Workplace Wisdom

Why You Need to Be Able to Make Your Case to a Variety of Audiences

Very few decision-makers operate completely independently — even CEOs usually have to answer to a board. So unless you’re a sole owner, or a sole employee, you need to appeal to many different audiences to get support for your initiatives, as well as people’s participation or compliance.

In fact, even if you — and perhaps your team — know exactly what you want to accomplish and why, you won’t get far without organizational buy-in. If you don’t deal with them effectively, small differences of opinion or variances in style can turn into big, entrenched barriers.

So give up the idea that just having a great idea and the perfect plan will get you support, budget, resources, or cooperation. You’ll still need to draw in the various groups that have to be persuaded.

Consider Your Alternatives in Advance

Company leaders won’t respond to your case just because they care about you or your ideas, so don’t count on that. They’ll only agree with you if what you want matches something they already believe, so it’s crucial to evaluate whether your initiative corresponds to their views, self-interest, or understanding of the data.

So refocus and reframe. Are there alternatives that could accomplish what’s best for you and your team or constituents while simultaneously corresponding to what your colleagues and more senior leaders want? And is there data that backs you up?

Prepare Your Case for Each Audience

Ascertain what the key players already know and anticipate how they’re likely to react when they hear your views or proposal. Don’t think of these decision-makers as blank slates, because they’re not. They have a mode and history of reacting that you can learn from. Are there any consistent concerns of theirs that you can address clearly enough to help them take in and attend to the other issues you raise?

Ask about their general needs and how they intersect with the issue you’re working on. Can you make sure your proposals have already accounted for their various turnoffs and hot buttons? At the least, know what those are, and be prepared to address them. And be conscious about keeping your peers and other colleagues in support, so that leaders or other constituents don’t get thrown off course by competing storylines.

Present Your Case So Your Audience Can Take It In

It’s not easy to adjust to your boss, your boss’s boss, and your annoying new colleague, but if you want your proposal to get the attention it deserves, that’s what you need to do. So tailor your method and style of presentation to your audience’s preferences, not yours, even if your preferences are more logical, thorough, or professional.

Determine what data they’ll find most compelling: quantitative, anecdotal, or historical. Do they do better with presentations of facts or with stories? Would they prefer to read your conclusions in narrative form and email questions to you, have a face-to-face discussion, or see a formal PowerPoint presentation? Prepare accordingly.

Be open to understanding everyone else’s needs in case your choice of approach misjudged which subjects were important to them or how they understand best. And be ready and willing to modify your approach on the fly or return with a revision or more data.

Request explicitly that the decision-makers act as a devil’s advocate. Then there’s no need to feel frustrated if anyone picks at your methodology or conclusion. And if that happens, take the opportunity to show that you’re taking their views seriously, and learn exactly where they stand on the issue and related concerns.

Most importantly, make sure you’re confident in your data, and that your sources are consistently reliable; if your audience finds you untrustworthy for any reason, you’ll have damaged not only this proposal, but others in the future.

And plan three talking points to deliver as the presentation’s takeaway. As a bonus, you never know when you’ll have an impromptu opportunity to review those points again — you might get a chance in the elevator, the coffee line, or even the restroom!

Onward and upward,

LK

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