It was an absolutely beautiful morning in Hong Kong. I received the standard friendly greeting from the doorman upon exiting my hotel. As I made my way around the circular walkway, I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful trees and colorful flowers so impeccably manicured surrounding the entrance of the underground mall near my hotel. I made my way to Queensway Road East, which would take me to my meeting.
The city was already bustling below with people going every direction in taxis, cars, and motorcycles, or just walking the streets. As I looked out onto Victoria Harbor, I could see the Star Ferry running out to Kowloon. I set out on the two block walk that I had taken the day prior. Relaxed, I made my way to the office complex where my meeting would be held. As usual, I was heading in early.
I quickly walked up the steps, and across the very large, modern atrium. Upon approaching the elevators, the doors opened, I waited for several people to exit, and proceeded in. The doors quickly shut behind me. With the doors now closed, I looked up to select my floor. There were no buttons! No floor indicators! Something was wrong. How would I get to the right floor in this very tall building? What was going on? My heart began to beat quickly. Something was out of place. My eyes darted around the inside of the elevator searching for clues to determine what to do. The elevator started heading up, and I had no way to stop it or indicate what floor I needed. There was no way to get out. My mind was racing, and yet, it seemed that every second was passing so slowly, so deliberately. After what seemed like a very long time, the elevator doors opened. I was at the wrong floor, high above where I needed to be. I made my escape in an attempt to figure out what was going on.
As I think about this event from seven months ago, I can remember so many vivid details. I could describe to you the inside of the elevator. I can still recall the brand of the elevator, even the model number. I can remember the distinct feeling of relief and confusion as I got off the elevator. I can recall with great detail, the feeling of anxiety as I wondered if I would be late to my meeting.
What if during your next meeting, you could create a similar “elevator experience” for your customer that would have them remember vivid details about you months later?
In their book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath provide some insight in building memories that last. They conclude that, “…surprise jolts us to attention. Surprise is triggered when our schemas fail, and it prepares us to understand why the failure occurred.” Their research appears to find that as humans, we develop a way, an understanding or a pattern, of how we expect things to occur. During the thousands of times that I had been in an elevator and pushed the button to get to my destination, I was acting within my expected schema and the event was mundane and unmemorable. However, when the doors shut in the elevator in Hong Kong my schema was violated; my natural survival instincts ignited and my mind raced to determine what was happening.
My event in the elevator not only got my attention, but caused clear memories about that specific event. “Unexpected ideas are more likely to stick because surprise makes us pay attention. That extra attention and thinking sear unexpected events into our memories…surprise makes us want to find an answer—to resolve the question of why we were surprised”
Think about your next meeting. Do your customers have a schema, an expectation of what will occur? Will your customer view your meeting like the last several they have had with you? Will the results of your time together be like my thousands of trips on the elevator prior to Hong Kong—uneventful, and unmemorable? Can you contrast an expected meeting with something that will change the schema or expectation of the customer and get their attention to wonder, “What’s next?” By doing so, is there some way that you can create more vivid memories of the content of your presentation?
The book, Made to Stick, refers to a research study conducted by Robert Cialdini who concluded, “You’ve heard of the famous Aha! experience, right? Well, that Aha! experience is much more satisfying when it is preceded by the Huh? experience.” For me, the “Huh?” was created when I looked up and saw no floor selection buttons. Keeping in mind what is written above, the challenge for your next meeting is how will you initially create that break in your customer’s schema with a “Huh?” (expectation of your meeting, sales call, etc.) and follow it with that “Aha!” moment. How do you contrast your next presentation so that it does not look like your last presentation; or even worse, so that it does not look just like your competition? Do you always present the same? Do you start off with the same old introduction, agenda and dim the lights for your PowerPoint© presentation? Are you creating the “typical elevator ride” when you turn the lights down?
George Loewenstein, from Carnegie Mellon University concluded that, “curiosity…happens when we feel a gap in our knowledge.” How can your next presentation create that gap for your customer and increase their attention? Armed with this knowledge, you have the opportunity to grab the attention of your audience by contrasting your presentation from the expected. Presentations today are loaded with facts, figures, charts and diagrams. Chip and Dan Heath conclude that there is an important order here: “One important implication of the gap theory is that we need to open gaps before we close them. Our tendency is to tell people the facts.”
This blog is full of Grabbers that are used to get the attention of your audience when used appropriately. Grabbers can create interest in your entire presentation as a whole, or individual components that you build to dramatize a specific point. Instead of your normal introduction and company overview followed by an information dump, I would highly encourage you to create an elevator experience for your customer. Grab their interest. Get them curious. Have them thinking, “What next?” Grabbers are tools that can be used at anytime throughout your presentation. This approach will contrast your next meeting with your customer from your competition. By introducing the unexpected, you contrast messages and your chances of being remembered as unique are much higher.
Walking into that elevator in Hong Kong was an absolute contrast to any elevator ride I had taken before. It was a memorable event. Every sense I had available was charged up to figure out how to get out of the confinement of that Schindler, Model 7000 elevator. How can you use contrast and Grabbers in your next presentation to fire-up the survival instincts of your customers to help seek the need for change—to move from their existing pain to your solution?
A few suggestions here as you approach your next presentation:
- Surprise for the sake of surprise is never enough. It must be relevant and followed by credible information that satisfies the information gap you create.
- Start with your customer, not your presentation. Build every presentation from the ground-up, realizing that each customer, each selling situation, each opportunity to message to your customer, is a unique experience.
- See your customer from their perspective. How can you make their pains, needs or desires come alive? How can you emulate that “elevator experience”? Use contrast to demonstrate their current situation (pain) and the resulting gain by moving towards your solution.
- Look for a Hot Opening and create interest from the start. Contrast your solution by finding something that is vital to your prospect and more importantly, something unique that only you can provide.
- Don’t give in to the pressure of conformity. It causes everyone to look the same and present the same (PowerPoint presentations with a barrage of charts, graphs, and data). Be yourself. Stand out. Be different. Contrast yourself, your approach, and your message.
Some of you may have had a similar experience with one of the newer automated elevators. I did make it to my meeting that day, and I did get there on time. I eventually made my way back to the atrium and found a key entry pad about twenty-feet from the entrance of the elevators. As you approach the elevator, you indicate the floor you desire to get to. The computerized elevator then matches you with others going to similar floors in the building and directs you to one of the six elevators available – an incredibly efficient process once you understand it!
I challenge you to elevate your next presentation. Be different, be unique, focus on your customers’ world; momentarily close the door to their elevator and create memories that will last far beyond your meeting.
By Steve Hub, Consultant, Corporate Visions Inc.
Heath, Dan & Chip, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Stick and Others Die, Random House 2007 (pages: 67-69, 80, 84-85).