Pain Before the Pleasure: The Colon Technique

Argh! That moment when you’ve got to give ‘the pitch’… Sales and bookings hang on the next 30 seconds. Sometimes it might be that moment over coffee… other times it’s the infamous ‘introduction round’ at the networking event you’ve forced yourself to go to… or maybe it’s a party when you suddenly find yourself standing next to your ultimate ideal client…


And the ‘Ah hell! What do I say?” thing blasts into your head. You spend so much time thinking about what to say that you miss the opportunity to say it. The number of girls I didn’t ask out as a teenager are testament to how powerful this effect can be!


Perhaps worse than missing the chance, you talk about what you do. Boring. “I’m an accountant”. My eyes glaze over. “But I’m not a typical accountant!” Too late. I’ve stopped caring. At least if you said nothing you’ve not screwed up – but if you bore someone like this it’s Game Over. You won’t get another first impression opportunity.


No one cares


Here’s the bad news. When someone listens to what you do, even if they’ve asked you, they don’t care. It’s axiomatic that they’re thinking ‘What’s in it for me?’ and they will only care if what you do helps them.


No one cares if you do things differently. No one cares if you’ve won awards. No one cares. Get over yourself. The only person who cares how you do things is… you!


Hard as it might be for me to admit, very few people come to see me as a professional speaker because they think “Oh! It’s Simon! He’s awesome! I need to get a ticket to see him!”. Nope. They think “Oh, that content sounds useful. I wonder if I should go. Oh, it’s Simon, he was good last time, so I think I’ll get a ticket”.


So what’s to be done?


Like losing weight, the rules are simple (eat less, move more) – just make them care before you tell them how you do things. Here’s the bad news… just like losing weight might be simple it  doesn’t mean it’s easy. Making people care is tricky.


We all think people care about how we do things, because we care about how we do things and – let’s be honest – we do it day in and day out, so that it’s hard to see the wood for the trees.


The silver bullet is a colon


A colon is a piece of punctuation one level of importance down from a full stop. It links things that are, well, pretty linked, with one flowing from the other. Jim was a remarkably popular man: he was also one of the 10 richest men in the city. Great, but how do you use that in your pitches? Use this simple structure


pain : solution


By a not-too-surprising coincidence the solution to the pain just happens to be you, of course!


The point is that the pain gets people’s attention and gives them a reason to care. Let’s take our boring accountant again and give his pitch the colon treatment.

Pain Solution
Almost everyone hates doing their taxes. And almost everyone screws it up in some way. We make the misery of doing taxes go away and we save you more in tax than we cost in fees.


Be honest… wouldn’t you jump at that chance? Here’s a man offering to do something you hate and – effectively – do it for free.


It’s not rocket science!


It works for the positive too

Although I’ve introduced it as a formula with pain:solution it works for a positive too. If you’re a parent, how would this pitch from a local school work for you?


Pain Solution
Every parent wants the very best for their children, in terms of being happy and having the opportunities to grow and be challenged. We have better results than any other school in the region; and we have the second highest scores for pupil engagement.


The underlying magic

It works because you answer first the question on your audience’s mind: WIIFM. (What’s in it for me). You give them a reason to care, a reason to listen… and then you give them the stuff that, to be honest, most pitches start off with (which is why they don’t work!).


While we’re at it, it’s worth mentioning that you don’t just have to use it in the literal sense of a one-sentence pitch. I’ve seen this approach used very successfully in presentations where the ‘pain’ part of the formula was several minutes long. And I’ve seen it in a written document when the ‘pain’ part was most of a side of A4.


Want a famous example?

Simon Sinek’s famous TEDx video called “Start with Why” is one of the most downloaded/streamed videos of all time. Take a few minutes to watch it (later! not now!) and then look at how Sinek uses the colon formula. The first few minutes are simply spent describing ‘pain’.


Imagine how boring and unwatched the video would be if he’s started a few minutes in with “I’ve got a formula for how great leaders inspire action and this diagram explains it”. No one would have watched. Instead, he sacrifices the first two minutes of only 18 to make people care about the remaining 16.


Your turn

Put the column headings I’ve used in the tables above on a biiiiiig sheet of paper – or a clean whiteboard – and blitz, brainstorm and play. Capture all your ideas. Then have a cup of tea to come back with a fresh head. Now refine the best ideas. And refine and refine and refine and refine.


Here’s one of mine.


Pain Solution
Almost every business presentation fails. Not only do they fail, they suck. And they suck the life out of the presenter as well as the audience.

That makes them an expensive waste of time.

If you act on the tools we give you on our training courses, your presentations won’t suck – and they’re much, much more likely to be successful.

That makes them a great investment.



Simon (Dr Simon R Raybould if it’s a contract!) is one of the country’s leading presentation skills trainers and a professional speaker. His last book – Presentation Genius – got to number six in the best sellers list! That’s cool – but not as cool as being just one place above, because number six is on the second row in WHSmith!

You can find more of Simon’s work at PresentationGenius.Info. If you can’t get to him – or get him to come to you – you can sign for his online courses at onlinetraining.PresentationGenius.Info And if you do that, use the coupon code AandP13 for magic surprise.

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