Many people believe that having a good idea is the only thing they need to become successful. Ideas are often massively overvalued by people who don’t create things. But even if you have a good idea and the ability to make it happen, it is still usually not enough.
In order to make a good idea a success, you have to sell it to others. This could be any number of people such as colleagues, managers, investors, partners, and of course your customers.
Having a good idea is not enough. Without the ability to advocate for your idea, it won’t see the light of day. Many innovative ideas fail to reach the market or fail to gain recognition within an existing company because the person with the idea is unable to advocate for it.
Advocacy is, in essence, the ability to persuade. There will always be sceptics or politics around an idea. People will try and sabotage your plans for their own benefit. Advocacy is also the ability to block bad ideas from investment and wasting resources.
Whilst it takes many tangible skills to be able to generate ideas, you must be able to pitch and sell those ideas to others if you hope to achieve success. Without those skills, your idea will just be another missed opportunity.
Advocacy - Championing ideas and influencing others is the work of John A. Daly, a professor at the University of Austin, Texas. He is the author of many of the worlds most authoritative works on interpersonal communication skills, public speaking, and championing ideas.
Communicating your ideas
If advocacy is mealy persuasion, then you have to understand the nuances of effectively communicating your ideas in order to persuade your audience.
Communicating your ideas effectively is critical to achieving acceptance from a skeptical audience. Often you will have been working on an idea for a while before you approach your audience, and so you need to be able to explain and demonstrate why this is a good opportunity to pursue.
Humans are very different from one an other, and so pitching a new idea is not a one size fits all solution. You will often be required to communicate your idea to many different types of audiences before action is signed off. This could include management, technical colleagues or even customers. Understanding your audience and what they are looking to hear from your presentation is critical to communicating effectively.
It is usually incredibly hard to effectively describe an idea in your head to another person. Even with an in-depth description, there will always be major visions of the concept that go astray.
Instead of describing your idea, it is much better to actually show a working prototype. When you can show a real tangible product, much less is lost in the translation of the idea.
And finally, you need to be always looking for feedback. The ability to pitch synchronously with a live audience is the perfect opportunity to pick up where your message is getting lost or where the audience is getting confused. If you feel that you are losing the audience, you need to try multiple ways of communicating your message before you continue. Seek questions from the audience to draw out any confusion and find alternative ways to communicate your message.
Framing your message
When framing your message, it is extremely important to fully understand your audience’s knowledge and experience. For example, if you are a technical person, and you are presenting to a non-technical group, you need to frame your message in a completely different way compared to how you would frame it for your peers.
As humans become more knowledgeable in new areas, we begin to build up greater depth in the “schema” of information that we can recall. For example, to a non-technical person, he might associate the Internet with a browser and a BlackBerry. On the other hand, a technical engineer could search through her depth of knowledge of protocols, languages, technology, and services when asked to recall the Internet.
This means, if you are framing your message in a way that does not suit the intended audience’s schema, much of your message will be forgotten or lost.
Creating your own brand
When you propose a new idea or initiative, your audience is likely going to judge you before you have said a single word. Your personal brand goes a long way in proving your credibility, your trustworthiness and the level of risk in empowering you.
In order to have the best possible chance of getting what you want when pitching your ideas, you need to first set the ground work to build up the brand that you want to be associated with.
For example, this could be associating with the right crowds of people or participating in the right kind of activities. You are also likely going to be pigeonholed based upon your previous work. If you are technical, than you need to show that you have the business, marketing and sales skills to really bring a product to market. If you don’t have those skills, you need to create a team of credible alliances that show you have what it takes.
You will be judged whenever you pitch your idea. However, by putting in the ground work to build a brand and a good reputation, this can be a huge advantage rather than something that holds you back.
Understanding people’s basic needs
When you are pitching an idea, you need to have a deep understanding of the audience’s needs in order to improve the likelihood of your idea being accepted.
Whilst there are many possible things you need to convey to your audience, there are 4 basic elements that you need to cover:
When you are working on a project within an internal organisation, you need to be very careful about who you include in the initial talks and planning of the idea. By excluding certain people who feel that they should be included, these people are likely not going to be in favour of your work later down the line.
It’s also important to include senior people in your projects at an early stage, even if they can’t make meaningful contributions. When it comes to pitching the project, these senior people will feel more aligned to the project if they have been included from the outset.
The feeling of being in control is one of the most basic human needs that we have. Nobody likes to feel that they are in a situation which they can’t control, and so by making decision makers feel like they are in control, you are more likely to gain a warm reception.
For example, allowing the decision maker to have the final choice is a good way of communicating they are in control. When pitching an idea, also pitch two alternatives even when the clear winner is an easy choice. By giving the decision maker a choice of solutions, she will feel more in control of the situation.
Secondly, aim to plant the seed of the idea, rather than give an explicit solution. By using this approach you allow the decision maker to believe it was their idea, when in fact you have just lead them straight to the door. You can do this by presenting a problem, and then presenting your research, ideas and what others in the market are doing to draw a logical conclusion.
For many people, the opportunity to make a big impact is the real reward they get from doing their work. Another basic human need is the feeling of being important. By making people who are involved in the project feel important, you have a greater opportunity to get the project completed.
When approaching decision makers, it is often easy to get a yes if you can show the impact their decision will make. For example, if you can show how the idea will be adopted by customers or improve internal efficiency, you will have a better chance of success.
Secondly, you should always make the decision maker feel like they are critical to the project’s success. By aligning them to the project’s impact, you can show how their backing will have a big impact on the problem you are solving.
And finally, people want to feel that they are liked by others. An important part of getting a yes from a decision maker is to be warm and receptive to them as a person, and not just a gatekeeper you must pass through.
When working with others, it is important to always listen to their opinions and to give them an opportunity to talk from their experience. Every single person has an opinion worth listening to despite their lack of knowledge or experience, and so the best project leaders make time for others to express their views.
When pitching a decision maker, it is important to show how you are both aligned to the same outcome. By highlighting similarities you create a sense of commonality.
“Advocacy…“ is an excellent guide to navigating the choppy waters of pitching and championing ideas. The ideas and suggestions that can be found in this book are applicable for any employee looking to progress within an organisation or an entrepreneur trying to sell her vision.
Daly draws from a mixture of case studies, narratives, social and psychological studies, and research data to create a framework for pitching your ideas successfully.
From preparing your message, to setting the stage and then delivering to your audience, “Advocacy…” is a completely step-by-step process for pitching your ideas and navigating the political hierarchy of bureaucratic organisations.
For me, one of the best things about this book is Daly’s ability to weave the message of the chapter around interesting and engaging stories. Not only does this make reading the material more enjoyable, but it also subtly reinforces Daly’s recommended techniques.
If you are an internal employee looking to climb the career ladder by pitching and delivering new initiatives, or you are an entrepreneur looking to create and sell new products and services, “Advocacy…” is a fantastic guide to the art of persuasion.