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Selling an idea: Ensure your message strikes an emotional chord

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Lady with sticky note showing lighbulbI’d hazard a guess that everyone reading this article has, at some point, tried to sell an idea within an organisation.   Perhaps you’ve tried to get a project off the ground, or maybe you’ve tried to convince your peers to stop working on a project that was about to go off the rails.   In all organisations we’re likely to need the buy-in and co-operation of others to get things done, so influencing—which we might consider a type of ‘selling’—becomes so important.


Before we try and sell an idea, we’ll often need to go and check whether the evidence and data seem to support our hypothesis – if it doesn’t, perhaps we need to go back to the drawing board.  If it does, we can use it to help strengthen our cause.  If you have an analytical mind-set, you might find that you spend a lot of time considering the observable facts and data.  And after collecting and collating our data, we will package it up to present it back to our stakeholders.


Yet how much time do we spend considering how we’ll present our ideas and data and how we’ll connect with the emotions of our stakeholders?  Or, put differently, how many presentations have you attended where the author has bombarded you with slide after slide of dry, dry figures – and you feel your eyes getting heavier and heavier as you reach for your seventeenth strong black coffee just to get through the session…


Decisions are often based on more emotion that we’d like to admit

When putting forward an argument, having a firm handle on the data, evidence and facts will undoubtedly be necessary.   Yet presenting them in a crisp, coherent and concise way and engaging the emotional brain of the audience is even more crucial.  A good idea presented badly will sink very, very quickly.   Whether you work for a large multinational or a small or midsize enterprise, the challenge remains.  Our challenge as business analysts is to ensure we package our ideas and recommendations up in a way that make people get up and take notice.  We need to use our facts and data to tell a story – we need to engage the emotional as well as logical brain of our stakeholders.  Whilst people might say that they make decision entirely on logical facts, emotion plays a huge part.


Let’s take buying a car as an example.   If we acted logically, we would buy a car entirely based on the data – we’d examine the fuel economy, the dimensions of the car.  We’d considered the running costs, the total cost of ownership.   When deciding the colour, we’d looked at the statistics to find which colours of car are less likely to be stolen.     Now, I’m not sure about you, but I can certainly say I didn’t choose my car this way.  Yes, all of the factors above came into the decision making process, but there were also certain models of car that I just “like”.  No wonder the car industry spends millions of dollars advertising and telling us the story about what driving their car is like…


Making our arguments more compelling

So what can we do to make our arguments more compelling?  We can make our message:


  • Specific & personalised:  We should consider who we are trying to convince, and tailor the message for them, picking out the key specific parts that will resonate with them.  This might mean highlighting particular parts of the data, and certainly won’t involve bombarding our victim with tons of data unnecessarily.


  • Visual: Use graphics and data visualisations to communicate the key points. If people want to see the source data, they will ask (and we can always include it in an appendix).


  • Visceral:  Draw on the emotions.   Understand the audience’s needs and desires and convey how our idea helps to meet their needs.  Don’t be afraid to use a mixture of emotional as well as logical language.


  • Concise:  Boil the argument and the data down to the key elements.  Can we summarise and boil the core ‘pitch’ down to a single slide? If not, perhaps it needs more work.



In summary: Whilst data and facts are important, acknowledging that decisions are made on a mixture of emotion and logic is crucial.  Knowing this can help us package up and communicate our ideas in a compelling way.



How do you make sure your proposals and ideas ‘stick’?  I’d love to hear your views and insight, so please keep the conversation going add a comment below. And if you like my blog, don’t forget to subscribe!



This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions

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