Presenting new ideas – when you need to be more convincing

My last post was about presenting new ideas so that people get engaged in your workshops.

But sometimes you need to be a little bit more convincing – Especially if you do not yet have a lot of credibility with the group or if your idea might not be accepted immediately.

Let’s say for example, that you are telling business analysts that they are not needed anymore, or if you are explaining to a project manager that they do need a BA even though it will cost them money.  People will not accept these statements at face value.

You can plead with people to believe you, but that rarely helps.  You can yell and scream – but nobody will care.  So what can you do?

When you need to be more convincing

One approach that I find effective is to anticipate and answer the questions that people typically ask before accepting a new idea or recommendation.

To do this we can use the following framing:

concept intro

What we are doing here is seeing to make 4 quick statements in a row:

  • This is what I think.
  • This is why it is relevant.
  • This is why we should believe it is true.
  • This is the implication of it being true.

For example:

There is confusion about the role of the BA in modern projects(my idea).  Over 50% of agile projects have no BA at all (my evidence).  If this happens in our organisation, then a lot of the projects starting next year will have no BA (relevance). This in turn means that a lot of us here will be sad (implication).

Structuring your message like this forces you to consider what you are saying and be clear when you talk.  This is particularly useful when you are in a workshop and want to engage many people at once.

Why say all four things?

Not everyone cares as much about the 4 dimensions of your explanation. So for a given person you might be able to get away with just saying what you want and adding one more dimension.

For example, I generally connect the dots to find where new information is relevant for me an I generally wonder most about the implications.  I worry about the evidence less than other people and I get so caught up in the implications of what I think you might have said, that I sometimes miss what you actually said.

Other people hear what you said but wont move forward until they hear some kind of evidence and others seem to hear what you say, but not understand the implications unless they are stated very very clearly.

But unless you have an audience of 1, and you know that person well, you are guessing what they need before they accept your suggestion.

Using the complete frame works well because it helps people answer whichever of the 4 questions that they would ask when considering the point you are making.

It also works well because you move quickly through the questions rather than dwelling too long on one of them.Then when people have considered your idea, they can ask for more evidence or discuss the relevance and implications of what you are saying.

You have given them more power to decide whether they like what you are saying and this somehow seems to make the message more compelling, or at least acceptable.

Do you need to say these things in order?

While it is good to include all four points, you don’t need to do them in the order I used above.  Here is a similar statement, where I have flipped things around:

Two years ago, all projects had multiple business analysts on them.  Then most had only one.  In the last year, there were quite a few projects with no BA.  In fact, outside our organisation, 50% of agile projects have no BA (a lot of evidence).  It is budget time and we want to know which projects need us next year (relevance). If downward trend in demand for BA’s continues though, we will be stuck testing instead of going on boat cruises (implication). So I think need to be really good at explaining the value we bring (my idea that I want to discuss).

How do you make things relevant?

Sometimes you can just say “this is relevant because we need to make a decision today.”  But often you want to do a little more work with important messages.

One way to help people see the relevance is to tell a story or show a video that lets people make their own connections.  This takes longer than just stating a fact but can be worth doing.

A shorter story could just include these words:

  • Last week this happened to me.  I think it could happen a lot to our crew.
  • John was telling me earlier today that he got caught up in a conversation about agile and I think that might be happening a lot.
  • Professional BA’s are good at facilitation and we are professional BA’s.
  • Etc

The idea though is to connect the idea to something that people can relate to.  Don’t just tell a long war story, tell people quickly why this new information might apply to them.

What evidence do you need?

It is good to have great evidence.  But sometimes you don’t have awesome verified data.

If you are a lawyer or a scientist then you might even present a heap of data to prove your theory.  But you don’t want to do that in the introduction. It is better to state your claim with a hint at the evidence and then provide more information later, for those inclined to validate it.

In the introduction, you can usually add some kind of evidence like this:

  • Personal comments – “John and Mary both had this happen”
  • Anecdotes and mythology “People tell me Steve Jobs was mean to BA’s.  Here is a story about him talking to one
  • Appeal to authority – “this important person told us to do something”
  • The other bank did it, so did another bank.
  • Cool celebrities do this (so it must be cool)

In some of these cases you might use a story to provide evidence. This can provide both some evidence and some relevance at the same time, but make sure you cover both.

Practice helps

When you first try framing discussion like this, it is likely to feel mechanical and contrived. But if you take the effort to write your points out this way, I think you will find that it helps you both communicate more clearly and get people to listen to what you are saying.