You may be thinking, “I don’t care about getting into top leadership’s hearts; I simply want them to listen to my ideas!” Thing is, there has to be emotional contact before people actually truly listen to anyone. (See funny video clip at the end.*)
Communication is less about what you say and more about what your audience understands. This is a truth you can use to your professional advantage.
Unless you’ve been reading a Don Draper’s mail, you may be the absolute master of the material, the solution-generator personified, but not successful in getting your innovative and creative ideas across to top leadership. Fear not. You’re about to learn what it takes to get conversations going where your amazing ideas and solutions can be heard by the right people at the right time.
Your Strategic Conversations Game Plan
Before you start your strategic conversations with anyone, there is a bit of pre-work you need to do to ensure success in your project. Like house painting, the pre-work takes more time than the job itself. That’s why so few people actually do it.
Basic Assumption #1: You’re stinkin’ smart and your work is stellar. It’s just that the right people aren’t listening to your amazing ideas and solutions.
Basic Assumption #2: Getting your message across requires that people have multiple exposures to it. It’s never going to be one single conversation: it’s your personal communication campaign or game plan, involving multiple conversations, presentations and e-mails.
A client, Lucy, told me about a meeting where a top manager brought up a technical problem to which no one offered an answer. Then Lucy, the lowest-ranking person in the group, brought up a stellar solution. The reaction was not what she expected. She was greeted with complete silence. [Awkward moment.] Then the meeting resumed as if she had said nothing. This was before we worked together and instead of following up individually with people in the meeting, Lucy got discouraged and never brought it up again. Don’t let this happen to you!
1. Target the key decision makers and influencers. Make a list. Be clear about who influences whom. You want to reach these people individually and collectively.
2. Identify the pain points your team is experiencing and any frustrations you relate to the people you listed in #1. In other words, you want to have crystal clear what are the priorities of each of the decision makers and influencers you have on your list.
Keep in mind that these company “high flyers” are at least mildly terrified of making a mistake. They may be petrified with fear as they have more to lose. The next step is your secret weapon to cut through this.
(I have heard of a high-flyer who uses the word “boomski.” No kidding.)
3. Be insanely curious and listen carefully to the word choices of the decision makers and influencers on your list. Use those words and expressions when you talk to these folks. That helps them be less frightened.
4. Be able to articulate succinctly the problem that your solution addresses. Be prepared at any time to spell out your Problem-Solution as a conversation or presentation starter.
5. Have in mind a “next step.” In your conversations, you can bring up the “next step” or ask the audience for a suggested “next step.” Getting the green light for your next step is your end game.
6. If there is a meeting where your conversation is relevant, ask to get on the agenda. If it’s with one of those people who never prepares agendas, ask him personally if you can attend and share something important.
7. Follow up the meeting(s) with *short* emails, sharing the problem/solution and moving to the “next step.”
8. Ask key people for 5 to 10 minutes of their time in their offices is another part of your conversation strategy. Impress them with your audacity.
9. Rinse and repeat.
This conversations strategy works but keep it to yourself. You’re about to score big time and up you go.
The key elements are to articulate your core message in a problem/solution format, identify and research your target audience and deliver your message across multiple channels to maximum exposure. If you can make your conversation entertaining as well as informative, so much the better.
Don Draper would be impressed.
*As the Saturday Night Live skit about Taylor Swift, or Swiftamine, shows, the emotional contact doesn’t have to be love-dovey; it’s a matter of cutting through apathy. (Click HERE to see “Swiftamine.”)