MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you get buy in for a new idea? is written by Laura Cox Kaplan, regulatory affairs and public policy leader at PwC.
It can be daunting to pitch an idea to an audience of stakeholders, especially if your idea challenges long held practices and customs, or when those stakeholders are older and more experienced. While telling your most compelling story is the key, here are a few things I try to keep in mind for developing and delivering a compelling pitch:
Do your homework
Know your idea backwards and forwards. The surest road to rejection is by not thinking through every possible angle (good and bad) of your idea. If you are thrown off guard by basic questions from your audience, you may do more than just hurt the chances of your idea being implemented — you could potentially damage your credibility.
Test your idea
After researching and developing your idea, go a step further and test your idea with colleagues or mentors who can help fine tune your message. This “test audience” could also serve as potential internal allies, especially if you need buy in from a number of individuals before you are able to move an idea forward. At a minimum, your “test audience” will help you distill the most critical story elements and provide much-needed insights.
Don’t forget to engage those who are more likely to criticize your idea. Those individuals often provide the most valuable feedback. But remember, don’t take criticism as anything other than an opportunity to refine and keep going. Keeping it in perspective will help keep your confidence strong and increase your chances for success.
Understand your audience
Do as much preparation as possible to understand your audience. What might their interests or potential perspectives be? Ask your “test audience” for help. Putting yourself in your audiences’ shoes will help you deliver a message that’s more likely to resonate because it addresses a particular need or interest.
As an executive partner responsible for public policy and engagement particularly with government officials and various stakeholders, this approach is essential. Understanding what is important to a member of Congress or government official before I talk through a policy idea or proposal is often one of the most critical components of getting support. For example, thinking through how my idea would help a Congresswoman’s constituency, or how PwC’s approach might provide a Committee Chair with an alternative for getting broader support for a piece of legislation, strengthens my argument and makes it more impactful.
The same is true for my conversations with our clients. Let’s face it, not everyone cares about the accounting standard setting process or whether internal controls over financial reporting are more effective. For those individuals, I need to present my ideas in a way that will not only resonate, but will appeal to them on a more personal level.
Read nonverbal clues
Don’t forget to watch for important nonverbal clues and body language when you present your idea. Those indicators can give you a sense of how your audience is receiving the pitch, allowing you some in-the-moment feedback that can help you refine your pitch right on the spot. Studies have shown that women are more adept than men at reading nonverbal clues. Use those abilities to your advantage, or work to develop them if yours are not as strong.
Be confident and be yourself
Finally, present your ideas with confidence and enthusiasm. When you feel comfortable and confident it shows in your presentation and will contribute to your credibility. Alternatively, if you don’t believe in yourself and you let that doubt show, it is much more difficult to convince an audience to believe in your idea, no matter how terrific it is. Stand firmly behind your idea. Take both praise and constructive feedback with an open mind.
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