WINNING OVER AN AUDIENCE
Pallavi Pinakin offers a host of tips on how to successfully sell your creation
Have you ever had a fantastic idea, only to have it shot down by your coworkers, clients or bosses? Here’s a reality check! Simply coming up with an innovation isn’t enough; you also need to persuade people about its winnability as well.
If human beings were entirely governed by logic, you could sell your idea solely on the grounds of functionality and merit. But your audience brings a complex mix of emotions and biases to the table.
The greatest dampener of innovation is status quo bias, which is our hardwired desire to maintain things as they are and resist change. This is the motivation behind statements like ‘but that’s how we’ve always done things.’
Another challenge is making your listeners care enough to
act. Overcoming these obstacles requires a sophisticated combination of communication skills and persuasion tactics. Here are six suggestions to convince your audience that your idea is worth implementing.
YOUR AUDIENCE Preparation is the key to a successful pitch. Who is your target audience? What are their needs, priorities and aspirations? What are the questions and concerns that are likely to arise in their minds?
Learn as much about your listeners as possible so that you can tailor your presentation and demonstrate how your proposal will benefit them by advancing their goals or solving their problems. This substantiation is what will make your call to action effective. Without it, your listeners simply won’t care enough to move forward.
YOUR STRENGTHS As human beings, we’re hardwired to respond to passion and credibility. Can you really inspire others to adopt your vision if it looks like you barely believe in it yourself? Can you expect them to embrace your brand-new idea if your own credibility is shaky?
To be an agent of change, you must own and share your enthusiasm with the audience. Don’t be afraid to show your excitement – of course, complemented by strong data and solid arguments. If the audience is unfamiliar with your achievements in the relevant area, it’s crucial that you give them a reason to trust you – i.e. your experience and expertise.
SHOW CURIOSITY It is said that while trying to persuade people, you need to tell them things and not ask questions – right? Interestingly, showing curiosity can help you shape the conversation and break down resistance.
When you tell people that they have a problem and you can fix it, the instant reaction is defensiveness. But if you ask insightful questions, allow them to articulate their issue on their own and listen attentively, you stand a much better chance of winning them over.
Further, being a good listener gives you firsthand information; it puts you in a much stronger position to convince them.
LOST OPPORTUNITY When trying to spark a positive response from your audience, you might naturally find yourself focussing entirely on the benefits of your idea. However, this isn’t always the most effective approach. On the other hand, positioning your idea as a lost opportunity could yield better results.
Science has demonstrated that we feel pain more acutely than pleasure – sometimes twice as much. In other words, the fear of missing out can be a stronger motivator than the attraction of gain. So try reframing parts of your pitch in terms of what your audience could stand to lose.
CRITICAL MASS If you’re trying to persuade a group of people, leverage the concept of social proof to facilitate approval. The behaviour of peers plays a vital role in an individual’s decision making with studies showing that lingering resisters often change their minds because they’re afraid of being left behind. This insight can be useful when you’re trying to gather support for your idea in an organisation.
Start by approaching a few people who are most likely to view the change in a favourable light. With a few easy wins under your belt, you could then approach those who are on the fence and say that three or four committee members (or directors) are excited about this. Only once you feel confident about having enough support should you approach the most resistant members. Be patient and work step by step – you can’t win over a critical mass overnight.
DON’T HUSTLE In your eagerness to get your idea off the ground, you may be tempted to hustle your listeners by backing them into a corner or making exaggerated claims. While this may produce a ‘yes’ at the time, it can seriously damage your long-term reputation.
Instead of pressurising your audience, remove the burden of expectation by giving them a chance to retreat. Stick to the truth while making your pitch and show that you care by genuinely addressing their concerns. This creates trust and connection, both of which are allies of persuasion. Avoid appearing like a slick hustler.