An Interview With Carmine Gallo
Reprinted from the January 2013 edition of InsuranceNewsNet magazine.
Every conversation is a presentation. That’s Carmine Gallo’s core belief and he’s learned from the best by watching Steve Jobs, the master presenter.
As communications coach, Carmine has worked with some of the best known brands in the world, such as Intel, Google, Disney and Coca-Cola. But he is adamant that no one needs a multi-million dollar marketing budget to be effective at communications. A person just needs the will and pad of paper, or perhaps an iPad.
Carmine wrote a number of books but is perhaps best known for The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs learned how to be engaging and completely convincing in a presentation. For example, when he introduced the iPhone in 2007, we never looked at phones and how we communicate in the same way again. Over the span of one presentation, a revolution occurred.
Does that mean that every presentation that you give is a revolution? Not necessarily. But considering what Carmine Gallo has to say about crafting presentations can give you a revolutionary approach to all your communications. In this conversation with InsuranceNewsNet Publisher Paul Feldman, Carmine peels back some of the basics.
FELDMAN: What makes a great presentation?
GALLO: Let’s talk about inspiration first of all. Inspiration means to elicit a fervententhusiasm, to get people excited, to get people fired up about you, your brand, your product. All presentations that are inspiring have essentially three different areas. They need to be specific. They need to be memorable and they need to be emotional.
If you’re trying to talk to me about an annuity product, a new life insurance product, I need to understand it. What is it exactly? What’s an annuity?
You can’t get me to that next phase of the sale unless I understand what you’re saying. You need to make it memorable. How can I repeat it to my wife when I get home? I need to be able to repeat it to somebody.
You also need to make it emotional because most people forget or they simply don’t know that in order for inspiration to occur and to connect with someone on a far deeper level you need to touch a person emotionally.
FELDMAN: You have said there are three ways of preparing the communication or the presentation. Would you explain that?
GALLO: The first step is to create the story. All too often, especially if presenters are given that PowerPoint presentation, they go right to the slides.
FELDMAN: I think this industry struggles on that – communicating about a complex product and then you’ve got compliance neutering what you’re saying. It becomes almost incomprehensible.
GALLO: Yes. They don’t sit down and say to themselves if you were to write an article about this particular article, what’s the story behind it? Why did it come about? Who needs this particular product? Why is this product being offered now? What’s the newsworthy element of this product?
Then we can start delivering the experience. How are you going to differentiate yourself from the thousands of other life insurance and annuity salespeople out there? What kind of experience are you going to offer when you communicate with me so that at the end of the conversation I am truly inspired?
FELDMAN: Most people think of Steve Jobs as a natural communicator, but that wasn’t the case was it?
GALLO: Yes, a lot of people told me that over the years. “Steve Jobs, he was naturally charismatic. He made it look effortless. I’m not like that.”
It really disturbs me to hear that because neither was Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs wasn’t like that in 1976 when he was a young kid just starting out in the spare bedroom of his parent’s house. He wasn’t like that in 1984 when he launched Macintosh. There is YouTube video of him.
He was very stiff and reading from notes. He was not a gifted speaker. Nobody’s born being a gifted communicator who can deliver a great PowerPoint presentation or who can talk persuasively about complex products. People practice it. And, obviously, the more you do it, the better you get.
But, if you continue to speak in a way that’s confusing, convoluted, uninspiring and just not memorable, you can practice all you want and that doesn’t help either. So, you have the components first and then you can refine and rehearse.
FELDMAN: Do you think presenters rely on PowerPoint too much for their presentations?
GALLO: A lot of people think we should never use PowerPoint. But I think they’re wonderful complements to complex content because there’s something that’s called “picture superiority.” That simply means that information is more readily processed by the brain when it is presented as text and images instead of text alone.
It’s pretty common and well-known in the field of neuroscience. When you deliver information verbally, people remember about 10 percent of the information. Add images, and retention goes up to 65 percent.
Now, let’s go back to the original question about PowerPoint. Forget PowerPoint. The visual display of information is important. It is an important complement to your brand, your product or your package of products.
I’m sure within your industry there are a lot of marketing materials that show graphs, charts and how much more money you would have in retirement, that type of thing. You need to have that, but don’t lock yourself into thinking, “I have to have a PowerPoint with it.” It’s more when you have visual information to complement the conversation. Maybe that’s the overriding principle here. It is important to have the visual, but it doesn’t have to be a traditional PowerPoint slide.
If you’re talking about a particular product. Talk about a person or a couple who used the product and found a great deal of financial success or comfort from it. How about a real picture of the couple? “And here’s Bob and Betty, and they’re clients of mine. Let me tell you a little bit more about them.” And the customers are going to feel an emotional connection to them because stories about real people are emotional.
You’ve got to think creatively about the images you use. So many people use clip art or of the free images that Microsoft includes in PowerPoint. Everyone uses those images and it can make your information less memorable, if not boring to the audience. Brains crave variety and your visuals should deliver variety, not familiarity.
I don’t understand why so many people have to use clip art or stuff that isn’t emotional, images that don’t represent anything. They’re just sort of metaphors for something, like a “golden egg,” which is totally overused in the financial services industry. You’ve got to get back to: What is my story and how do I use images to complement it?
FELDMAN: How do you create a “great” story?
GALLO: A message map is an awesome way of helping to create a story and creating a pitch that anyone can understand in 15 seconds. It also gives me an outline for a much broader story.
I used to do this for very large clients when I was in a PR firm, and they paid many thousands of dollars for a session to create a message map. But, a message map can be created by anybody for free just by sitting down with a notepad or a Word document.
I will use an example from Apple because I wrote this in conjunction with my Apple research. I’ll use the new MacBook Pro. It’s a computer but people can replace it with a financial product.
The first thing you want to do is the very first thing a journalist would do. Step one is to create a headline. What is the one overarching message that I want my customer to know about this product? If they could only know one thing, what would it be?
If a customer walks into an Apple store, what’s the one thing you want them to know about the MacBook Pro, the new notebook computer? You could say, “The new MacBook Pro is built for the highest level of performance.” That would really catch your ear: built for the highest level of performance. So, in one sentence it tells what it is and who it’s made for.
But, here’s the most important thing about a headline. Make sure that it fits in a Twitter post. No more than 140 characters. If you start writing a headline that’s more than 140 characters, it becomes very long and very convoluted. A headline is just supposed to grab my attention.
Here’s the brilliance of Steve Jobs. Over the years, regardless of the product that he announced, every product had a Twitter-friendly headline that went along with it. It was only one sentence, but it was the most salient summary of the product and he always repeated it.
For example, when he came out with the MacBook Air, which is their ultrathin notebook, he said, “What is the MacBook Air? It’s the world’s thinnest notebook.” That’s it. It’s the world’s thinnest notebook. That’s all you know, but it actually tells you a lot. You may want to know how thin it is. How did you get it so thin? Where do you compromise by having a thin notebook? There are questions you have, but we’re going to fill in the rest of the story.
FELDMAN: What is the next step after you condense the idea into a headline?
GALLO: Offer three supporting messages. What are the sub-messages? They may not be as important as the overarching headline, but they are important. I need to know them. So, they could be benefits.
For the MacBook Pro, what are the three components? One is, it has the world’s highest resolution display. That’s consistent in all of Apple’s marketing. It’s called “the retina display.” It’s an important component of the headline -- built for the highest level of performance.
The second message could be it has flash storage, so there are no moving parts. Your computer is more reliable. The third is it comes with an Intel i7 processor, the world’s fastest processor. That reinforces the “built for the highest level of performance.”
So, think about the conversation. Somebody walks into an Apple store. “Yeah, these new MacBooks. I heard about those. Can you tell me more?” The specialist in 20 seconds can say something like this: “The new MacBook Pros are built for the highest level of performance. They have the world’s highest resolution notebook display. We call it the retina display and I’d love to show you some video on it. It looks fantastic. It comes with all flash storage, so there’s no moving parts. It’s more reliable. It’s built for the strictest level of performance and that’s why it comes with Intel’s latest microprocessor called the i7. I can explain more about the technical aspects behind that, but, bottom line, it’s the world’s fastest processor on the market today for notebook computers.”
So, in 20 seconds you’ve just given me the whole story. You’ve given me the headline: “It’s built for the highest level of performance.” You’ve got my attention.
FELDMAN: How do you make a message an emotional story?
GALLO: There are several ways of making a product conversation emotional and the first step we’ve already talked about is storytelling. Storytelling can be, here is how I use this particular product or here is how it has benefited my life. Let me tell you a story about Bob and Betty, two people in their 50s who were worried they didn’t have enough for retirement. Let me tell you about how this particular product improved their life or gave them peace of mind. That’s a story.
FELDMAN: You have talked about introducing the antagonist and revealing the conquering hero. Would you explain that?
GALLO: The conquering hero is your product. Every great story has a hero and a villain. What is the villain? What is the problem in need of a solution? So, this is just sort of a natural way to tell a story, but it’s also a great way of engaging someone in a conversation, inspiring them and getting them emotionally connected to your product.
Emotional connection happens when you talk about the problem that people are facing. They may not even know they have the problem. Once you get them nodding in agreement, then naturally you can take them to that next level because you’ve already made an emotional connection with them.
FELDMAN: Is the hero/villain technique something Steve Jobs would do?
GALLO: Yes. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, most people going into the presentation that day understood that Apple would have a phone.
A lot of the critics and media people asked why would we need a phone from Apple? That doesn’t make any sense. There’s Blackberry. There are a lot of smart phones on the market today. They seem to be doing the job.
People don’t even know that there’s a problem until you reveal the problem. That’s what I mean by revealing the antagonist, revealing the villain in the narrative. What’s the problem?
So, Steve Jobs actually got up there and it was a brilliant presentation. It’s still on YouTube. He spent only a couple of minutes on this and he said, “What’s the problem with the smart phones that are out there?”
And then he had a visual display of smart phones -- Blackberry, Nokia and a few of the others. He said, “Using these, there doesn’t seem to be an issue, but there actually is. You see these keyboards here? These keyboards are set in plastic and they don’t move off the device, so that means the screen size is a lot smaller because the keyboards are always in plastic.” So, people are starting to nod. “Yeah. OK. I guess he’s got a point.”
So, how can we make a better experience? Well, why don’t we get rid of the keyboard and make one giant display? “Yeah. I guess I did have a problem. I didn’t know that. That makes perfect sense.” So, now, the rest of the presentation is to reveal the hero.
So, think about it that way: Problem, solution. Antagonist, protagonist. Villain, hero. But, the villain comes first just like in a great movie. Who’s the villain? Establish the villain, the problem in need of a solution.
FELDMAN: You have described Steve Jobs’ Zen as “channeling the inner Zen.” Take us through that process.
GALLO: Simplicity – that’s all that means. Simplicity of information. Simplicity of conversation. Steve Jobs never used jargon. When I work with engineers and technology companies, I don’t understand what they’re saying for the most part. I have to go back to material and try to figure out what did they just tell me. My brain has to work too hard to process information.
Steve Jobs never used jargon. The buzz words that we seem to use in business all the time -- to optimize, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean anything. So, when you’re reviewing your financial product before a customer meeting, look at the words that you use. Sometimes you’re restricted because you have to say things in a particular way, but there’s no reason why you can’t add one sentence to say in simple terms that means x, y, and z.
Steve Jobs used to say that quite often. Once in a while he would use a technical term, but then the next sentence would be, “To make it simple,” and then he would say what it is. To make it simple – those few words will actually grab somebody’s attention. To make it simple – “Yeah. Tell me more.”
By making things more simple, you have that better connection to people. Some of the financial products that advisors are selling these days are far too complex for the average person to understand, but they’re actually not that complex if you explain it simply.
You have to do what Steve Jobs used to call “eliminating the clutter.” Eliminating the clutter from a product makes it easier to use, but also eliminating the clutter from your conversations. If you overwhelm me with packets and packets of marketing material or a lot of confusing, convoluted information instead of giving me that simple, clear message map, you’re going to lose me anyway. You’re going to lose my interest because I can’t follow it.
I can’t tell you how many financial advisors I’ve talked to who’ve talked to me about – what’s that popular product right now? There’s like an S&P annuity out there?
FELDMAN: That might have been an indexed annuity.
GALLO: The indexed annuity. OK. I still don’t think I can explain it to you. But, if you gave me something like that, and gave me 30 minutes to figure it out and create a message map around it, I’d be able to explain it much more persuasively than I’ve heard it explained to me. I would go through a process to understand a story, problem and solution.
I haven’t signed up for an indexed annuity because I didn’t understand what the advisor was saying. So, if you make me work too hard on it, I don’t think I need it. I don’t know. Maybe I do need it. But, if my mind is working too hard to understand what you’re saying, I’m either going to look for another advisor or I’m not going to buy your product.
Is it just me, Paul, or do you think that the way these annuities are being presented is very confusing?
FELDMAN: Yes. Advisors are getting very bad marketing material from the companies who are afraid to say too much. They’re scared to death of what their own agents are presenting because they’re complex products.
GALLO: Well, thank you, because I thought I was just an idiot [laughter]. Like am I really that dense? I don’t quite get the benefit to me.
And here’s a great question in terms of journalism principles. When I studied journalism, in my first class you needed to answer the question what’s in it for me? Why should I care? Why should the reader care? I still can’t tell you that about indexed annuities.
FELDMAN: I am sure there are readers out there who feel they present very well and don’t need to improve. Is there such a thing as “good enough?”
GALLO: I’ll be honest, the people who tell me, “I give presentations all the time” are typically the least effective presenters. Maybe you ought to look at yourself and see how you can improve to the next level. Here’s my take. Watch the Steve Jobs iPhone introduction. If you can say you’re better than that, more comfortable, more charismatic, more engaging, more persuasive, then you probably don’t need any more help. We’ll let it go.
FELDMAN: Steve Jobs has become a benchmark for his presentations, but most people have no idea how much preparation and work went into each presentation, do they?
GALLO: I heard through a couple of reliable sources that there was a 20-minute section of the presentation, the part where he demonstrated the iPhone, that took 240 man hours to create. That included the technology behind the demo, but also the graphic design.
All of that and the rehearsal time. Steve Jobs was relentless about rehearsing. He would drive people batty when it came to rehearsing because he didn’t like the way a font looked on a particular slide or he didn’t like the way the lights reflected on the computers. And people said, “They look perfectly fine. What’s wrong with the lights?” And inevitably when he tweaked it, it always looked better. That was the genius of Steve Jobs.
FELDMAN: Couldn’t that standard be intimidating to some presenters?
GALLO: You don’t have to go to that extreme. But it does tell you that it’s a lot more preparation in a presentation at that level than there is for the typical presenter.
I would argue Apple is selling something very important – new products for them and for their brand. If you’re giving a seminar, isn’t that presentation mission critical for your brand?
Put in a little more time to make it the most persuasive as possible so that people who leave that seminar say, “I want to work with that person. I like him or her and I like what he or she just talked about.” That’s the whole point.
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