include a link to those resources.

Hansen: Right.

Micalizzi: And that way, folks can grab it and go. There are a couple different areas I want to take this. I know you can do a lot of work with technical salespeople.

Hansen: Yes.

Micalizzi: I'm assuming just from my past experience and my background, performance and presentations are not often a strength or may not be a strength. I don't want to discount because I've met a lot of technical salespeople who are phenomenal. So I'm curious; obviously you need to build up that confidence in doing it, but what else should folks be doing to ensure they're really delivering the best presentations they possibly can?

Hansen: Well, interesting. I love working with technical people because they're smart, they're passionate about what they do. But what happens is they didn't necessarily go into that career to be presenters. So they're kind of thrown into this position like, "Okay, now you have to communicate all this great stuff to the customer, so how can you best do that?" And really it's a couple of things — it's having an understanding that the information is not enough, right?

We're not there to teach people. For instance, if you're doing a demo, you're not going to teach them how to do the software, right? You're the sales teams; it's a selling role. So how do we still make this more engaging, but staying in your role as the trusted advisor, the expert? You know, you don't want to be too glib and performance-y around that, of course.

But you need to up your game. And to be your best, I think you really have to go beyond really knowing your content, knowing how to deliver it, and start to think about how is my audience perceiving this presentation, this demo? How am I impacting them? And understanding that people have a shorter attention span today and that you're going to have to work harder to keep them engaged.

It's not enough just to have a really great solution that you're showing. You still have to realize people have limited attention spans. You've got a lot of competitors that are saying similar things, showing similar things. It's all getting to be a blur in the customer's mind if you don't find ways to make it stand out. And you can make it stand out by being very clear in how you show it and keeping your audience engaged throughout your presentation.

That's what I work with a lot of technical sales teams on now. It's how do we include the audience in that demo and not make this a 45-minute monologue? There are very few places in our life where we will sit down and willingly listen to a 45-minute monologue today, right?

Micalizzi: [Laughs] It's so true.

Hansen: It's like, "Are you kidding me? How long is this going to be?"

Micalizzi: Good luck getting someone to listen to a three-minute monologue let alone a 45.

Hansen: Right. They're a captive audience, but I always say, just because they're sitting there face forward, eyes looking at you, does not mean you have their full attention. So you have to be more engaging today. You have to use all your tools. You have to be able to be confident in a variety of situations. And I think acting has techniques for all those things. And it really is tactical because it's for people who maybe don't have the knowledge of "How do I get from low energy to high energy? How do I get confidence when I don't feel confident? How do I bring these words to life?" Acting is very tactical, and I really love that about it. It's like, "Okay, here are some exercises and techniques that will help you be the best version of yourself in this presentation."

Micalizzi: I know when you and I were talking about this interview, one of the things you talked about was our default reaction is to go into our business presentation mode.

Hansen: Mm-hmm.

Micalizzi: So we jump right into that. And you talked about it in terms of approaching it the same way you would talk to a friend versus having that "I need to be in business mode" and I drop into that monotone. How do you approach it to really translate that, the way you have a conversation with a friend, to "Okay, I want that same feeling, I want that same personality in this business presentation?"

Hansen: Right. And that is really right up acting's alley because you've got a scene partner who you may know is a real goofball, and suddenly they're playing your father.

Micalizzi: Right.

Hansen: And you've got to react with them entirely differently. First of all, it takes the ability to focus on who you're talking to and recognize that they are a person. Just because they're a decision maker doesn't mean they don't have a personality or they don't have friends.

You don't necessarily want to approach everybody as your best friend. You want to understand what the relationship is, so I'm not [suggesting] that, but you do want to break down that business barrier. You want to be real. You want to bring a professional, real version of yourself. So it's hard to say because it varies by situation.

Because if you're with the VP of banking, you're going to have to have a different level of professionalism than if you're with a small business owner. But for the most part, you want to think about this person, even maybe though you don't know them, as somebody who you can help, right? If I can help you, I want to help you. And I'm here as a trusted advisor. And what actors often work with is something called status.

And I don't think we think about this a lot in sales. We often just, without being conscious of it, put our customer up on this throne, and we're sort of, "Hi, can we talk to you about this?" And coming from that place, you can't have this real, strong, one-on-one conversation. So coming in with some equal status thinking, "I'm here as a potential business partner. I have something of value to offer. And we're going to have a great conversation about it." So it's a mental pre-work before the call to get in that right mindset. It's like what an actor does before they go in to talk to a scene partner.

Micalizzi: I like that because you're really coming in as the trusted advisor. So I almost see it as you just need to remind yourself of that. You've done your research. You know what can help this customer. You've just got to remind yourself that you're not coming in at a lower level. You're really coming in on par.

Hansen: Right. Because it's a disservice to both you and the customer. And I know there are people that will go out of their way to try to make you feel like you're less than, but you have to fight that. It doesn't mean you have to be cocky or anything. But if you can come in on an equal footing, you're in a much better place to connect like yourself and be more authentic as opposed to this, "Oh, thanks so much for your time. I don't want to take too much of your time."

You know, it's that confidence and how you project yourself in those first few seconds that are really vital to how your conversation goes. And that's one thing that actors know. If you don't win your audience over in those first few seconds, that first minute, you're going to have a tough time the rest of the show because it's all uphill from there.

So you have to really show up as you want to be treated, as you expect the other person to participate. You have to let that be clear in your body and in your language. And if you're not in the right mental frame of mind for that, you have to take some time to get there.

Micalizzi: Right. So I want to ask you; I did community theater when I was younger, and I know it's always, always easier to be in that role and be in that mindset when you're getting feedback immediately from your audience.

Hansen: Mm-hmm.

Micalizzi: And the reason I want to bring this up is just because you know as well as I do most of the folks who are selling nowadays are selling through technology. It's far less likely that they will be onsite sitting across the table from the person they're trying to sell to. So I want to get a feeling from you. What do we need to do to adapt to using the technology, but still deliver that authentic performance?

Hansen: That's a good question and very relevant. I get that a lot. Well, a couple of things come to mind. First of all, any time there's new technology, we have to adapt our style to that. So if you think back, not that we were alive then, but when they had the silent movies, and then they went to talking, there were a lot of actors that could not make that transition because you have to bring different skills.

Any time there is technology between you and your customer, you've got this barrier. So you have to work harder. Your energy has to be higher because that technology is going to dilute that a little bit. And people that just kind of get on these virtual calls and show up just exactly the same as they do live, they're not having the impact that they need to have. So part of it is understanding you've got to elevate.

You have to use your voice more consciously. There are studies that show how much is communicated just from the sound of our voice and our body language. And the first few seconds we meet somebody, 55% of what we communicate to another person comes from the sound of our voice. Now that's a pretty huge impression.

And if your voice is very monotone and flat, sometimes if you're live, if you've got a customer in front of you, you can overcome that because you've got the benefit of being in person and your body and your physical presence. But online, it's deadly. And you have to really understand the power of your voice in these virtual conversations and meetings, and work on how you're going to use your voice. And everybody has their different vocal things. Like some people talk in a very narrow range, more monotone.

Some people are too quiet. Some people don't pause enough. So you have to know what your bugaboos are, and you have to work those out, because they are going to drive your audience crazy if they're on the call with you for an hour if you keep saying the same — "Does that make sense? Does that make sense? Does that make sense?"

Micalizzi: Oh, absolutely.

Hansen: Or you never pause or you talk in a flat monotone. You have to eliminate those distractions and amplify the things that are going to connect with your audience.

So the virtual world is a real challenge today, and I think we've got video now, which I think is very important. But, again, video and live are two different things. And often salespeople don't like to use their video, which is crazy.

Micalizzi: I think a lot find it intimidating.

Hansen: Yeah. And it's funny; I always tell people, "Okay, so the picture of you on screen is going to be about what, an inch and a half by two inches? What are you afraid they're going to see?" But our physical presence is one of the most compelling things to another person. So if you take away that physical presence, you're really shooting yourself in the foot as a salesperson. That is how we connect with other people.

So even if it's just at the beginning of a presentation, I encourage people to have that camera on, establish that connection, and then you can turn it off as you get into slides or get into your demo and then come back on when you're taking questions at the end. It makes you a real person. Think about how much easier it is to turn down a salesperson on the phone than somebody who's right in front of your face. They're real to you, so make yourself real.

Micalizzi: I like that. It really personalizes the experience.

Hansen: Yeah. And people have such high expectations of themselves on video, and nobody's going to be more critical of you on video than you.

Micalizzi: Right.

Hansen: So yes, you need to eliminate some of those tics that you might have or distracting movements or focus on better eye contact. But you also need to just get off your backside a little bit and just look for those broader flaws that might be distracting people from your message.

Micalizzi: That's great advice. So I need to change gears and ask you our lightning round question here.

Hansen: Oh gosh. Okay.

Micalizzi: So, Julie, if you could take all the knowledge and experience you have now, go back to the beginning of your career and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you tell yourself?

Hansen: Oh my gosh. I would say just go for it. I think I spent too much time thinking about, "Is this the right thing to do? What are people going to think?"

I think just trusting your knowledge in the moment and doing the best you can, and if you make a mistake, which you're going to make mistakes, it's okay. As long as your intentions are good, you will learn from it, and just to not hold back.

Micalizzi: I love it. I think it's great advice and probably advice I would give myself.

Hansen: Yeah. I think I need to remind myself of that still every once in a while.

Micalizzi: I ask this on every episode, and I'm starting to make a list of things that I just need to remind myself regularly.

Hansen: I would love to see that list when you get it. I'm sure there's good stuff on there.

Micalizzi: Fantastic. Julie, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

Hansen: Oh, thank you. My pleasure, Kevin.

 
 
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