We've all heard those words; it's a sentence that swallows your hopes and crushes your confidence.
Getting ideas or projects approved and securing the resources needed to implement them is one of the greatest challenges business leaders face. With multiple stakeholders, constrained budgets, and competing agendas, it's difficult to cut through the clutter and garner the required support.
The Elegant Pitch provides a simple, proven process to go from idea to approval more quickly and effectively than ever before. This is the same method used by elite strategy consulting firms such as McKinsey & Co. and Bain Consulting. But you don't have to be a high-priced consultant to master a process that promises:
Do less work, hold fewer and shorter meetings, and get ideas approved on the first pass? Sign me up!
By using the methods in The Elegant Pitch, you can get to "yes" more quickly and drive the results that set you apart from the crowd.
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About the Author
Mike Figliuolo is the founder and managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC, a professional services firm specializing in leadership development. He is the author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership and is a nationally recognized speaker and blogger. Before founding his own company, he was a consultant at McKinsey & Co., and an executive at Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro.
Read an Excerpt
The Communication Challenge
"We're sorry, but your recommendation wasn't approved."
We've all heard those words. It's a sentence that swallows our hopes and crushes our confidence. Why do we get that negative response from our stakeholders? The following scenario illustrates the reasons behind the rejection.
Imagine after weeks of long hours, complex analyses, countless meetings, and earnest lobbying, you take your idea to the steering committee. It's obvious the idea will generate great value for the organization. You pull together the relevant analyses, compile a comprehensive presentation, and polish your slides until they're brilliant. The resultant presentation amounts to fifty-three pages of rigorous data you're sure will impress the committee members.
On the day of the meeting, your excitement is palpable. You've done everything you need to do to make a solid case. There's no way they'll say no to your idea. As you watch copies of your presentation being handed out, you see people flipping through the pages. You think, This is a good sign! They're interested! On closer inspection, though, you see confused looks on their faces. A hand goes up and the steering committee member says, "I have a question on page 42." You nervously flip to the page in question. As you do, you realize you haven't even introduced yourself yet. The audience grows frustrated as you answer their questions. Some committee members ask for more context and others ask why you're covering information they already know. One audience member is intent upon pointing out every flaw in your recommendation in an effort to sabotage your idea. "I don't see how your project drives productivity at all," he says. You wish you had thought to include something on productivity, but you ran out of time to do more analysis.
The thirty minutes you were allotted stretches into a painful forty-five minutes full of questions, complaints, and heavy sighs. Finally, the steering committee chairwoman puts an end to your misery when she says, "I'm sorry. We can't approve this idea today. You'll have to come back next month." With a slump of your shoulders, you take your seat in the back of the room. Your brilliant presentation became a glorious train wreck that sent your idea up in flames.
Your colleague Jillian is the next presenter. You feel bad for her because she only has fifteen minutes to talk because your presentation chewed up half of her time. On top of that, you've riled up the crowd. Now she's forced to speak in front of an irritated audience. She passes around a short, nine-page presentation. "She's going to get crushed! She has almost no supporting information for her idea," you think to yourself.
She clears her throat and says, "If everyone could please turn to the executive summary, I'd like to highlight a few points. Today I'm recommending we launch a new communications training program. The main takeaway is: if we save one hour per person, per month through improved communication efficiency, we save $350,000 per year in improved productivity." You see the committee members' heads nodding in agreement as they read along with her summary while Jillian stands there in silence. Once they finish reading, they turn their eyes to her again.
Jillian asks, "Does anyone have any questions? I know we have limited time, so I'd like to keep our discussion focused on points of concern."
"I'm good with everything up to this fifth bullet point where you cover the productivity improvement," says the same committee member who badgered you about productivity during your presentation. You're eager to see how Jillian defends herself from his oncoming attack.
"I understand your concern. If it's okay with everyone, please turn to page 6." Jillian advances her slides to her savings analysis.
You shake your head and think, I can't believe this. She's skipping so many pages. Her idea will never get approved this way.
Jillian explains her productivity savings calculations then asks, "Are there any other questions?" Everyone shakes their head in the negative. "Okay, if everyone could please turn to page 9, I'd like to discuss approval, expenditure authorization, and next steps." She walks the committee through her funding request and explains the timeline for rolling out the training. When she finishes, she turns her attention to the steering committee chairwoman.
The chairwoman's response leaves you slack-jawed. "This is an exciting program, Jillian. Personally, I love the productivity improvements we'll get from it." She then asks the audience, "Are we all in agreement with rolling this out?"
Heads nod in the affirmative around the table.
The chairwoman continues, "It looks like we all support your idea. Consider this your approval to launch the program. Please update us once the program enters the rollout phase." Jillian thanks the committee and leaves the room having used fourteen of her fifteen minutes.
She only talked about three pages and got her idea approved! How did she do that? you wonder in silent awe.
The answer is simple: Jillian used a straightforward process for defining her idea, building her argument, and sharing the most relevant information with her audience. She thought about her objectives, her audience's goals, and how to best structure her pitch before she did any analysis, let alone create any slides in a presentation. She focused on the desired outcome — getting her idea approved — instead of how pretty her visuals were or how impressive her analysis was. By keeping the end in mind, she was able to let go of her own agenda and go where the audience needed to go.
An Efficient Method for Communicating Effectively
This is a learnable skill. It's simpler than you might believe. I call it the structured thought process. When done correctly, you'll be able to go from basic idea to approved recommendation more efficiently and effectively than you thought was possible. To learn how to do this, you'll need to abandon usual behaviors and be open to techniques that will be intellectually uncomfortable. At first this process may feel backwards. You may even look at the process and think, That can never work, especially in my organization. These are natural reactions to learning something counter to what you've been taught in the past. Once you get past those hang-ups and drop your bad habits, you'll find this process is intuitive and full of common sense. The reason we have trouble using this method is because we mistakenly believe it's too simple to be effective. The method's beauty is its simplicity and elegance.
The word "elegant" might seem like an odd choice to describe making a business pitch, but I chose it because of a meaningful experience I had early in my career. I was new to the company and was responsible for several business areas. Our executive vice president (EVP) wanted to get a better understanding of all the projects her teams were working on. My presentation would be my first interaction with her in any way. It was an important conversation because she was my boss's boss's boss's boss. This first impression I made upon her could have a large impact — positive or negative — on my team, my performance reviews, and my career.
I spent days honing my presentation using the method I describe in this book. I ensured my story was compelling. Every word and image I used was meaningful. I conducted several rounds of conversations with stakeholders to get their input on my work. When I presented to our EVP, the conversation went smoothly. She was able to follow along and get a clear understanding of my business areas in a short period of time. After I finished presenting, I asked if she had any questions. Her response sticks with me to this day. She said, "It's all clear. That was an elegant presentation. It flowed because it was straightforward and easy to understand. No questions. Good stuff. Thanks." That was all she had to say. I couldn't think of any higher praise for my work. All the time I had spent preparing the presentation paid off because my audience got the message, didn't get distracted by extraneous information, and she was able to understand what was going on in my areas of responsibility. That was the day I decided I wanted to make every pitch I gave live up to the compliment of being elegant. I'd like to provide you the same set of tools I used so you can make your pitches elegant too.
This is the same method used by elite global-strategy consulting firms to make their most challenging recommendations. It's a hypothesis-driven approach designed to arrive at fact-based, data-driven recommendations in short periods of time. The recommendations these organizations make are subject to significant scrutiny. By following the method, people advancing these ideas are able to identify stakeholder objectives, understand their points of resistance or support, craft a compelling narrative, bring the right data to the table, and make a convincing case that's approved the first time it's presented. This method isn't reserved for those consulting firms, nor is it restricted to consulting engagements. You can use it in your day-today work for any recommendation you're making.
The method is flexible. While it's typically used for making recommendations in a slide presentation, this process can be used as effectively for writing emails, business cases, and memos. You can use the method when leaving voicemails, or in direct conversations in person or on the phone. The approach is as relevant for delivering a status update as it is for making a business case. You can improve any situation requiring you to communicate with someone else for the purpose of conveying information and influencing them by using this method.
Make no mistake, the method is simple but applying it is challenging. As you read this book, you might have the reaction of wow, that's easy. Then when you apply the method you'll see how difficult it can be. Why? Because you have to think. A lot. The seventeenth-century French logician and mathematician Blaise Pascal said, "I would have written a shorter letter but I did not have the time." Why does it take longer to write a shorter letter? Because you have to think. Pascal understood the effort required to hone a message to be clear, concise, and compelling. You need to achieve the same outcome with your communications. This method is how you can do it.
What's in It for You
I'm asking you to change long-ingrained behaviors, manage through organizational resistance, and build a difficult new skill with the precious little time you have available. For you to go to all that trouble, there has to be a payoff. The method's benefits are:
Clearer and more compelling recommendations. This method defines your recommendation precisely. It forces you to understand your audience's goals then link your pitch to those goals. When you do so, your recommendation will be easier to understand and your audience should support it.
Shorter and crisper communications. Using this process results in your audience spending less time reading the communication. You'll spend less time answering clarifying questions because there won't be as many questions to answer. A nine-page presentation is easier to read than a ninety-page one. It's less confusing when it's written well. Stripping out extraneous information to create a shorter narrative results in fewer possible points of confusion and therefore fewer questions. This means less back-and-forth discussion in search of clarity.
Greater analytical efficiency. This benefit comes in the form of doing less "junk" analysis and focusing instead on gathering the facts required to make your pitch. The method will tell you what information you need to support your recommendation. Correspondingly, the method will identify extraneous information and unnecessary analysis. You'll avoid wasting time on analysis that will never see the light of day.
Fewer and shorter meetings. You'll spend less time in meetings because there are fewer questions and less rework. Participants will be clearer about what your recommendation is and why you're pursuing it. You'll have the right information with you during the first meeting rather than entering the endless loop of continuous requests for additional information. Getting your pitch right the first time means all the follow-on meetings never have to happen.
More efficient decision-making processes. Your teams can make decisions the first time you meet because the right information is available and it's shared in a straightforward narrative. The method builds buy-in as you're creating your narrative. By the time you get to the final meeting, you'll have answered everyone's big questions and you'll know what information to share to get your final approval.
A higher likelihood of getting your pitch approved. You won't get a yes every time you use this method, but you will get approval more frequently. People will understand what you're asking for and why they should support your idea. You'll bring the right data to the conversation, and you'll be prepared to handle objections as they arise. If you bring the right data and address all stakeholder concerns, approval is a logical outcome.
Do less work, have fewer and shorter meetings, and get pitches approved on the first pass. Sign me up! In all seriousness, this method delivers those benefits if you're rigorous about applying these skills on a consistent basis.
How to Use This Book
Over the course of this book, I'll explain the method and how it works. I'll then break down each step in the process and offer examples of what the output of that step looks like. Along the way I'll share useful tips so you can master this method. I'll also point out pitfalls that can derail your efforts. I encourage you to select pitches you're working on and apply each step of the method to that recommendation as you work your way through the book. Conducting that exercise will translate the concepts herein to real-world application.
Please recognize this process is messy and you won't have the right answer at every step. In fact, when I teach this course to clients, I often tell people to embrace the wrong. During the early steps of the method, your answers will be wrong. That's okay. This method isn't about being right every step of the way. It's about iterating and taking one step closer to the correct answer, recognizing that might mean changing work you did in a previous step. I ask you to not be frustrated by that dynamic but instead to accept it. Each iteration results in you getting closer to your final answer. If you go into this process with a mindset of having a perfect end product each step of the way, you'll become disillusioned, give up, and revert to old habits.
This book isn't about how to use PowerPoint, Prezi, Keynote, or any other presentation software. It's about all the thinking you should do before you open any of those programs. Writing a presentation by starting in presentation software is a trap. Don't worry, I'll cover how all the thinking you do in the method is turned into a presentation — if that's the correct communication vehicle. For now, set aside your questions about how to create a slide presentation.
This method is about conveying the right information, not all the information. Your ability to simplify your message and select the most relevant facts is at the heart of your successful application of this method. Don't be afraid to leave information out of the conversation. If someone has a question, you can always answer it later. The better you get at simplifying your message, the more likely it is to be supported. Pythagoras captured this method's essence best when he said, "Do not say a little in many words, but a great deal in few." If you follow the method and heed his advice, the few words you do share will drive the outcome you desire — getting the idea you're pitching approved!CHAPTER 2
The Structured Thought Process
Before you learn a new way to think, you must understand the current approach for generating recommendations. Once you see how the current process falls short, the new process I'm advocating will make more sense in terms of the rationale for why the steps are sequenced the way they are. Most people I work with on building this skill approach their work in what seems to be a logical way. When they're asked to make a recommendation, they follow this approach:
Step 1: Gather large amounts of data and do excessive amounts of analysis.
Step 2: Look for insights emerging from said analysis.
Step 3: Assemble all the analysis into a comprehensive document to demonstrate how rigorous they've been.
Step 4: Share a thirty- to sixty-page document in a two-hour-long meeting thinking they'll impress their audience with the depths of their insights.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Elegant Pitch"
Copyright © 2016 Mike Figliuolo.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 The Communication Challenge,
2 The Structured Thought Process,
3 Define the Question and Create Hypotheses,
4 Generate a Core Idea,
5 Architecture Benefits and Approaches,
6 Build an Architecture,
7 Layer and Column Architectures,
8 Create a Story,
9 Refine Your Story,
10 Go From Draft Story to Final Version,
11 Identify the Required Facts,
12 Prove and Disprove Hypotheses,
13 Finalize the Communication,
14 Deliver Your Pitch,
About the Author,