Ron Popeil is a god!

Last Updated Jun 5, 2007 3:47 PM EDT

It's easy to make fun of Ron Popeil. Since the days of the Veg-o-matic food slicer, Ron's "but wait, there's more" patter has been fodder for endless satire (like the infamous Bass-O-Matic.) However, even though Ron's carnival selling style is as obsolete as an 8-track tape, he's still a role model for presenting products large groups.

I have a confession. When I'm channel-surfing and run across Ron, I always stop and watch. I can't help myself. I even bought one of his rotisseries. I couldn't help myself. I don't feel bad, though, because I have a lot of company. According to the New Yorker, Ron once went live on the QVC cable channel and, in a single hour, moved a million dollars worth of rotisseries -- at $127 a piece. Now, I've known plenty of sales pros who have cut million dollar deals, but they generally involved meetings, proposals, process and a lot time. From the viewpoint of sales pitches, Ron is a god. He stands alone. Nobody else comes close.

Take Steve Jobs. It's been said (repeatedly) that Jobs has a "reality distortion field" that hypnotizes people into believing that whatever gadget he's currently presenting is the most earthshaking technology ever invented. Jobs is good, but consider this: even the least of Apple's products is pretty damn hot. Jobs may blow things out of proportion, but he's starting from a pretty strong baseline.

By contrast, Ron can actually convince people that spraying paint your bald spot will make you look like you still have hair. Ron can convince people that, when he's got a few minutes driving between meetings, he stops by a stream and pulls out a "Pocket Fisherman" to catch a bass or two. Ron's "reality distortion field" is so powerful that it continues to control your brain long enough for the telephone agent to upsell you an incredibly expensive "BBQ ribs" attachment which you will never, ever use. (I'm talking from personal experience here.)

While I'm no big fan of the idea that selling consists of convincing people to buy something they neither want nor need, there's no question that watching Ron (here's a sample clip) is an education in how to present to large audiences. Here's why:

1. He makes everything seem new. Even when you know, intellectually, that he's pitched a product hundreds, maybe thousands, of times before, he manages to convey a sense of amazement and surprise. It's almost as if, right before your eyes, he's rediscovering the product which, in most cases, he himself invented.

2. He's supremely confident. He never falters in his demonstration. He never misses a beat. He knows what he has to say and say it, without sounding scripted. He clearly believes in his products (most of which he invented himself) and communicates that belief with every word and gesture.

3. He sells emotions, not features. Ron never presents products features without providing at least one benefit. More importantly, every benefit is presented in the context of the emotions that it will produce.

4. He builds to a climax. Laugh though you may, the "but wait, there's more," routine keeps the audience in suspense throughout the presentation. The constant adding of value adds the flavor of a "little kid at Christmas" to the experience of buying.

Needless to say, most of today's sales situations require a more nuanced approach, and the carnival tone of Ron's pitch would be fatal in a B2B presentation. Even so, the basic principles of presenting to large groups of people remain the same, regardless of what you're selling.

By the way, I've used the rotisserie about once a week for the past three years. Best $127 I ever spent.