how to change the world

I found myself teaching sales, by accident

By John-Paul Flintoff

I was standing in front of 25 people recently when it hit me: most of them didn’t have the faintest idea about selling. They had come to learn how to change the world – and they were full of ideas about that.

But they seemed to be weighed down by the notion, itself very common, that to sell something is distasteful, probably dishonest, and certainly brash.

This is bad news, because if people who want to change the world can’t sell their dream, or their movement, they won’t get anywhere.

So I abandoned my original plan for the session and delivered a spot of sales training instead, using games I’d learned as an improviser. I’m glad I did, because by the end the people who had looked a bit sick about sales were full of excitement, and generally ready to set the world on fire. (In a good way.)

A few days later, something similar happened. This time, I was supposed to be teaching public speaking. I imagined participants would want to “tell their story” – share raw human experiences and generally be seen, and heard.

But nobody came along with that in mind. Instead, we found ourselves in a kind of improvised sales workshop. I used slightly different exercises, and told a story about one of the hardest things I ever did as a journalist, which I’ll write more about soon. One young man who was there described the session afterwards as both fun and useful (always satisfying to get both of those, not just one or the other).

He’d recently started working in a sales role, and knew he was facing some resistance to cold calls. The experience of actually practicing calls in our session made him aware of things he could improve.

Another participant, a woman, gave this account:

“What would I do pretty much anything to avoid? Cold calling. I haven’t made a cold call for 15 years. I’d rather starve. But last night I found myself cold calling in front of an audience – my own personal nightmare.

“It was gloriously horrible and horribly glorious, feeling that belly-tight awkwardness and yet finding that something came out of my mouth all the same. Finding out that when I forget to sell and get interested in the person, things go better. Getting a taste for saying the worst, most honest and exposing thing I can think of ‘I’m getting this totally wrong for you, aren’t I? What approach should I have taken?’ or even ‘Who the f*** have I got through to?’

“I went from feeling the steely grip of fear at the mere thought of a cold call,” she said, “to realising that the consequences are not a hefty fine, public humiliation, or the firing squad – just a person who might say no. And that’s something I can handle.”


If you are somebody who could benefit from training in sales, because you have something splendid to offer the world – but you feel a bit icky about selling, please take a look at my calendar for the next event. If you can’t find anything, let me know. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing you there.

Posted: February 2, 2017