September 4, 2015
Whether you’re making a proposal to the powers that be at your organization or trying to rally your team around a business imperative, it’s all too easy for your idea to land with a thud. Your important audiences will tune you out in a hurry if you’re relying on bullet-riddled slides that drag them into the weeds of technical jargon or complicated graphs and charts.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Recently I had the opportunity to work with a dozen senior leaders at a global company. These leaders had been tabbed for succession planning. Among hundreds of leaders, this group was at the top of the list to rise in the ranks when their time came.
We went in to work with these leaders on their executive communications and presentation style. In particular, we helped them learn how to craft a succinct business case. We gave them just three minutes to capture a problem or opportunity, prove that it was worth tackling now, offer a big idea for addressing it, and then provide perspective on the cost or risk of the plan. This exercise forces leaders to get out of the weeds in a hurry and get to the headlines.
One fellow in the group—let’s call him Mark—had come up with a proposal about how collaboration among business units in the company could eliminate redundant efforts, create tremendous economies of scale, and produce cost savings worth hundreds of millions for three different business units.
Mark saw the three-minute business case template as a way to build this quick case for his cost-savings initiative. While this plan seemed like an obvious win, it required numerous players across different functions of the organization to get on board and take the time to do the kind of planning that wasn’t in the normal stream of getting the project done. He also needed to be able to influence without authority, meaning that he had to find an inspiring way to get everyone’s attention. So now what?
One of the things we suggest with our three-minute template is naming your plan. When you have an idea that is abstract or deals with dry information, a compelling, memorable name can be a great way to create buzz around your plan. The idea, when named, often just takes on a power of its own. In this case, Mark called his project the “Pot of Gold.” The idea was that having these business units collaborate would liberate each one of them to be more efficient, flexible, and cost-effective and seize the “golden” savings that were there for the taking.
As I was working with Mark, it just so happened that in the adjacent conference room on the very same floor was the very group of people with whom Mark needed to run his idea by the heads of the groups that he needed to influence. During one of our breaks, Mark walked into the adjacent room just to see how things were going.
Seizing the opportunity, Mark asked the head of production if he would be willing to listen to a three-minute idea that would save the company a few hundred million dollars. Mark made his pitch and returned to our coaching session several minutes later. A few hours later, during a break in our program, he returned to the other room to see what had become of his idea. To his surprise, he’d found not only was the idea well received, but they hadn’t stopped discussing the ”Pot of Gold” proposal since he had left. Even better, they were in the midst of discussing how to expand the scope and implement this initiative immediately.
When you can say, “I’ve got a way that we can save $300 million dollars or more, do you have three minutes to hear about it?” how can anyone refuse?
When you go to pitch your next big idea, keep these tips in mind to help you ensure success:
1. Lead with the Big Idea – capture their interest.
Be sure to focus on problems and solutions that matter to your audience—not just to you.
2. Keep it simple.
Think like a newspaper editor. Don’t bury the most important information—talk about the problem right away, not the history of the topic. Avoid jargon: Describe your idea in terms that a teenager can understand. Even if you’re given 15 or 20 minutes for a presentation, provide a high-level three-minute overview and then use the rest of the time for Q&A.
3. Name your idea to give it legs.
The more it stands out in people’s minds the better. When you’re dealing with abstract ideas, giving your big plan a name will breathe life into it and make it easy for people to remember it, talk about, and act on it.