Lesson 26 Show, Don’t Tell
In our last lessons, we talked about sales—both the sales process and perception of the process. By following a clear process, you increase your chances of being successful. Likewise, perception amplifies the likelihood of success. One important dimension of the sales process is demonstration. Demonstration is often overlooked, but it is critically important.
A Titanic Demonstration
When wireless telegraphy was in its infancy, Guglielmo Marconi and others had been successful at demonstrating that he could send wireless signals, but he had difficulty convincing investors that radio waves could be transmitted for long distances. He proved that he could send messages at short distances, such as crossing the English Channel in 1899 and a distance of more than 200 miles in 1901, but Marconi thought that he could send messages further.
Racing against Nikola Tesla, Marconi set up twenty-story receiving towers that eventually collapsed. These were uild to support his audacious claims that he could send wireless signals from Britain across the Atlantic. Even at its closest point in Canadian New Foundland, this was more than ten times the distance of the longest wireless message ever sent. The problem is that a signal needed 100 times the power to travel ten times the distance. When he claimed that he had received a message from Europe (without any witness to verify his claim), he made headlines. But many doubted his claims. Thomas Edison said, “I told the herald last night that I doubted this story, and I haven’t changed my opinion. I don’t believe it.”
Transatlantic communication already existed. Cables had been laid across the Atlantic, but at 25 cents per letter, communication was vulnerable to threats and expensive. During World War I, the lines would be cut by the warring powers, but the immediate problem was price. The cable companies, acting as cartels, charged more than they should have.
In 1912, sending the message, “Happy Birthday, Grandma” to Britain by telegraph would cost $5.00. That doesn’t sound that bad until you realize that $5 dollars in 1914 was the equivalent of about $120 today. Marconi claimed that with wireless telegraphy, he could do it for 20 cents or about $4.79 today.
In 1912, Marconi was in New York raising financing to construct towers in Europe, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, West Africa, the Caribbean, the east and west coasts of North America and Hawaii. His was to be the first truly global wireless communications network.
Marconi’s board was to vote on his proposal the next day when Marconi got word about the a terrible accident. The Titanic was on its maiden voyage when it struck an iceberg. It was equipped with a radiotelegraph transmitter so that passengers could send “Marconigrams.” At the time, wireless telegraphy could not transmit across the ocean, but they could bounce the message from one ship to another to get messages across. The Marconi company printed a list of ships travel because in order to leap-frog messages over long distances from one vessel to another. It was a tedious process, but it was the best technology had to offer.
The Lusitania had recently arrived from Britain. Marconi was eating dinner when he was interrupted by a New York Times Reporter who delivered the news. The two men rushed to the docks as there was a wireless room on the Lusitania. One of his operators in New York heard the distress message in real time. The Carpathia, 60 miles away heard it too, and responded.
The Titanic was lucky enough to have one and a 120-meter antenna, which was optimally designed for the wireless apparatus. She sent the regulation call for assistance.
CQD. The standard distress call
- Shorthand for ‘This is.’
MGY. The Titanic’s call sign.
The Olympic heard the call but they were 505 miles away and could do little but relay the Titanic’s distress message. It was also picked up by the Carpathia, only 58 miles away. The Carpathia immediately changed course.
The Titanic sailed from Britain with 2024 people on board. It sank at 2:20 AM. The Carpathia arrived two hours later collecting 705 survivors. More than 1,500 souls perished in the icy waters. This included 25% of the women, 50% of the children and 81% of the men in an age when the motto was “Women and children first.”
Wireless operators heard the relayed messages in real time in New York. The wireless operators on the Titanic and Carpathia can be rightly credited with saving more than 700 lives. And, the Titanic saved Marconi. The incident breathed new life into his venture.
A shareholders meeting was to take place the next day. It had been scheduled long before, and shareholders were poised to deny Marconi the $7 million ($167,808,564 in today’s dollars) he needed to expand his international operations, but now they overwhelmingly voted to approve his request. The public saw the value in the wireless technology. Even Thomas Edison changed his tune. Edison wrote a letter, “to congratulate you upon the success of your beautiful invention—the wireless telegraph—and on the splendid work your system has done in saving human life in disasters on the sea.”
While it is unethical and impractical to create disasters in order to sell your wares, I want you to see the tremendous difference between showing and telling. When people can see the results, they buy. You do not need to persuade. Spend more time demonstrating and less time convincing.
 Woolley, S. (2017). Network: The battle for the airwaves and the birth of the communications age. New York: ECCO. (p. 28)
 Woolley, S. (2017). Network: The battle for the airwaves and the birth of the communications age. New York: ECCO. (p. 31).
 Woolley, S. (2017). Network: The battle for the airwaves and the birth of the communications age. New York: ECCO. (p. 43)
 Demographics of the TITANIC passengers: Deaths, survivals, nationality, and lifeboat occupancy. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.icyousee.org/titanic.html
 Woolley, S. (2017). Network: The battle for the airwaves and the birth of the communications age. New York: ECCO. (p. 47).