The best moment in my interview with Terri Sjodin, who teaches many of the world’s top corporations how to sell persuasively, is when she smiles at me and asks to hear my “elevator speech”.

My mind literally goes blank. The author of Small Message, Big Impact, her new book on how to craft powerful messages that persuade people to listen to you, has thrown the gauntlet at me.

There was nowhere to hide. I had just told her how I had used her book to write out my three minute speech to open the Local Shop Summit.
She listened patiently to my pitch, thought for a moment, and said: “I bet you had an illustration in your mind of an independent who really capitalised on your ideas and has taken them to the bank.” I could swear she was reading my mind. I blushed and nodded.
“So you should open with this story,” she said. “Start out by saying: ‘Let me open the conference by telling you a great story with a happy ending.’ So the audience will say to themselves: ‘He is going to tell me a story with a happy ending’. People want to hear that story. They want to be entertained and when you open with the story you intrigue them right off and then you segue into what you already said.”
It was great advice. And persuasion is what Sjodin specialises in teaching. In this modern world of information overload, her latest book is an important tool. It explains how you can communicate quickly to busy people so that they are prepared to act on your ideas. It is a skill to be learned and practised.
“If you are selling a product or an idea or a philosophy – or if you are selling yourself at a job interview – the most important thing is to create a sense of trust and understanding,” she says.
“You have to say something in three to five minutes that is not going to solve the problem but hopefully will inspire the listener to think to meet you again so you can give your entire talk or full presentation.
“You can’t ask for the sale in that first couple of minutes. What you’re trying to do is to develop enough intrigue and interest so they think that what you’ve said is clever and ‘let us talk more’.”
The genius of her book is the step-by-step explanation of how to craft a great “elevator speech” – so called because you can make the presentation to a stranger in an elevator going up 20 floors and get out with a follow up meeting agreed.
Small Message, Big Impact is easy to read but also a work book. You have to do the work.
Sjodin says she is always meeting CEOs who come up to her after a speech and say I am really, really busy: “tell me superfast what is the one thing” I need to do.
“And I say it is not one thing but three things, which are three benchmarks that [people] inherently use when assessing someone’s fit:
“First is did you build an intriguing case that will make me ponder that I might need something that you are providing?
“A lot of people are really good at cases but tend to be informative rather than persuasive. You understand the basis of what they do but whether or not that is compelling is an entirely different conversation.
“Second is creativity. Most people think this is where you incorporate a joke but it is really not that. What I am seeking is did what you say make me have an awakening; did it make me say I have heard that before but the way that you’ve just said it just landed in my mind in an entirely different way and now I want to do something with it; that was clever.
“Third is your delivery. We know that people want to hear your funny little colloquialisms, all those nuances that are your personality and your style and what we do is we use this as a litmus test. When you’re being you and your personality comes out we sense truthfulness in your message.”
Classically trained and a champion debater, Sjodin’s understanding of what makes an argument successful provides the intellectual spine for the book.
Who needs to read it? All your customer–facing colleagues who need to tell your story well but in different ways to different customers in different situations.
The book is packed with useful lists that explain how the world of persuasion works. Read it.