Pitchmen and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader

The late Billy Mays and the current Steve Jobs were/are two great pitchmen. Yes, Steve Jobs is a pitchman, one of the best, ever. Jimmey Mays, OxyClean. Steve Jobs, “a thousand songs in your pocket.” You can learn a lot from both if you are a teacher, need to make presentations, or just want to be a better communicator.

Bill Mays used great catch phrases – for Mighty Puttyfix, fill, seal and repair. What parts of speech are these words? Verbs. Verbs are action words and these words place actions or needs in the minds of its listeners. In addition to the basic verb exercises, for example, simple present tense – I eat breakfast, she eats breakfast, etc., have your student use verbs in creative ways. Play the Mighty Putty commercial for your students, analyze it, and then see how creative your students are.

Mighty Mendit Before you throw it away let Mighty Mendit save the day! That is a nice sentence! Ask your students if that type of advertising is popular in their countries. If not, discuss the differences. Marketing is different in different cultures. Latin America, Korea, China, etc. like marketing that focuses on community not the individual. How would the product help family or neighbors as opposed to just you? How could a Billy Mays commercial be adapted to focus on the community aspects of a product. This could be a great assignment for advanced ESL classes.

Billy May’s style is a great tool to use when teaching students the difference of language as used for writing/reading and speech. What is the difference between writing a play and a novel, from a language point of view? When you write a play, you use words that will be heard. When you write a novel, your words are read. It is like music. Words that are meant to be listened to or heard, rely on rhythm, intonation, alliteration, etc. Fix, fill, seal and repair are rhythm, drumbeats. Boom, boom, boom … boom! Before you throw it away let Mighty Mendit save the day. That is melody, a riff, a hook! Words that are read describe and create worlds in the minds of readers.

For once class each semester, I go to the local “dollar store” and buy some items. I pass them out in class and have the students write commercials for the product. It is fun … and the students get to keep the products.

Steve Jobs is the master of presentation. He may sound spontaneous but a lot of work and practice, practice, practice is the heart of each of his presentations.

What can you learn from Steve? Craft your classes, your presentations, your performance. Know what you are going to do, how you are going to do it, and what you are going to do if what you planned to do doesn’t work. Know all these things before you enter the classroom or conference room. What do you do if your computer crashes in the middle of your presentation?  What will you say? How will you react?

What if your first slide gets your students talking which is good, but the conversation flows in a direction that is different from what you planned? What if your class just doesn’t get it?

Steve Jobs has all these “what ifs and more” all worked out. He is so good at it that the audience has no idea if he has shifted the flow of his presentation. So … before you throw it away let you preparation save the day.

Are you smarter than a fifth grader? Jeff Foxworthy is an excellent entertainer. The show’s contestants are interesting; certainly the producers don’t pick boring people to appear on the show, but Jeff’s presentation keeps the show flowing.

I use, OK steal, some of Jeff’s techniques. Teaching at language schools is a business. Students pay for classes and if they find the teacher boring they will not sign up for another semester. As teachers, we sell language instruction. If students don’t like your classes, the school will find another teacher. Simply, studetns are the money that keeps the school in business.

What techniques do I copy? If a student is not sure of an answer, I tell them they can ask another student for help. It gets a laugh and relaxes the student. Ironically, they usually ask their friend for help, not the smartest student in class who has the correct answer. When I catch a student copying from another student I ask the student if the person they are copying from is the smartest student. Usually they say no and I offer them the chance to sit next to the smartest student in class. They refuse, are a bit embarrassed in a fun way, and stop copying.

When a student gives me the right answer I’ll have fun and start shaking my head say something like “I feel bad you chose that answer because …” I pause, watch the expression on the student’s face and then continue, “you are correct!” Students laugh and they have fun while learning. Sometimes when a student gives me a correct answer, I’ll tell them, “I’ll give you one dollar right now to change you answer.” If they say no, I offer them two dollars. Nobody takes me up on my offer. They laugh and they tell their crazy teacher that they know their answer is right so they won’t take one or two dollars to give me the wrong answer.

Learn from the great communicators. Some people do not like Billy Mays. That is fine. He does know how to communicate and sell (and yes, we all sell.) Millions of dollars prove that people listen to what he says.

Do you really need an iPhone? Has an iPhone changed your life so much that you don’t know how you lived without one? No! You want an iPhone because they are cool! You don’t need it but you want it! Me too! I don’t have one or need one, but since my birthday is tomorrow, July 22nd, if somebody wants to buy me one, I will happily accept it. And, “one thousand songs in your pocket” – that is a great pitch.

Are you smarter than a fifth grader? Some may not like the show and some may find the concept offensive. All television shows sell advertising. That is the reason for their existence. If the show doesn’t make money, it is taken off the air. That show makes money!

Being a bit of a pitchman or pitchlady is a good trait to have. You need to capture and retain your audience’s interest. Take what works and make it part of your routine.


About acohen843

I am a writer and ESL teacher who enjoys the challenge of starting businesses. Currently, I am a JuicePlus distributor (www.acohentakesjuiceplus.com) who is using this business opportunity as the foundation of a social entrepreneurship project.
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One Response to Pitchmen and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader

  1. Yeah, “Fifth Grader” is really a new thing for me, I want to try.

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