Why Trainers Shouldn’t Be Confused with Keynote Speakers

Most of us in sales have witnessed the virtuoso speaker, whose elegance, energy, and command of the room have injected enthusiasm and a burst of desire to change one’s work habits and ways of doing things. And this has its place and value in the sales improvement process. But a classic misstep is to conflate the qualities that make a dynamite keynote speaker with those that make an effective sales trainer.

Yes, energy is important for a quality sales trainer (it’s one of these things we look for ourselves when evaluating whether someone is the right fit for our organization). But focusing too much on the presentational aspects (including the slide deck) can result in neglecting the true purpose of sales training – the opportunity for workshop and program attendees to actively participate in the practices and skills being taught and subsequently develop their skills.

You can be told how to do something, and that helps learning – but only to a point. Intellectually knowing how to, for example, overcome objections is distinct from going through the actual process of overcoming objections in the real world with a client.

To use an analogy often described by friends of mine involved in martial arts, it’s one thing to learn in the dojo – it’s another thing entirely to use the skills in a real-world fighting situation. As one of them told me once, “The first time I got into a fight after getting into karate, I got so caught up in thinking about what I should be doing that I got my butt kicked, literally.”

What that means for sales trainers, and for you as a leadership team evaluating training vendors, is that less time should be spent on creating a snazzy slide deck and more space allocated to figuring out how to make the event interactive and a chance for participants to practice the skills they’re learning. In other words, lead with the theoretical (the intellectual knowing) and reinforce it with the practical (role-plays, discussions, etc.) – ideally customized to your vertical and the daily situations your sales reps face to have maximum applicability and value.

In doing so, you’ll lay the groundwork for long-lasting, permanent selling behavioral change that creates real, sustained ROI – rather than just relying on the short-term, ephemeral enthusiasm of presentation alone, which tends to rest on rickety, uncertain scaffolding that lacks reinforcement.

As Jonathan Halls notes, the 20/80 percent rule is a good guideline rule to follow: 20% presentation, 80% participant practicum. Of course, this should also be carried through with reinforcement strategies – including things like gamification drills, coaching to the behaviors, adoption of a universal organizational language, and so on.

To cap it off and put it simply – if your team is in need of a quick pick-me-up after a demoralizing quarter or year, consider a keynote speaker. To bring about the kind of structural and institutional changes that have long-lasting results and ROI, your best option is a sales training vendor who prioritizes active attendee engagement and practice with curriculum customized to your vertical and selling situations.