I will never forget my 9th grade year. It was the 1980’s. I lived in a small town in Oklahoma where football and wrestling reigned and cowboys with larger than life belt buckles and tobacco-packed lips walked the halls of the school.
The thing about Oklahoma is that literally everyone in Oklahoma has a favorite football team. And it is either the University of Oklahoma (OU) or Oklahoma State University (OSU). Well, my team was OSU. Why? No better reason than because my father went to OSU.
One fall day, as winter was just around the corner, my father asked me to mow the yard one last time. You know, to tidy up. Like most 9th graders, I’m sure I did not say a word to him but reluctantly went directly to our garage to fire up our red Briggs and Stratton mower. I remember thinking. How do the college and professional teams get those fancy end zones?
I made up my mind right then and there to create the best end zone you could imagine. After mowing most of the yard I started creating my masterpiece. I had to stop the motor and restart it to ensure the center of the “O” looked good. I did the same for the “S” and finally the “U.”
I turned off the motor and took a few steps back. I wiped the sweat off my face and admired my landscaping handiwork. Oklahoma State was my team! As soon as my siblings came home from school I showed them. I was so proud and they truly seemed excited. When my father came home I showed him too. His reaction was very different than my younger siblings. He looked at me and his eyes said “really, son.” You just mowed a gigantic “OSU” into our yard? His reaction was more along the lines of “WTF” instead of gratitude that I spent 2 hours perfecting my favorite letters.
At some point he mentally decided to cave in and just go with it. He approved my design. The “OSU” stayed in the ground for the next 5 months. I saw it when I went to play with my puppy. I saw it when I went to play in the fort. I used it during the winter months of backyard football season. I would score a touchdown and scream “OSU! OSU! OSU!” I loved OSU and this was my way of conveying this strong conviction to the world!
Have you ever been so proud of something you just couldn’t hold in your emotions? Have you ever been so frustrated that you have the perfect idea but nobody seems to “get” what you are trying to tell them? I have. Let me share with you 5 ways that are helpful to me when I need to get serious and sell an idea to the VIP audiences that I encounter in my life.
Here are 5 ways to get through to your VIP audience:
1) Write down the exact point that you want people to come away with.
Do this way before you walk into a meeting room where you are scheduled to present your thoughts. Forget about winging it. You need to know exactly WHAT you want to say along with exactly HOW to say it. The WHAT and HOW should support your main point.
2) Do the research.
Look for articles, books, or reports from reputable sources that support your idea before you present. It gives you clarity and a breadth of background knowledge that you can draw from if asked. What you shouldn’t do is share the laundry list of things you researched. When the time is right, lead with your idea and not the history of how you got there.
Some good introductions I’ve used include “I looked at this and have come to the conclusion that . . .” or “my research showed that . . . ” Why should you do this? You need to show that you’ve done your homework. Nothing sits worse with an executive than half-baked ideas coupled with run-on sentences. Your audience is extremely smart and experienced. Show them you mean business.
3) Get buy-in.
Don’t go at this alone. Test out your idea on a few people and then a larger group before presenting your idea to the VIP-level audience. Many business ideas fail horribly because they don’t fail early enough. A product that launches with a lot of hype and great marketing but fails to meet a real marketplace need will dive-bomb directly to the bottom of the idea factory floor. This is an expensive mistake.
I strongly encourage you to solicit feedback on your idea from trusted coworkers that will provide real, critical feedback. You need to know the potential questions you could be asked. You need to know if other people think your idea is a good idea. If you need to do some re-work to make your idea better, do the re-work.
4) Create a visual aid.
My visual aid for driving home the point that I supported OSU was very clear. For visual aids you can draw a picture using online tools such as gliffy or lucidchart. These tools can provide the exclamation point you are looking for in order to get your point across.
Experts say that people remember 60% of things they see, 30% of things they read, and 15% of things they hear. Do you think any of my friends misunderstood my collegiate football allegiance to OSU? No. Why? I had created a picture for them to see.
Just like when I have a point to convey to executives today as a project manager, I draw a simple picture. A busy picture or diagram will backfire on you so keep your supporting art extremely simple and easy to understand.
Just like a professional speaker or an actor. Those folks are so eloquent and seem to fire off amazing points with ease. How? They practice, that’s how. Rehearsing your presentation builds self confidence in your idea and people pick up on this.
Once you have your content memorized backwards and forwards, work on a few simple tricks to add emphasis to your presentation. If you need to raise your voice to emphasize certain words you want the audience to lock onto, do it! This is your chance to show some emotion around your content. You can also emphasize your points by making big motions with your hands or other physical motions at the right time.
This is what people remember. If your audience hears you, sees you, and takes in your visual aid then your chances of getting through to them is very strong.
Preparation pays dividends. Once you have vetted your idea and feel it to be solid. Get behind it. Believe in it and others will too! I hope you enjoyed these 5 ways that I use to win over my VIP audiences but I’m not so tunnel-visioned to think that my way is the only way. I would love to hear from you!
What are some tactics you have used to help win over your VIP audiences? What worked well? What didn’t?