You finally get the ear of your leader. Now you can present your big idea. And ... they keep cutting you off. A criticism here, a sidebar there. How are you supposed to make an impact in the business if you can't get a word in?

In the new book DataStory: Explain Data and Inspire Action Through Story, Silicon Valley veteran Nancy Duarte shares how to create a narrative with information - and how to get someone to listen.

If you get an audience with executives, you better believe they will interrupt you. It's not because they are rude - well, some are - but because they are busy.

Respect their vision

When you first propose your idea to a leader, they see most of it. They interrupt you to understand clearly the bits they don't see so that they can make a decision.

Here's something I always share with founders: No one will care about your company more than you do. Like having a child, your support network may respect and even love your business, but they will never have the same commitment, passion or vision that you do.

Your leader likely has a set vision on where the business is and where it needs to go. As you're talking, she is already seeing where your approach fits into the greater strategy. Duarte says it likely isn't to be rude, but a real-time attempt to understand how your idea could work. Be patient. Fill in those blanks.

Get feedback early

Find someone who communicates to the executive team all the time and show them your ideas so they can help anticipate questions you may not have thought of.

If you are fortunate enough to have a positive relationship with someone who has broken through to the decision maker, then consider having a casual conversation about how they communicate. You may be able to see the person in action and see the methods they use to connect with the leader.

It also pays to build a brain trust both inside and outside of the organization. The key is to connect with wise people whom you trust, who understand your intentions and whom you know will help you reach your goals. In the organization, it may be people who know the politics, but don't have a vested interest the change you're trying to make. Outside the organization, it could be people of a similar caliber who can give strong, objective insight on your situation.

Embrace contradictory information

Ask others to share any opposing ideas that come to mind when they hear your idea so you can mentally prepare for it... The only time it is wrong to use data to confirm what you believe is when you exclude other appropriate data that should have been examined.

Duarte recommends you playing the skeptic: Where are the holes in your argument? Your idea doesn't have to be bulletproof, but you do need to recognize the weak spots and understand how they can be potentially overcome.

The data-driven Alphabet company X (formerly Google X) actually tries to shoot down their best ideas. Why? Their business is based on moonshots (sometimes literally!). If you are going for big ideas, then you need to put them through a rigorous testing.

This healthy skepticism of your own brilliance provides not only a stronger argument for the ideas you do present, but may also reveal an even better strategy.

Published on: Oct 11, 2019
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