Getting your ideas across is simple: structure your pitch so it hits every base the audience expects. Here's a five-step plan to help you get what you want.
How do you give a persuasive presentation and, ultimately, get your way? I was fortunate enough to track down the amazing Michael Port, author of Steal the Show and Book Yourself Solid, for an interview in which he shared some great tips about how he teaches corporate clients to create compelling pitches.
Claire, the landscape architect for Grandma Cuddles Day Care, has a great idea! She believes that beautifully styled ponds, a decorative hedge maze, and a few strategically placed Audrey II carnivorous plants can keep the little kiddies happily inside the grounds without the current eyesore of concrete walls, barbed wire, and guard towers. (Never mind the noise from the graffiti removal squad. They use abrasive sandblasting hoses! It makes it hard to nap).
If she simply presents her new plan for the Center, she’ll be laughed out of the room. Or worse. Grandma is known to be enthusiastic about letting her little charges know who’s boss.
She can make her pitch most effective by including five major elements.
#1 - Identify Your Big Idea
Every pitch needs to have a big idea. On the one hand, this sounds obvious. On the other, it may not come naturally.
Claire is thinking of all the details of her new landscape. However, if she launches directly into the details, no one will have any idea where she’s going. Each member of her audience will latch on to one element. “Claire wants ponds everywhere! This isn’t Sea World!” or “Think of all the business we’ll lose from the barbed wire manufacturers! Say no to Claire’s eco-terrorism!”
In business, the big idea will usually have implications for action.
Instead, Claire needs to summarize her plan in a single sentence. That’s how she gets her big idea. “It’s time to bring the Grandma Cuddles campus from Third Reich Brutalist into a modern landscape reflecting the joy we feel when we know everything is under control. Our control.”
In business, the big idea will usually have implications for action.
#2 - Find the Outcome You’re Promising
Next, identify the outcome of having your Big Idea come to pass. If you’re having troubling figuring out your outcome idea, ask yourself why you’re making this recommendation at all.
And for goodness’ sake, if you’re actually making a recommendation because you’re empire-building, or trying to destroy your political rival, or undermining your boss in a Machiavellian ploy to be the youngest C-suite executive in your company’s history, don’t say that out loud. Instead, find an outcome that will benefit everyone else in the room. Your ascendancy to Supreme Authority will just be a pleasant by-product of a change everyone agrees is peachy-keen.
When she asks herself why she is recommending the changes, Claire realizes her Big Idea’s outcome is keeping the kiddies safe and secure, but rather than TV coverage showing the tykes playing in the machine shop, they’ll be playing in the green, green grass. The kinder, gentler side of Grandma’s world will play much better on the nightly news.
#3 - Understand Your Audience’s World
Many people believe that whatever a change is, it will be bad for them. They need to know that you understand them and their world before they’ll support your idea. Otherwise, they’ll think, correctly, that you’re just steamrolling them with your enthusiastic, wacky ideas.
What are your audience’s concerns? What’s important to them? How are they likely to perceive you? How are they likely to perceive themselves?
What are your audience’s concerns? What’s important to them?
Claire’s audience is the Grandma Cuddles facilities team, the CFO Chip, and Cuddles herself. The facilities team is concerned about how much work it takes to maintain the facilities. They’re proud of the job they’ve done. The center hasn’t lost a child since that little mishap during the re-creation of the Great Molasses Flood of 1919. Chip cares about cutting costs and making money. Cuddles cares about making sure nothing happens to disrupt the profit centers of the school.
Claire won’t just jump into recommendations. She’ll weave in evidence that she knows and has taken care of these concerns. She’ll praise the facilities team and demonstrate how the new plan makes their job easier. Plus, lawnmowers have a much longer lifespan than abrasive sandblasting hoses.
#4 - Face the Consequences
Your audience will love and respect you once they know you understand. They’ll trust you. So now, it’s time to plunge the blade of urgency directly into their vital organs of procrastination. You need to terrify them into action.
Now, it’s time to plunge the blade of urgency directly into their vital organs of procrastination.
Vividly list all the horrible things that will happen if they don’t adopt your idea. More sandblasting. Bad publicity. Parents yanking their children out of Cuddles and sending them to centers with more pleasing decor. That will lead to declining revenues, the loss of the Cuddles’ legacy. And maybe even the loss of the private jet. Cuddles does not want to lose her private jet.
Faced with such a stark, bleak future, the team will be grasping for a way out. And if your Big Idea just happens to be there, waiting to be grasped, you only need one more thing to seal the deal: a bold, new future.
#5 - Present a Bold, New Future
You’ve got your team quaking in their booties at the horrific things that will happen if they don’t heed you. They’re moving away from all that badness. Now gild the lily by giving them something to move towards. Paint a picture to them of the wonderful future that will come to pass if they adopt your idea.
For Claire, this is a piece of cake. She can display pictures of beautiful parks, burbling streams, Audrey IIs singing hand-in-branch with five-year-olds. She can discuss all the wonderful publicity, the smiles on the parents’ faces as they drop their little kiddies off at daycare … and the money pouring into Grandma Cuddles faster than Iceland glacier runoff pours into the ocean.
To recap: find your big idea, and the outcome it will lead to. Understand your audience’s world, scare them with the consequences of inaction, and entice them with the future your bold, big idea will bring.
To hear more frameworks from Michael Port about how to be theatrical in presenting your material, and how to understand audiences in general, you can listen to our full interview at http://getitdoneguy.com/michaelport.
Now if you’ll excuse me, Claire has invited me to sit out under a tree in a grassy meadow and join her for tea. We have a hedge maze to plan.
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