Are your ideas getting pulled down or picked apart by bosses and clients?
If so, it’s not necessarily because your ideas suck—it could be that you’re not effectively selling them. Here are six ways to be a better salesperson for yourself and your ideas:
Remember for a moment your worst college professors. You probably place them in that category because they talked over your head or around you. They came at you from their vantage points, not yours.
Think about this the next time you’re planning to present an idea. You’ve worked with that idea for weeks, maybe months. You know it inside and out, iteration by iteration. But where’s your decision maker with that idea? Not where you are, that’s for sure.
Before preparing pitches, ask yourself three fundamental questions:
- What does my decision maker really know about the idea?
- What doesn’t she know about the idea?
- Why should she care about the idea?
Answer those questions in detail, and you’ll have the basic foundation for building presentations that will meet decision makers where they are rather than where you are.
Whenever I coach people having difficulty getting ideas approved, their ill-fated presentations have usually gone in one of two directions: They either memorize and choreograph until their presentations appear stiff and unnatural, or they say, "Hey, I know the idea, so I’ll just wing it," coming off unprofessional with rambling, unfocused pitches.
The best route is somewhere between these two extremes. Consider the approach of great jazz musician Charlie Parker: learn it, forget it, play it. Parker would carefully learn and practice a composition until he internalized the piece. Then he would stop fretting over it. This process helped him improvise and perform naturally when playing for his audience.
Great actors have similar methods. Amy Adams has been praised by director Spike Jonze for being able to take any sentence written for her and make it sound as if she just thought of it. Like Charlie Parker, Adams internalizes written dialogue by learning, forgetting, and then performing.
Strive for focused but relaxed delivery with your next presentation. Learn it. Practice it. Internalize it. Then exhale and present in a natural, conversational style.
University of Pennsylvania researchers asked people if they would put on a sweater once worn by Adolf Hitler. The subjects all refused, believing the sweater was somehow contaminated with emotional residue and negative cooties.
If we’re not careful, we’ll enter idea presentations wearing our own version of Hitler’s sweater. Any negative, fearful, or distrustful energy we bring in will be quickly detected by decision makers, and they’ll be influenced or even repelled by it.
Before each presentation, take time to adjust your attitude and fortify your confidence. The late, great speech coach Dorothy Sarnoff suggests internal repetition of three sentences before giving a talk:
I’m glad I’m here. I’m glad you’re here. I know what I know and I care about you.
Her mantra helps alter our belief system and places focus on helping audience members rather than fearing or distrusting them.
Another useful technique is interrogative self-talk, as advocated by author Dan Pink. Rather than repeating positive affirmations such as "I can do this," Pink suggests asking yourself "Can I do this?" Answering this question stirs you to recognize your strengths.
When prospective clients visit pencil maker Faber-Castell, CEO Anton-Wolfgang von Faber-Castell likes to show off the benefits of his pencils. So he’ll often climb a tower of the family castle near the headquarters and hurl a handful of pencils down to the stone courtyard to demonstrate their durability.
And to reassure parents that his firm’s color markers are safe for kids, Faber-Castell has been known to drink glassfuls of ink used in the markers.
He understands that when it comes to selling ideas, there’s no business like show business. Try adding a touch of drama to your presentations to showcase and clarify your ideas.
Some clients tend to view ideas through the lens of their own lives and experiences rather than through the eyes of end-users. They’ll say things like, "I’m not a fan of that color" or "I don’t really pay much attention to social media."
If this sounds familiar, add an extra chair to the table at your next presentation and dress it in the kinds of clothes of your end-user might wear: For example, if your end-user is a business person, display a blazer and briefcase.
At the start of your presentation, point to the chair and explain, "I’ve added this chair to help me stay focused on the wants and needs of my idea’s end-user."
Later, when the client interrupts with one of his "I-personally-wouldn’t-buy-that" statements, pat the empty chair and say something like, "You know, I might not either—but here’s our end-user, and research shows it’s just right for her."
These are the immortal words of that great philosopher, Mike Tyson. Boxers enter rings with perfect game plans, but one jab to the jaw usually shatters even the best strategy.
A similar scenario often occurs when selling ideas—we go into the presentation room with a mighty game plan, but those glorious intentions get KO’d as soon as we’re hit with objections.
Prepare for objections by completing a Punch/Counterpunch worksheet. Draw a vertical line down the center of the sheet to create two columns. Label the left column "Punch" and the right column "Counterpunch."
In the "Punch" column, list every objection imaginable. Involve team members. Maybe show the idea to outsiders and solicit their concerns. Add sheets as necessary to list all possible objections.
Then begin the real work. Under "Counterpunch," develop your response to each objection. Don’t stop until you have a legitimate reply to every conceivable punch.
Will you get hit with every anticipated objection? Unlikely. But you’ll be ready for whatever haymaker comes your way. And just knowing you’re prepared will help you deliver a stronger, more confident presentation.
—Sam Harrison is a popular speaker and author of [i]IdeaSelling and other books on creativity-related topics and presentation skills.[/i]