Pitch DNA Insider 104: The Power of Opposition

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I started Pitch DNA because speaking, persuading, rehearsing, and presenting is hard work, even when the conditions are perfect (newsflash: conditions are never perfect and they never will be. Get used to it!).

Plus, at the end of most pitches (sometimes even in the middle), you have to deal with hard questions that can shake your confidence, thwart your intentions, and sometimes ruin the whole meeting. But in order to effectively deal with pushback (which is to be expected when you’re sharing new ideas), you’ve got to beat your audience to the punch. 

Skepticism is good

In fact, when people express doubt or disbelief in your ideas, that’s usually a good sign. It means they are engaging with you and pushing you to prove your point(s). Remember, if they weren’t interested, they wouldn’t bother. 

Inertia is powerful

Why is it hard to convince an audience? Consider the physics. The audience is already in a state of inaction around your idea; they are not believers (at least not yet). It’s natural to doubt someone who is presenting a new product, concept or initiative—and to even be defensive about it. Why? Because we are naturally in a state of protecting our valuable resources and, in order to find good ideas, we have to get better at identifying the bad ones.

Of course, new ideas can also be thrilling, but it’s hard to part with what you already have for what you could have.  

Focus on both the positives and the negatives

If you focus your energy exclusively on the positive aspects of your idea, you’re only halfway there. You’ll lose credibility. Why? When you neglect to consider opposing points of view, you make the audience even more skeptical because it appears you haven’t worked through The Cons. 

Pitches are about balance. So, help the audience balance your argument. Yes, you want to advocate for your idea, but you also want to present yourself as a rational, realistic thinker. There is no Pro without a Con. It’s the yin and yang of business.

Think about it this way:

EXAMPLE A: ALL PRO, NO CON

If I said, “I’d like to share an idea that I believe will help our organization...

  • I will share what it is, how it works, and what our team believes are the three most important benefits.
  • Then, I’ll talk in detail about the benefits.
  • Finally, I’ll show you why we believe we should act on this idea, along with recommendations to make it happen."

Intuitively, this approach feels weak because it only highlights the upside.

So, instead, what if I said: 

EXAMPLE B: PRO + CON + SOLUTION

“I’d like to share an idea I believe will help our organization...

  • I will share what is is, how it works, and what our team believes are its three most important benefits.
  • Then, I will talk about what concerns us most about this idea, and how I believe we can mitigate those concerns.
  • Finally, I’ll show you why we believe we should act on this idea, along with recommendations to make it happen.”

The willingness to address both The Pros and Cons is transparency at its best. So, in order to build your case, work on fleshing out the opposing point of view. 

Here are 3 ways to make opposites work to your advantage.

STEP 1: WHY WILL THIS FAIL?

Action A: Make a list of everything that needs to go right for your initiative to work.

Action B: Then consider all the ways things might go wrong and build a plan to address the issues.

Remember: “Done is better than perfect.” -Cheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook (or maybe Zuck said it first. I heard Cheryl say it to Reid Hoffman in an episode of Masters of Scale).

STEP 2: GET FEEDBACK

Action A: Invite your team to hear your presentation, then have them write down every objection they can think of. The key: that your team doesn't hold back. This is not a personal critique, it's a business exercise.

Action B: Afterwards, compile the objections, sort them by category, and see if common themes start to emerge. This simple process is guaranteed to unearth the cracks in your concept, while simultaneously arming you with feedback to address those issues before you take it to the next phase.

It may be tough to consider all the shortcomings of your idea, but it’s going to illuminate the areas that need help. They may not laugh at you, but it’s good to remember that everyone who stands for change will encounter resistance.

Remember: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” - Gandhi

STEP 3: FIND YOUR INNER UNDERDOG

Action A: Think through all the different ways your competitors might be better. Then find your sweet spots.

For some, this will be an impossible exercise because you either have no competition (you’re breaking into a brand new market—i.e., time travel), you unequivocally outshine all the others, or you’re delusional (because even The Terminator had to deal with the T-1000).

For the sake of this article, we’ll assume you have competitors (which is a good thing, because it means you have a proven demand for you idea and the opportunity to carve your unique niche).

Action B: After you ponder the areas in which your competitor might have a leg up, it’s time for the fun part: list all the ways you can dominate.

Remember: "You're 5 foot nothin', 100 and nothin', and you have barely a speck of athletic ability. And you hung in there with the best college football players in the land for 2 years." -From the movie, Rudy

Summary

Your job as a leader who presents is to show the audience you’ve considered multiple points of view, are even more critical and skeptical of your ideas than they are and, in spite of the counter-arguments you’ve posed, are absolutely committed to move forward with your idea.

You may not sway the audience every time, but you will earn their trust and eventually, if you work on the right project, with the right people, for the right cause, you will win.

Stuart
Founder, Pitch DNA
stuart@pitchdna.com

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Related: 3 Simple Ways to Nail Your Next Q&A