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Selling Your Ideas to Senior Management - 1/22/2013 -

To position your publishing team for success, learn what it takes to sell your ideas to senior management.

By Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE

Perhaps youíre already speaking up in team meetings and getting your ideas across effectively. If so, how do you feel about facing a room full of senior management, or at least five around a board room table, all staring at you? What is different? Well, for one thing the stakes are higher. All business communications are important, but, with senior management as your audience, you are in the hot seat. They are going to accept or reject the recommendations that you, your department, or your team have worked so hard on. Weeks, months, maybe even years of work depend on your few minutes. Who wouldnít be nervous?

Donít worry. This is a perfectly natural way to feel. Remember, they canít see how you feel, only how you look and act. You want them to focus on and consider your proposals, not your anxiety. Youíll look cool and collected when you follow these tips for selling ideas to senior management.

The Dos

  • Practice. A report to senior managers is not a conversation; however, it must sound conversational. Once you have your notes, practice by speaking out loud to an associate, or when you are driving to work, or on the treadmill. Make sure you are familiar with what you intend to say. It is not about being perfect. It is about being personable. (Remember, rehearsal is the work; performance is the relaxation.)
  • Open with your conclusions. Donít make your senior level audience wait to find out why you are there.
  • Describe the benefits if your recommendation is adopted. Make these benefits seem vivid and obtainable.
  • Describe the costs, but frame them in a positive manner. If possible, show how not following your recommendation will cost even more.
  • List your specific recommendations, and keep it on target. Wandering generalities will lose their interest. You must focus on the bottom line. Report on the deals, not the details.
  • Look everyone in the eye when you talk. You will be more persuasive and believable. (You canít do this if you are reading!)
  • Be brief. The fewer words you can use to get your message across, the better. Jerry Seinfeld says, "I spend an hour taking an eight-word sentence and making it five.Ē Thatís because he knows it would be funnier. In your case, shorter is more memorable and repeatable.

The Doníts

  • Donít try to memorize the whole presentation. Memorize your opening, key points, and conclusion. Practice enough so you can "forget it.Ē This helps retain your spontaneity.
  • Never, never read your linesónot from a script and not from PowerPoint® slides. Your audience will go to sleep.
  • Donít wave or hop. Donít let nervousness (or enthusiasm) make you too animatedóbut donít freeze. Donít distract from your own message with unnecessary movement.

Where to Start

As you sit down to prepare your presentation, ask yourself a few clarifying questions:

  1. What is the topic or subject I am reporting on? Be clear with yourself so you can be clear with your audience.
  2. Why is this topic important enough to be on the busy agenda of senior level managers?
  3. What questions will my audience be asking?

When addressing senior-level management or board members, it is important to answer whatever questions you anticipate they may have early in your presentation. What is your central theme, objective, or the big idea of your report? How can you introduce it in one sentence? Hereís an example of presenting your conclusion first.

Suppose that youíve been in charge of a high-level, cross-functional team to study whether there is a need for diversity training in your association. You might start by saying, "Our committee has spent three months studying diversity training programs and whether one could benefit our organization. Our conclusion is that diversity training would be an exceptionally good investment. Long term we would save money from recruiting, increase employee retention, and improve company morale. The positive PR could well add to our market share with our minority customers.Ē

The next step is to present your recommendations. Continuing with our example: "We recommend that the association initiate a pilot program, starting next quarter, using the ABC Training Company at an investment of $Ö. The ABC Company has successfully implemented this program with several of our member companies, as well as many Fortune 100 companies. All 27 members of the cross-functional team agreed with this conclusion. Our team was made up of a real cross-section of our membershipótwo vice presidents, a facilities manager, 18 associates, some with PhDs, and six entry-level personnel. The group includes both long-term employees and some new hires. And all 27 members of the team are willing to be part of the evaluation committee to study the results before a decision is made about a complete rollout to our organization.Ē

Then describe whatís in it for them; be sure to address the needs of senior management as well as the association. Answer the questions they will be asking, and show them how your recommendation can make them look good. For example, senior management is usually charged with increasing membership and sales and reducing costs. So your presentation would need to answer:

  • Why is this program a good idea, just when we are cutting unnecessary spending?
  • How does this investment compare to other investments we have already made in this area?

And finally, your conclusion: "On behalf of the 27-member committee, thank you for this opportunity. The friendships we have formed and our increased organizational knowledge is invaluable to us all. The entire team is committed to this project. We are asking for your okay to start the pilot program.Ē

Youíll make a strong impression and increase your chances of acceptance when you can be short, clear, and concise in presenting ideas to senior management at your association.

Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE is a keynote speaker, executive speech coach, and sales presentation skills expert. Look for more on selling change ideas to senior management in the January/February 2013 issue of Signature magazine.


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