Fuel INjected In-house: Just A Spoonful Of Sugar…

When Selling Ideas, Sticky Situations Sometimes Call for Some Sugarcoating

by Sam Harrison

After a “Selling Ideas” workshop I presented to an in-house team, the creative director pulled me aside.

“We’re about to pitch a great trade-show concept to our marketing VP,” she said. “But to truly demonstrate the idea’s value, I need to first talk about some clandestine research we did that reveals how much customers hate the firm’s existing exhibits. How do I do this without giving our presentation a negative tone?”

Sometimes it’s OK to hit decision makers right between the eyes with the cold, hard truth. But a situation like the one faced by this creative director calls for a bit of finesse, a thin layer of sugarcoating. I suggested she consider starting off this way:

“Michael, we’re really excited about an idea and solution we’ll be presenting to you. But before jumping in, I have to share with you the only piece of bad news you’ll hear from us today…”

This statement, of course, doesn’t change bad news to good news. But it will help the marketing officer to mentally brace himself. And it shows that the creative director understands the guy’s feelings and responsibilities.

Equally important, the sugarcoating lets the marketing VP know the presentation will soon shift to a positive direction and solutions will be forthcoming.

Sugarcoating can save the day in other touchy situations. For example, if you need to critique an existing idea that’s a favorite of your manager, your opening might be:

“Stephanie, I’ve wrestled for days with how to say what I’m about to say, because I realize how important this is to you…”

Again, such a line doesn’t magically alter your manager’s views. But it buffers your delivery, shows you care and paves the way for an honest discussion.

Or let’s say you want to start your pitch with a story related to your concept. But you’re presenting to busy executives and don’t want them to thinking you’ll waste their day with a string of fairy tales. Your lead-in might be:

“Let me ask you to allow me two minutes for a quick story that vividly illustrates why I’m here today…”

Your statement shows you’re respectful of their time. And you’re telling them not to worry, that the presentation won’t become a disorganized salmagundi of rambling stories.

Sam Harrison provides talks and workshops on selling ideas and presentation skills, as well as on other creativity-related topics. He’s the author of “IdeaSelling: Successfully pitch your great ideas to bosses, clients and other decision makers,” “IdeaSpotting: How to find your next great idea” and “Zing! Five steps and 101 tips for creativity on command.” Find Sam at www.zingzone.com

And don’t miss Sam’s inHOWse DesignCast on “Selling Ideas to Bosses and Clients” on November 29!