Expert Commentary

A Fate Worse Than Death

Does death sound more appealing than the prospect of speaking in front of an audience? Stage Fright Sales Call Reluctance impairs salespeople from effectively using audiences to promote themselves and their products or services. Like many of the call reluctances, stage fright is an emotional problem, not one of logic that can be talked away. "Threat Desensitization," which breaks the fear-inducing situation down into its component parts and then assigns fear or stress points to each part, can be an effective treatment.

Eradicating Sales Call Reluctance
February 2003

Ask anyone who suffers from stage fright, and they often equate speaking in public to death and dying. I have even heard someone claim that it is worse than death. Well, here’s the bad news—Stage Fright Call Reluctance can be even worse. Does that mean that Stage Fright Call Reluctance is worse than worse than death?

Salespeople with Stage Fright Call Reluctance make quick career decisions. They decide early on in their careers that they will never make a living doing party-type sales or that they will not be making group presentations to sell anything. They compensate for this by concentrating their efforts on other types of sales where selling is conducted one-on-one. Having made this decision, they tend to find sales pretty lucrative. They rarely stop to calculate how much extra money they could make if they would overcome this affliction. They simply resign themselves to avoiding those opportunities. Some even brag about how scared they are of public speaking. Perhaps it’s not bragging—perhaps they are simply warning others not to call on them to address a crowd even if the whole crowd would then buy something from them.

Here’s the good news: it is one of the easiest of the call reluctances to cure. Most salespeople with this call reluctance refuse to believe it. I always get that knowing smile when I tell someone how easy it is to fix. It’s as if they think I don’t know how they feel, and they just know it will never go away.

Stage Fright Is Not One Thing

Stage fright is the general fear of speaking in front of a group of people. In the case of Stage Fright Call Reluctance, sometimes two or more people constitute a group, and this inhibits the salesperson from comfortably addressing them. To compound the problem, it’s not even one thing. It can be one of three separate types.

A few years ago, the call reluctance pioneers, George W. Dudley and Shannon L. Goodson, noticed that some salespeople with Stage Fright Call Reluctance responded differently to the treatment they had prescribed. Puzzled, they conducted an interesting experiment with 28 salespeople. They subsequently repeated this experiment with many more salespeople after they discovered some important results.

They asked salespeople with high incidences of Stage Fright Call Reluctance to complete a simple questionnaire that contained only three questions. The first question asked them to rate their fear of speaking in front of a group. The second asked them to rate their fear of speaking in front of a group of people who could see them but had difficulty hearing them because they were hearing-impaired. The third question asked them to rate their fear of speaking in front of a group of people who were sight-impaired. They could hear them but they could not see them. They then tabulated their responses.

This experiment confirmed that there were indeed different types of Stage Fright Call Reluctance. If, they reasoned, Stage Fright Call Reluctance was one thing, then the answers to all three questions should be the same. They were not. What they found was that some people became even more uncomfortable when they knew they could be seen but not heard, while others became extremely uncomfortable when they knew they could be heard but not seen. There were a few who reacted badly to both scenarios.

Three Types of Stage Fright Call Reluctance

This led them to identify the three types of Stage Fright Call Reluctance: X, Y, and Z types.

The X types consisted of people who became overexcited and worried a lot. Their primary behavior was worrying. This put them closer to Doomsayers who tend to worry about worst-case scenarios. Speaking in public was just another thing they had to worry about.

The Y types were over-concerned about appearing as if they did not know what they were talking about. Their primary behaviors consisted of making laborious notes and preparing over and over again. Their presentations would be stiff and formal, and they often read their notes verbatim. These salespeople related more to salespeople with Overpreparer Call Reluctance. These are salespeople who are constantly preparing but who never seem to find the time to do the things they prepare for.

The Z types were the show time people. They were more concerned about how they appeared to the audience. Their primary behavior consisted of making sure the image was right, that they looked great. This puts them closer to salespeople with Hyperpro Call Reluctance. These are salespeople who are over-concerned with projecting the right image. They tend to avoid situations where they will look bad even if those same situations can bring in sales or money.

Regardless of the type of Stage Fright Call Reluctance, it impairs salespeople from effectively using audiences to promote themselves and their products or services. In many cases, it results in avoidance behavior—avoiding selling opportunities simply because “I don’t do things like that.” However, in many other cases, it does not always mean they will not do it. It means that when they do, they are far less effective than they could be. Because they are so afraid, they often forget to say something, or they sound lame or stilted, or they simply ignore the audience and just say their piece and then get out of there.

Does It Affect All Salespeople?

Several years ago, I tested a large group of salespeople and found them to be extremely high in Stage Fright Call Reluctance. I wondered if this was a problem since I knew that they did not regularly make group presentations. I decided to ask them how important it was.

A few hundred took a short questionnaire. It asked them if they made group presentations, how many they did, how many they thought they should do, and did they think they should do group presentations because it would help their sales. I then put them into groups and asked them to discuss the issue and present a group consensus on whether or not group presentations could help them make more sales and if they felt, as a group, that they should make group presentations. Individually and as groups, they were asked how many group presentations they did and how many they thought they should do.

The results surprised me. Overwhelmingly, they said that group presentations would help them increase sales and that they should be making them. They also admitted that they did not do very many and wished that they did. There was a huge gap between the number of group presentations they said they did and what they said they should do. This told me that even agricultural implement salespeople needed to overcome this call reluctance because it could lead to bigger and more sales.

Is It Important?

In today’s business world, it seems more and more that salespeople have to present to groups. Sometimes these groups are large; sometimes they consist only of a couple of decision-makers. Often, they are boards of directors or panels of company experts. Salespeople with Stage Fright Call Reluctance will have difficulty in these circumstances.

Again, it does not mean that they will not do them. It means that they will not be as effective in them as they could be. They usually leave these meetings kicking themselves for not saying something or for doing something they feel embarrassed about later. Often they feel they had not been very effective—and they probably were not.

Stage Fright and Telesales

When I worked for Mr. Dudley and Ms. Goodson, we visited with a CEO of a telesales company in Australia. His salespeople were not doing as well as he had hoped. Our representative there had administered the call reluctance test to all the employees. We noticed the high Stage Fright Call Reluctance scores. We asked about the working conditions and found that they worked in a sort of bull pen. Mr. Dudley suggested that they erect walls between the telesalespeople. They did and their sales took off.

Why? In their former situation, they had an audience all around them. Every other telesales person was part of that audience. With more privacy, they were more at ease and less anxious about the calls they were making. I have seen this many times since.

Imagine If You Can …

Whenever I discuss stage fright with salespeople and they tell me that they do not have to make group presentations, I ask them to imagine that they could do it and then ask them to estimate how much additional business they could get if they did. This usually opens their eyes to opportunities that they were habitually avoiding. Once they realize the scope of these opportunities, they sometimes become motivated to overcome their Stage Fright Call Reluctance.

How To Fix It

I often read with some amusement the articles written by stage fright “experts” who tell readers to talk it away. Like many of the call reluctances, stage fright is an emotional problem, not one of logic. If it were logical, one could simply talk it away. Unfortunately, the words we use to talk it away are usually the same words that got it there in the first place.

Mr. Dudley and Ms. Goodson describe a very effective technique in their book, The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance called "Threat Desensitization." This is a mechanical cure. In other words, it does not require you to understand or even agree with the method. If you simply do it correctly, it will muscle out the stage fright in less than 2 weeks. It breaks the fear-inducing situation down into its component parts and then assigns fear or stress points to each part. It then attacks the weakest part first, which automatically lowers all the rest. By working through the ranks from lowest stress points to highest, it systematically destroys the fear altogether. Does it work?

Ask Annette, an independent sales trainer who had paid other people to teach workshops for her until she dealt with her call reluctance, which took only 10 days. Ask Bob, an insurance salesperson who now regularly does presentations comfortably to boards and makes bigger sales than he had been accustomed to getting. There is a seemingly endless list of people, in and out of sales, who have learned that speaking in public does not have to be like death and dying.

Other Sales Call Reluctance articles include the following:

Article Topic
Can You Swim? Referral Aversion
Who's Afraid of the CFO? Social Self-Conscious
Did Your Mom Intend You To Be a Wimp? Yielder
The Most Difficult Salesperson in the World Oppositional Reflex
The Telephone Bug Telephobia
All Dressed Up, Nowhere To Go Low Goal
Am I Adequately Prepared To Sell? Overpreparer
The Secret Shame of Selling Role Rejection
Look at All My Friends! Separationist
Appearance Is Everything Hyperpro
You Can't Pick Your Family Unemancipated
The Doomsayer The Doomsayer

Call Reluctance, the Fear-Free Prospecting and Self-Promotion Workshop, and all related terms are copyrights and/or registered trademarks of Behavioral Sciences Research Press, Dallas, Texas. Sales Academy, Inc., is an Advanced Authorized Dealer for the Call Reluctance® Program. Frank Lee is an international expert on Call Reluctance®. He can be reached at (800) 898-3743 or at

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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