Here’s an experience I had in an improvisation class at Second City: Two of my fellow students were asked to start a scene, and I was supposed to jump into the scene after about a minute.
The two other students began to improvise a scene, and they quickly found themselves playing a customer and a counter employee at McDonald’s. The “customer” started ordering voluminous amounts of food, and as I watched this, I thought I could jump into the scene as her doctor, catching this obese patient binging on fast food.
Just as I was about to enter the scene the McDonald’s employee said, “I haven’t seen anybody order this much food since I started working here.” The customer answered, “Well, I’ve been stranded on a deserted island for two years, and this is the first food I’ve eaten since I was rescued.”
Oops. The story I was planning to use wasn’t going to work, because she wasn’t an obese person binging, she was playing a character who had nearly starved to death. I had a moment of panic, knowing I needed to ditch my plan. Fortunately, I had learned that the cue to your next move is always there, right in front of you in the scene. I quickly shifted gears and came into the scene as the person who rescued her, and fell in love with her, upset that she was trying to avoid me.
Think about how this situation relates to a sales conversation. If you write the story ahead of time, there’s is a MAJOR chance that the situation you find won’t be right for your story. You may not find a change-of-situation as striking as an obese person turning into a starved wreck just rescued from a deserted island, but customers can throw some pretty significant curve balls at you. “My budget has been slashed in half,” or “My budget has been doubled.” “I’m really upset about what you said in our last meeting,” or “I’ve been really thinking about the advice you gave me last time we talked.” Here’s one: “I’m leaving the company, and I want to introduce you to Joyce, the person who will be taking over my job.”
If you write the story ahead of time, the chances are that the story won’t fit the surprises that you will inevitably find in your sales meeting. So ditch the pitch, and let the story emerge in your conversation.