Tuesday, 14 August, 2007 10:50 AM
The Great American Sales Pitch:
A Visual Selling Expert Gives His Critique of the CNN-YouTube Democratic
LeRoux, author of Visual Selling: Capture the Eye and the Customer
Will Follow, critiques the delivery skill of Democratic presidential
candidates at the CNN-YouTube Debates. Based on enthusiasm, gestures
and eye contact, he says John Edwards won, hands, er . . .up.
—If you watched Monday's CNN-YouTube debate between Democratic
presidential candidates, you probably noticed the format was not
typical. Generally, debates consist of political questions and answers
between a few talking heads. This one—with its video clips,
audience participation, emotionally charged presenters and a moderator,
who spoke without hiding behind a lectern—shattered the old
rules. The results were dynamic and quite revealing. In fact, presentation
consultant Paul LeRoux says the format forced candidates to truly
"sell" their message to the audience and stand out from
"As someone who
taught the importance of visual selling for years, I loved the set
up for this debate," says LeRoux, coauthor (along with Peg
Corwin) of Visual Selling: Capture the Eye and the Customer Will
Follow (Wiley, April 2007, ISBN-10: 0-4717936-1-2, ISBN-13: 978-0-4717936-1-8,
$24.95). "All the visual elements—from the YouTube questions
to the audience shots to the candidates themselves—kept TV
viewers engaged. It was a visual selling feast—one that truly
put the candidates' presentation skills to the test."
Visual selling is one
of LeRoux's passions. Indeed, it is his livelihood. He teaches executives,
salespeople and other presenters how to drop the PowerPoint crutch
(with its barrage of put-em-to-sleep text and bullet points) and
take back the attention of the audience.
When LeRoux coaches clients
on effective visual selling techniques, he focuses on three important
aspects: enthusiasm, pausing, and gestures. And because political
candidates are basically salespeople, LeRoux believes these visual
selling techniques should be a big part of their presenting arsenal.
Here is his take on the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate:
In any kind of presentation,
enthusiasm sells. It is the most important visual element of a speech.
And in fact, "enthusiasm" is a Greek word that translates
roughly to "the god, the spirit, and the energy within you."
And Monday night's political candidates had to harness their energy
within to make their arguments the most appealing for viewers. Presenters
reveal their enthusiasm levels when their faces light up while making
certain points and their bodies react to convey certain emotions.
Intonation and voice volume also count.
"All the candidates
were passionate about what they had to say during the debate,"
says LeRoux. "They were well-primed and, in general, delivered
their sound bites with great enthusiasm. I felt that John Edwards
registered high on the enthusiasm meter and seemed to generate more
'heat' than Hillary Clinton or Barak Obama. Perhaps because she
is treading uncharted territory as a female presidential candidate,
who doesn't want too appear too emotional, Clinton appeared more
'even keel' than her fellow male candidates.
"Enthusiasm is conveyed
with varied vocal pitch and volume, with higher volume and intonation
on key points. Mike Gravel's unvaried strong volume came across
as shouting, not enthusiasm," adds LeRoux. "Christopher
Dodd registered the lowest on the enthusiasm meter as his monotone
way of speaking really hurt him. And although I wouldn't give him
the top enthusiasm honors, Joseph Biden registered off the enthusiasm
charts when he said several times, 'Let's be honest here.'"
LeRoux teaches his clients
that pausing is not an option; in visual selling, it is a necessity.
A strong statement has double the impact when followed by a pause.
However, pausing can be a difficult art for presenters to master
because it forces them to manage the adrenaline increase and nervousness
that come with speaking in front of an audience. The skill is even
more difficult to display in a debate situation such as Monday's,
in which responses were subject to a tight timeframe and candidates
were trying to get in as many sound bites as possible.
"During the debate
the candidates couldn't take pauses as long as those that could
be used in their speeches, but they could take short pauses that
would have allowed them to emphasize certain points," says
LeRoux. "They struggled with implementing 'the pause,' and
in most cases simply repeated what they had said.
"When Obama presented
his belief that the U.S. should think carefully about how best to
get out of Iraq, as the current administration used very little
thought before going in, he could have made his point even stronger
with a well-paced pause," adds LeRoux. "The same is true
for Clinton when she delivered what seemed to be scripted lines
on being a woman president."
While it was somewhat
difficult to judge specific gestures during the debate because the
TV cameras predominantly used close-up shots, LeRoux felt that most
candidates were weak in this particular visual selling category.
Imagine a specific gesture for "stop," "hold firm"
or "get out" and you'll understand why a widely understood
gesture packs more punch than the generic and oft-used hand-wave.
A strong speaker uses a specific gesture at least every forth or
fifth sentence. And although they often come the most naturally
to speakers, arm flipping and finger pointing are ineffective in
emphasizing certain points.
Here's what LeRoux had
to say about each candidate's "gesture proficiency":
- Edwards: "Again
he stood out compared to the other candidates," says LeRoux.
"He conveyed words/phrases like 'powerful,' 'over and over
and over,' 'everybody,' 'move,' 'high' and 'I' with clear movements
that reinforced and added visual support to his words. When he
said 'men and women' he raised first one hand and then the other.
'This past week' was accompanied by a gesture behind him. And
when referring to someone who was present, he made an open-handed
and respectful movement of his arm towards the candidate he was
referring to or the speaker on the video screen. His gestures
helped take his performance at the debate to the next level."
· Clinton: "Her most frequent gesture was one in which
her hands were close to her body, her palms were open, and her
fingers were spread," says LeRoux. "To make her points,
she often waved her hands in that position. She got in only a
couple specific gestures, such as those that accompanied her words
'bring people together.' Overall, I thought her gestures were
weak and unspecific."
- Obama: "He regularly
gestured using an arm movement with his index finger and thumb
pressed together," says LeRoux. "He also used repetitive
pointing, a gesture that can make audiences feel vaguely uncomfortable.
Traditionally, pointing is viewed as impolite at best and accusatory
at worst. Obama was able to redeem himself with specific gestures
accompanying, 'I propose,' 'I think,' and when he motioned towards
other candidates as he referred to them."
- Biden: "One
thing that made Biden stand out is the firm grip he had on the
lectern," says LeRoux. "This tended to inhibit his gestures;
however, he unleashed a couple good ones. Viewers could easily
visualize 'cross over.' And when he said 'one year or so to get
out of Iraq,' he raised one finger high in the air, and successfully
emphasized his point."
- Gravel: "Mike
uses mostly repetitive large arm waving or finger pointing gestures,"
says LeRoux. "While these draw the attention of the audience,
they didn't support his message at all. His pointing at the audience
came across as accusatory and negative."
- Kucinich: "While
not high on use of specific gestures, Kucinich wins the award
for the best gesture of the evening," says LeRoux. "As
he said, 'connected to our defense policy,' he gripped the fingers
on one hand with the fingers of the other, giving those words
a visceral reality. He made a couple other specific gestures when
he used 'welcome' and 'towards and away.' Unfortunately, his most
frequent movement was an ineffective, up and down chop of his
- Dodd: "My advice
for Dodd would be 'don't point and don't grip,' says LeRoux. "Gripping
the lectern reduced his gestures and created a static image. His
most frequent gesture was an ineffective shaking of both hands."
- Bill Richardson:
"Richardson's movements were repetitive and vague,"
says LeRoux. "He did use a successful gesture a couple of
times when he made an open arm gesture toward the screen as he
talked about Darfur or when he gestured towards the other candidates.
"As a group the
candidates missed several great opportunities to emphasize their
points with an accompanying gesture," says LeRoux. "Phrases
such as 'raise the minimum wage,' 'lower taxes,' 'beat down' and
'stop spending money in Iraq' cry out for related gestures, but
the candidates didn't take advantage of them.
"Because the candidates
are using their visual selling techniques to sell their ideas to
one of the most important audiences of all—American voters—they
should constantly be aware of how they are stacking up in the three
categories I've outlined here," says LeRoux. "They're
all professionals with years of public speaking experience, but
I'd give the same advice to help them improve as I would an amateur
Which of the three speaking
techniques is most important? Without a doubt, enthusiasm trumps
everything else, says LeRoux. He adds that based on this criterion,
coupled with his high "gesturing" score, Edwards was the
visual selling winner.
"If you ever wonder
how to convey enthusiasm during a presentation, here's a simple
trick: speak up," he advises. "When you raise your voice
volume, it is almost always read as enthusiasm, conviction, sincerity,
and honesty. Secondly, know your key sound bites and pause to give
them punch. And finally, use specific gestures to help listeners
visualize as well as hear your content. Every sixth or seventh word
we say is an active verb. They serve as opportunities to deliver
meaningful gestures that emphasize and support your words."
About the Authors:
Paul LeRoux, the founder
of Twain Associates, Inc., has been coaching salespeople on visual
selling for more than twenty-five years. His specialty is rehearsing
executives for high-stake competitive presentations, outside funding
pitches, and large audience addresses.
Peg Corwin is the marketing
director for Twain Associates, Inc. Peg has extensive professional
experience in sales and has worked with real estate, financial services,
and investment consulting firms. She has held licenses as an insurance
agent, securities broker, investment advisor, and CPA.
For more information,
About the Book:
Visual Selling: Capture
the Eye and the Customer Will Follow (Wiley, April 2007, ISBN-10:
0-4717936-1-2, ISBN-13: 978-0-4717936-1-8, $24.95) is available
at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and direct
from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797.
Source: DeHart &