Storytelling and Influence: Learn How to Get What You Want

"Management cannot be expected to recognize a good idea unless it is presented to them by a good salesman." -David M. Ogilvy

You have devised a brilliant strategic idea. You've asked the right questions, diagnosed the critical issues, conceived a set of unorthodox solutions to address the key issues, narrowed down your ideas into an actionable set of priorities, and now you feel confident in your idea.

Everything is in line and ready to go, but many great ideas fail despite the above efforts because the person who presents them cannot sell them effectively into their organization, investors, employees, etc. You must now think strategically about how you will communicate so that your idea builds support.

Here is where the "S" in my IDEAS framework comes into play: you must be able to tell a memorable story.

The Influence "GAME"

Influence is fundamental to your ability to lead and impact your organization. It is a skill we exercise every day, whether consciously or not, to shape our environments and get things done. Increasing the effectiveness of your influence relies on your ability to tell a memorable story and get people to be committed to that idea.

My way of teaching the effectiveness of influence is to break it down into a four-component GAME:

  1. Goal: what do you want to achieve?
  2. Audience: whom do you need to influence or get input from?
  3. Message: what do you want to say?
  4. Expression: how will you deliver the message?

Goal

Before you launch into your pitch, you need to take the time to really understand who you are seeking to influence. Your first goal is not always to convince. There are generally three types of outcomes you will want to achieve through your communication:

  1. To understand: you may not yet be sure what position someone holds or what role they play. So you are often seeking simply to better understand their view and role.
  2. To loosen: when someone is in strong opposition and/or when you have multiple opportunities to engage with someone, you may only need to move them toward being open to another point of view. If you can get them to say, "I'm willing to consider alternatives" or, "Okay, I'm willing to hear more," that may be all you need to produce agreement.
  3. To convince: your goal may be to convince someone of something and have them take action on that conviction.

Audience

Having defined the goal, the next step is to understand the person or people you are seeking to influence. To do this effectively, put yourself into their shoes and ask the following questions:

  1. How aware are they of the issue or idea?
  2. If they are aware of the issue, how well do they understand it (e.g., are they already experts or do I need to educate them)?
  3. Do they already hold a strong point of view about the issue and, if so, what is that view (positive or negative)?
  4. Why do they hold this view?

Message

After analyzing the audience, you want to now craft the message that is most likely to achieve your desired outcome. Studies have shown logic is a relatively ineffective approach to changing minds. Rather, people use non-logical approaches to make up their minds and only thereafter use logic to support their decision. You must therefore use something other than logic to convince someone to consider your position and then use logic to lock in their new conviction.

Here are some questions you might ask in decided how to structure your message:

  • How can I open my presentation to engage others? A good framework to consider is: situation, complication, question, answer.
  • What metaphor do I want to use to frame my idea?
  • How can I frame the past facts related to this issue in a way that tells a helpful story (i.e., tells a story that leads people to see the action you are suggesting is a natural next step)?

Expression

With message in hand, informed by an analysis of your goal and audience, you are now ready to decide how to "express" your message. Before you jump immediately into planning a presentation, ask some of the following questions:

  • Is it better to do this by phone than in person?
  • Is it better to circulate a report than give a presentation?
  • Should we meet at work (e.g., on campus) or somewhere else?
  • If at work, should we meet in their office, my office, or somewhere else (e.g., a site visit)?
  • Is better for us to stand and present with PowerPoint or to sit down and talk in a small group?
  • Should we use any props?

By using simple frameworks like IDEAS and GAME, you can truly clarify your priorities, strategies and effectiveness. Good leaders understand the power of influence, and great leaders understand how to back up that influence with a compelling idea and necessary research. Take the time now to go through these processes in order to save yourself time and money by following the profitable, and sometimes crazy, ideas.

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