Being able to sell a story is more than just being good with words. This is especially true when it comes to the digital world we live in where everything (well, almost everything) is measurable.
Whether you’re pitching a pivot to the board or a new marketing idea to your team, being persuasive is an art worth mastering. Here’s what I’ve learnt during my time working at the Wellington, NZ office of StarNow, a global online platform that connects creative talent with casting professionals and jobs.
Data, data, data
Coming from a background in performing arts, I was pretty confident at selling stories, so it was a surprise when I began working in a tech startup where I would submit ideas and they would be shelved. Wanting to be a creative part of the innovation I was determined to figure out the key to hearing “yes”, instead of “no” from my boss.
He gave me some simple advice: “Numbers. Show me the data. Prove your case.” If I could deliver a clear hypotheses, my estimated return, and how I was going to measure the results — then boom! I started hearing “Yes” much more. And that’s exactly what happened. Make numbers your friend. That’s my number one recommendation.
Enjoy challenging conversations
Heated discussions around the leadership table were something that I used to shy away from. I would take things too personally, and let my perceptions and emotions get in the way of a robust debate. I would either shut off and stay out of the conversation, or find myself babbling. When I started to listen more and talk less, not only did I find the conversations more interesting, but I was also able to formulate my ideas in a more structured way and make clearer points.
I think of those people who would wind me up and now I am thankful my interaction with them was setting me up with the ability to win over even the toughest of people. How boring if we all agreed. How empowering when you can change someone’s thoughts. Enjoy the challenge, it makes you stronger.
Choose your feelings
When someone said to me that we can’t control much in life but we can control our emotions, it stuck. I quickly learned in business that showing too much emotion when you are trying to win a debate or sell a concept can be a negative thing. It comes back down to the facts.
There is a time and place for emotions but I’ve learnt that holding back puts you in a more powerful position of influence. A member of my team once said to me that I had a great poker face — that was the moment I felt like I had succeeded in my mission to remove emotions from challenging discussions.
Be open to change but trust your gut
You might have heard the term “ugly baby” in relation to ideas. A concept where you put an idea forward thinking that it isn’t the best, but it’s the ugly baby that can be improved on by someone else’s prettier baby, enabling you to listen to others’ ideas before assuming that yours is the strongest.
This has really helped me detach myself from what I thought were great ideas, and be more open to what others have to say, working together to find the best solution. The ability to be open to adapting an idea or concept is key and no single person can come up with all of the solutions. But keep trusting your gut. Good gut decisions are made because you understand the industry, the market and the customer.
Know your audience
Understanding who you are pitching to is vital.
If, like me, you work with analysts and developers, then it is important that you get to know their lingo and make sure you have a very strong case if the data isn’t statistically significant. Study the art of motivation and figure out what drives everyone you work with. We’re all so different.Tailoring your approach to your audience is a key part of persuasion.
Nail great business cases
I’ve written a lot of business cases in my time and I know that they can only improve, but they’ve come a long way from what they were. Objectives, measures of success, hypotheses, risks and mitigations, cost and estimated ROI can be condensed into a compelling one page document – it’s true.
If it’s easy to read, it’s more likely to get read. Detail can be a distraction. People can get caught up on a minor thing that distracts from the key points. Keeping these documents simple is the best way to persuade someone to take your idea further.
Use data and analysis to win arguments
Choose your feelings wisely and when to show them
Enjoy the challenge of a challenge
Write awesome concise business cases
Trust your gut
And lastly, don’t be afraid to try new approaches. Failure has been a big part of my journey. Just make sure you fail forward.
This article was originally published on Women’s Agenda.
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