Remember when reality shows were fresh and new?  I can recall watching the very first episode of “Survivor,” and I was hooked.  I have not missed an episode since the show first aired thirteen years ago.  In fact, I’ve applied to be on the show several times.  I’ve always loved the show because it reflected real-world social issues.

Then came the imitators.  Soon, like most people, I grew tired of the onslaught of reality shows.  I rejected every other reality show until the first episode of Shark Tank aired on August 9, 2009.  The show instantly grabbed my attention because it reflected real-world issues, especially real-world business issues.

Watching people pitch their ideas, in front of a handful of potential investors, can teach you a lot about how to influence those around you.  If you watch carefully, you’ll see a couple of common moves on display.  In fact, it usually comes down to focusing on three things.

Focus on that Opening

“You’ve got one chance to make a first impression.”  Those are wise words, and that “first impression” can be defined as roughly 45 seconds.  Watch the first 45 seconds of the weaker presentations and you’ll quickly learn what’s in it for the presenter.  It’s a tough world out there, and quite frankly, most people who are being approached with a new idea have no interest it what’s in it for you.  They want to know what’s in it for them.

An amazing example of this cold, hard fact was illustrated in an episode of “Shark Tank. ” About a year ago, a young entrepreneur was asked: “Please, take a moment, and tell us exactly why we should invest in this idea.”  It was a fair and honest question, and the response was just as fair and honest.  With a beautiful, sentimental piece of music playing in the background, the entrepreneur gave an emotional and heartfelt response.  She told the sharks how important it was to her to be successful, to believe in your idea, and to show her children what hard work and dedication could deliver.

It brought a tear to everyone’s eye but the sharks weren’t reacting.  Unmoved, one shark responded in this way: “That’s a good story, but that’s not a reason for us to invest.”  Another shark asked this:  “Could you please answer that question again, but this time, tell us what’s in it for us?”  This time, the entrepreneur’s response was a little different.  With no music or fanfare, the entrepreneur responded like this: “Well, I have a 1.5 million dollar order from Sam’s Club I can’t fulfill, because I don’t have the distribution to handle it.  With your help, I can fulfill that order.”  Almost instantly, shark Mark Cuban offered the entrepreneur exactly what she was asking for, with no negotiation whatsoever.  In five years of watching the show, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a deal struck that fast with no negotiation.

Focus on Engaging Others

It’s always interesting to listen to the world’s vision of influence.  Because we are exposed to so many bad salespeople, we just naturally believe that the more we talk, the more influence we will have over others.  That might be the stereotypical view, but the truth is that nothing could be further from the truth.  The reality is that if you say it, others tend to doubt it.  If they say it, they tend to believe it.  Why do we believe that when we walk into a room to influence others, we need to do this by telling people what we know?

Watch the average pitch and you’ll see most attention being given to entrepreneur’s statements about his or her particular idea. Watch a truly spectacular sales conversation and you’ll see an enormous amount of attention given to the way in which the entrepreneur engages the sharks.  This can be done through well thought-out questions, or through involving the sharks in a creative way.  One thing is certain and on display:  The more the sharks are involved in the conversation, the more they tend to like the idea.  Please notice that I said “conversation,” not “pitch.”

Focus on not just the Words, but also the Tune

The final piece of this influence puzzle, and probably the most forgotten, is the tune.  By “tune,” I’m not talking about the words that are involved in the conversation.  I’m talking about the way in which those words are communicated.  Albert Mehrabian, a Professor of Communications, once did a study that illustrated this point.  As he looked at why a message might have an emotional impact, he tried to determine if the response was based on a gut reaction, what was said, or how it was said it.  The study concluded that only 7% came from the words, 38% from nonverbal cues, and 55% came from the facial expressions.

When I look at these numbers, it points out some important things we need to remember:  Firstly, when we are trying to influence others, we need to focus on the words as well as how we deliver those words.  We need to think about the passion we must show in the delivery of these words.  Secondly, it reminds me of a lesson my Dad reinforced on more than one occasion.  When he would ask me to do something, he noticed if I wasn’t quite as quick or genuine in my response of “Yeah, I’ll do it.”  He would provide me with a rather dramatic and loud reminder that he wasn’t fooled by my answer.  When I protested and said,  “I said I would do it,” he would fire back, “It’s not what you said – it’s how you said it!”

A lot is riding on your ability to connect with those whose minds you are looking to change.  When it comes to the art of influencing others, a lot can be learned from the Shark Tank:  It’s all a matter of focusing on the right things.


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