Cicero’s Way

How to beat resistance and objections in any pitch or promotional situation.

The people I like are fun.

They’re light-hearted and they make jokes; they don’t take things too seriously.

They’re also more likely to convince me to part with my money and influence my decisions.

On April 4th 56 BC, one of the all-time greatest defence speeches took place in a Roman court.

Caelius was brought to trial and accused of five serious offences. They included assault, robbery, murder and the attempted poisoning of his lover Clodia.

It appeared that by all means, Caelius was guilty.

But a speech, given by lawyer and politician Cicero, changed the entire outcome of the trial.

It was like no other at the time.

Cicero built his defence by first presenting seventeen-year-old Caelius’ foolishness and youthful innocence as unfortunate but natural.

His speech then addressed a number of other issues on the case. Issues related to Caelius’ social relationships, family and potential within Roman society.

Before moving to mock Clodia of her claims.

Now, the finer details of the defence are irrelevant in this blog post.

What is important is the manner which Cicero defended Caelius from the charges and from the prosecution’s attack.

His main weapon to combat the wave of claims was his intelligence and devastating humour.

His defence was light-hearted and carefree.

And he would earn the favour of the audience as well as move the audience with emotional appeals.

This use of humour appealed to the humanity of his Roman audience who he was trying to influence.

He used it to set the scene, he used it to defend Caelius and he used it to counter the prosecution. He also used it to hide the weaknesses of his argument.

But more importantly, he used it to exploit the prosecution’s weaknesses.

Every joke rehearsed, every punch-line considered.

In an attack on Clodia, Cicero said:

“I should defend my client all the more vehemently were I not inhibited by my personal hatred of the woman’s husband… brother I meant to say; I’m always making that mistake!”

Referring to a rumour that Clodia had sexual relations with her brother.

Cicero also decided to recall one of Clodia’s illustrious ancestors who famously built Rome’s first water channel.

He invited the audience to ask what he would think of Clodia today. Impersonating this ancestor, Cicero said:

“Was it for this reason that I brought water into the city – so that you might use it in your incestuous rituals!”

Of course, the court burst into laughter.

In the end, Caelius was acquitted of all charges.

At the time, this type of indecent slander was common throughout the courts.

But what is still the same today is how we can exploit emotions and also aim to change them.

Salespeople understand that resistance is common in selling situations. Which is why they develop objection handling scripts/statements alongside their main pitches.

They’ll have a new path in mind to take the person when a pitch isn’t going so well.

Because to beat resistance is to move the person away from the current-negative emotion felt. Nobody will buy in this resistive frame of mind.

Humor overcomes this because something genuinely amusing can shift a person’s emotion to another.

Meaning the other person will feel differently, and therefore, react differently to when in his resistance state.

Where an attempt to convince and convert that person to your way of thinking becomes easier. A sale or the progression of that sale is more likely.

Salespeople don’t always know this.

In business and life, whenever you make a point about virtually anything you will be challenged.

Sometimes you’ll be challenged for the sake of being challenged.

To test your confidence and credibility rather than test your argument.

Cicero was an expert at countering such resistance.

He opposed Julius Ceasar… who even invited Cicero to join a leadership council to which Cicero declined.

Such was Ceasar’s respect for Cicero and his ability.

Because humour entertains and humour persuades.

So develop snappy transitions, jokes and light-hearted stories to combat resistance.

As people like to listen to them.

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8 thoughts on “Cicero’s Way

  1. The problem with prepared pitches is that they sound like prepared pitches. Whether it’s face-to-face or over the phone, one moment you’re dealing with another human being, albeit probably not one you trust, and then something you say flicks a switch and they become a robot. This offends because it’s clear nothing you say will change the script. So the phone goes down or the door shuts.

    1. Thanks for reading Simon and apologies for the late reply. I think that’s the risk we face if we go into pitch and persuasion situations with prepared pitches. Certainly if we aren’t very experienced in those situations and within those markets. From experience, though, the risk of not being prepared in some way is greater.

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