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Is there a formula for convincing?

They don’t teach you the formula for convincing people of things in school.

In school, I had to take a public speaking course, and I’ll be 100% honest… it was awesome! I had a fantastic professor, and a great, great, great group of classmates with whom I worked. The glass taught me a lot about communicating, but nothing about convincing.

It’s amazing how difficult it is to convince someone that you’ve thought something through to the point that you’ve actually solved it. There are a few major hurdles you’re always forced to overcome:

  • The idea that you have any idea what you’re talking about
  • The idea that what you’re solving is actually relevant in any way
  • The idea that your solution, recommendation or general direction is valid

The situation is exasperated by a need to educate at the same time that you’re convincing. I think the best at this must be folks with kids aged 4-7 years old because your life is constantly getting that kid to do what you want for the reasons that you want them to.

That said, I’m starting to see a pattern emerge.

  1. Start with the background
    There’s always a need to establish the problem being solved. The problem may be one specific thing, or it may be a collection of things that have come together. Present the most general problem as your background information. Talk about motives; talk about concerns; talk about what customers are saying; talk about what customers aren’t saying.
  2. Build out a set of credible solutions
    For some reason, folks generally don’t like that you give them an answer. Instead, they want to work through the problem with you. So give people a family of solutions. Talk about the pros and the cons of each. Discuss the monetization strategy behind each. Identify the tactical hurdles, marketing hurdles and other challenges. Be honest about the fact that you did your homework, and that you did it well
  3. Provide a thesis
    Given that you’ve got a family of solutions, provide a strong thesis around which to build a framework. The thesis should act as a slogan for your solution. It should be something that’s easy for everyone to understand, and should also become how others sell your idea to the company at large. A very strong thesis built on the data points provided in the previous step goes a long way towards establishing buy-in into the solution you’ve chosen.
  4. Stop and listen
    At this point you’ve dumped a lot of information on people who have been, at best, tangentially thinking about the problem that you’re solving. The best thing you can do now is to stop, and get feedback. People’s gut reactions are probably their best insights into your solution. Do they buy into the thesis? Do they buy into the homework that you’ve done? Do they buy into the problem that you’re solving? You should know the answer to all of these things after this point. To know the answers, you have to stop and listen.

After that… I don’t know yet. It’s some part execution, some part investigation, some part re-doing the whole thing.

I’ll figure it out as it comes to me I guess 🙂

Published in Becoming a PM Building a business

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