How motivational speakers avoid continuity errors

“Sell the sizzle, not the sausage.”

As a young brand manager at Kimberly-Clark in the 1990s, they drummed that marketing maxim into me. It reminds us that the sizzle of a sausage is often more appealing to a potential buyer than the sausage itself. Years earlier, the Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt captured the same conceptual essence with “sell the hole, not the drill.”

But what if the initial promise outperforms the end delivery? What if your sizzle turns out to actually be better than your sausage? Well, then you’ve got a painful customer retention headache. People may buy once, but they will never come back for more. Once (they’ve) bitten (your sausage, they will be) twice shy.

That’s why your sausage must always be a match for—and ideally a little better than—your sizzle. In my profession as a motivational speaker, overdoing the sizzle can create what I call ‘continuity errors’; that uncomfortable feeling when something in the performance doesn’t quite fit. The TV and movie industry uses this same phrase to describe filming or editing gaffes where something on screen doesn’t fit with an earlier event. Like when Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, played by Judy Garland, meets the Scarecrow and her hair mysteriously grows about four inches between shots as they sing, before returning to its original length as the song ends. Or that bit in The Simpsons, where there’s a flashback of an anxious Homer talking to Marge while she is pregnant with their daughter Maggie, yet there’s a framed photo of Maggie on the wall.

Continuity errors happen all the time in TV shows and movies because it’s easy to miss seemingly insignificant details. And they often only come to light after the show airs and eagle-eyed viewers spot the gaffes. For speakers, continuity errors happen when the speaker’s performance doesn’t live up to the sizzle and hype of the pre-event marketing. Whether that’s the speaker’s website, showreel, or other marketing materials creating an unrealistic expectation, or the event organiser over-promising to draw a big audience, it can feel really icky when what you see on stage doesn’t match your expectations. I once saw a speaker whose online profile picture was so out-of-date I wondered why he had sent his father to give the talk. Another speaker claims to have given his talk at hundreds of events, yet always arrives unprepared and under-rehearsed.

Continuity errors are hard to spot in the TV and movie industry. But they’re much easy to avoid for speakers and other professionals. Ensure your marketing materials are up-to-date, honest, and true. Make your sausage (your content) the hero, and don’t overdo the pre-event sizzle. Give bookers everything they need to promote you before and at their event, and politely request they don’t big you up unnecessarily. Provide an intro script and explain how they should introduce you so they do not steal your thunder.

A pleasantly surprised audience is infinitely better than a mildly underwhelmed crowd. Try not to overdo the sizzle. A little sausage can go a long way.