Ask Dan Heath: Bringing a Potted Plant to a Presentation

Dear Dan,


Maybe you can help my colleague and me settle a disagreement. We are making a presentation soon to our regional SVP, who could approve or disapprove our plan. In essence, what we are proposing is to streamline our division (which would include a few layoffs) in order to save money that we could reinvest in one of our highest-growth areas. So I had the idea to do a visual demo of this plan: We would bring a plant into the conference room and show how by pruning a few of the branches (we’d cut off an amount proportionate to our cuts), we could earn the right to acquire a bottle of Miracle-Gro, which would make the whole plant grow.


I think this would be a powerful and memorable symbol of our plan. My colleague doesn’t agree. He thinks it is “juvenile” and doesn’t want to do it. Can you help me convince him?

– Planthappy


Put down the pruning shears and back away slowly. Your colleague is right. It’s too much drama for too little payoff. Take a second and imagine the moment, in the presentation, when you’d take out your shears and cut away a branch. The SVP is sitting there, feeling a bit awkward, wondering why you’re staging a little show for her. (I’ll assume it’s a her.) And then, in the next instant, she’d wonder,” That’s it? These two lugged a Home Depot plant into the office so they could trim off a branch to symbolize the trimming of their division?” And then, in the next instant, she’d wonder, “Do they think I’m an idiot?”

Because it might feel a little bit condescending (even though that’s clearly not what you’re intending) when you dramatize something that’s pretty easy to understand anyway. (Imagine if a car salesman, explaining the greater fuel efficiency of Car A versus Car B, did a Hot Wheels demonstration on the countertop: Car A can go all the way across the counter on one tank of gas, but Car B only makes it to the paper clips! You would not be charmed.)

However, I do want to salute your instinct to bring something to “show” into the room–that is exactly the right idea. Could you pick something else? It sounds like the heart of your case is the promise of the High Growth Area. What could you *show* the SVP that would get her excited about the HGA’s prospects? Maybe emails from euphoric customers? A video montage from your sales reps, who say they ain’t seen so much dag-nab enthusiasm in the marketplace for years? Transfer requests from some of your best employees, who are all clamoring to work in the HGA? Bottom line: Show your best evidence to the SVP.

Then give her the plant as a gift. Never hurts to suck up.


[Photo by DM-Set]

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