How to sell anything with your next presentation

This week I have spent time in Windsor running a workshop for a sales team. Together we discovered a technique used by some of the greatest speakers in history to sell ideas, products and services to individuals, groups and even whole nations!

In just under two hours the team discovered this technique and successfully used it to sell items including a sauce pan, a kettle and some very dodgy French Connection trainers to their MD, Terry.

What is this all powerful technique?

It’s pretty simple (the best things in life are!). It’s called the villain and hero technique, and all the presenter has to do is tell two very short stories that ignite fear in the heart of their audience, before delivering the perfect antidote to that terror.

The villain story

First up, the presenter tells a tale of a person that the audience can relate to. The story details the pain and problems that the character experiences as they try to use an inferior or alternative product or service. The presenters use of language, tone and gestures will make this story as dark, depressing and difficult as possible.

For example, if we were selling mobile phones in the 90’s, we would use the villain story to tell a tale of a person who breaks down in their car and doesn’t have a mobile phone. We would detail the full drama of trying to get home.

The hero story

Once our audience are thoroughly depressed and have realised that not having a mobile phone is a serious problem in their lives, it’s time to present the hero story, the knight in shining armour – our product!

Now, we tell a wonderful tale of the mobile phone owner whose car breaks down. We energetically bring to life the ease and simplicity with which they can call for help and how quickly they get home to their warm and welcoming bed.

Our audience wants to be that person. They want the fear they are feeling to disappear. They want to buy our mobile phone. Now!

Who else has used this technique?

This technique was a favourite of Steve Jobs. He used it to create a need in consumers across the world for many Apple products. Click here to watch a great example of him in action using this technique during the iTunes keynote, in which he paints illegally downloading music as the villain, and the new iTunes store as the hero!

Why does the villain and hero technique work so well?

Stories are a great way for relaying information in a way that we can relate to, as they are often based on shared experiences between the audience and the speaker.

The contrast between the villain and hero stories amplifies the negatives of the problem and maximises the benefits of our hero solution.

But beyond this, the villain story creates an emotion within our audience: fear. As humans, when we feel fear we move quickly to the nearest and easiest resolution to that negative emotion. As the speaker, we have the power to instantly present our product as the solution in our hero story, and as a result they are more open and susceptible to buying it. Job done!

Tips for using the villain and hero technique

If you are struggling for inspiration for your hero and villain stories, try thinking about:

Villain story:

  • The steps you have to go through to use the product.
  • What else could you be doing with the time / money / effort you are spending using the product?
  • The negative outcomes of using the product. What effect does using the product have on your health, wealth and emotional wellbeing?

Hero story:

  • The steps you have to go through to use the product.
  • How much time / money / effort it saves you.
  • The positive outcomes of using the product. What effect does using the product have on your health, wealth and emotional wellbeing?

Our use of language can help to make our stories more believable, more engaging and more relevant to our audience. If we are going to persuade them, they need to be able to see, hear and feel the positive emotion.

Think about the language you are going to use within your story:

  1. Think about the words you are going to use to describe the finer details of the process and bring it to life in a positive/negative way – how does it feel, look and sound?
  2. Think about the adjectives (the describing words, such as warm, simple and luxurious) that you are going to use in your story. How can they be used to make the situation as positive / negative as possible for your audience?
  3. Think about the emotions that you will be feeling. How do you physically feel? What feelings can you compare this to for your audience?