In September, speaker and consultant Scott “Q” Marcus did a program and workshop for NSA Colorado on an advanced audience-interaction technique called “Sculpting,” in which participants collaborate to build a living model of a problem or situation, then work to solve it. It was outstanding in every respect, and we all left the day eager to give it a try.
The opportunity arose in the opening hour of a two-day Advanced Guerrilla Selling Seminar that I was teaching last week in Nairobi, Kenya. After the opening story and overview, the room was just flat. At first I just chalked it up to my America accent; after all, their first language was Swahili. Or maybe it was a bit of a cultural thing (here’s another White man telling us what to do) but it just wasn’t connecting. Here were 90 Sales VPs and Managers, from three countries, representing the biggest companies in East Africa, sitting quietly and looking skeptical. I was in trouble and I knew it.
So I did a sculpt, based on the “Get through the Day” theme that Scott had demonstrated. I called for a volunteer to represent the role of the Salesman. Mark, who sells big transformers to electrical utilities, stepped forward, and we positioned him far stage left, and gave him the goal of getting across to the far end of the 20-foot stage, which would represent his goal of making the sale.
Then I asked the audience to shout out possible obstacles that could get in the way.
“Traffic” (Nairobi is notoriously gridlocked)
“Infrastructure” (temperamental at best, or lacking altogether)
and so on.
As each participant spoke up, we brought them in turn up onto the stage, asked them to pose in a way that would show us what their obstacle might “look like,” and “where in the day” it should go. After arranging themselves across the stage, we set the sculpt in motion. “OK, Mark, time to go to work.”
It looked like a Rugby scrum as Mark struggled to push his way over, around, under and through one challenger after another. It was hysterical. When he finally made it to far stage right, the room exploded into applause and cheers.
“So, is this what it feels like to do business in Africa?” I asked.
A resounding, “YES!”
“Ok, then. Over the next two days, this seminar is going to teach you strategies and tactics to help overcome all of these obstacles, and more.”
It was as if someone had waved a magic wand. What they got from the sculpt was that, first of all, this was going to be a fun, collaborative, participative environment, rather than a formal stuffy lecture. (Kenya was a British Protectorate, and that culture still lingers. It’s subtle, but Kenyans are resentful of white authority figures). It also set their expectations that the content would be practical and street-wise. They could see that, “this guy gets it.” I think it gave them permission to relax, speak out and play along. And it humanized me in a way that bonded me to the group. From that moment on, they were fully engaged, relaxed, chatty and eager to speak out and participate.
Imagine my shock and surprise when this same group gave the program a standing ovation at the end of the second day. Absolutely unheard of for a long seminar; certainly a first in my career.
The sculpt set the stage for a successful learning experience that transcended language, race and culture. Scott, I can’t thank you enough for teaching us this very powerful technique, and I look forward to using it again in my next seminar.