October 27

How to Break the Fourth Wall – and keep prospects on the edge of their seats


If you’re a fan of House of Cards like me, you’ve experienced the power of an acting technique called “Break the Fourth Wall” – where an actor suddenly steps out of character and talks directly to the audience.

The first time Frank Underwood (aka: Kevin Spacey) turned and spoke directly to the camera, I felt like he had stepped right out of my television set and was talking directly to me. Needless to say, I was on the edge of my seat for the rest of the show – and the entire season!

Using the “Breaking the Fourth Wall” technique can have a similarly dramatic effect on your audience during your sales presentation.

In film, television, and theater, the fourth wall is an imaginary wall that separates the actor from his audience, placing a safe distance between his world and theirs. Breaking the fourth wall is a technique that’s gotten a lot of recent play, but it’s been around for years. Woody Allen vented to the camera in Annie Hall. Matthew Broderick spoke directly to the audience throughout the classic Ferris Buehler’s Day Off. And you may remember Leonardo DiCaprio as a crooked stockbroker in the Wolf of Wall Street explaining to the audience how a nice guy like him got in over his head.

Most of the time an actor keeps the audience out, going about his business on stage or camera with the audience acting as passive observers. That distance is fine for drama, but it’s detrimental if you want to move your audience — your prospects — to take action at the end of your presentation. If you don’t actively engage today’s business audiences they are likely to be passive audience members, simply observing you deliver a presentation. If you don’t give them a reason to sit up, put their smart phones down, and pay full attention, you are unlikely to make an impact that drives the sale forward. Breaking the fourth wall can help you give your prospects a reason to pay attention and turn a passive audience into a highly engaged audience.

How to Break the Fourth Wall in your presentation:

  1. Step away from the laptop.

    I know, leaving your safety zone can be uncomfortable, but that laptop is a barrier to connecting with your prospect. Take a deep breath and buy a wireless presenter so you have the freedom to step away from the laptop.

  2.   Walk toward – or into – your audience.

    Even without the laptop, salespeople often stand too far away from their audience.  Far enough that the audience feels safe enough to, say, read a text, jot down a note, or simply let their thoughts wander. Approaching your audience takes away that feeling of separateness and makes prospects feel like they are part of the experience, not simply passive observers. Note: be careful not to go overboard and cross too far into your prospect’s personal space and respect cultural boundaries.

  3.  Speak directly to your audience.

    A presentation isn’t a monologue. Focus on connecting with your prospect as you speak. Restructure your presentation so it’s more conversational. Incorporate questions. Use names.

  4.  Give your prospect a job.

    Nothing heightens attention like active participation. Think of ways to get your prospect involved in your presentation. If it’s group, ask one member to introduce you, another to write down questions or suggestions, and another still to pass out handouts.

Breaking the fourth wall is unexpected, disruptive and effective in making your audience feel like they aren’t just watching the show, but rather, that they are part of the cast.

Get more tips in my new book, Sales
Presentations for Dummies! 
SPFD - 3D small jpeg


Photo courtesy of Creative Commons: “House Of Cards Emmy Nomination Good For Online Bad For TV” by Zennie Abraham is licensed under CC BY 2.0


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