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You Have an Idea. Now What?

By Marty Nemko

You have a cool idea. Unfortunately, you aren’t a CEO, you don’t have an MBA from Harvard, nor a penny from a venture capital firm. You’re just a peon. Your only shot is to try to pitch your idea to your company’s pooh-bahs.Here’s how to do it.First, you must conquer fear. Too often, the workplace brainwashes all but its leaders into being good little worker bees, cranking out their little tasks while keeping their mouths shut. Leadership usually thinks, “After all, if everyone was proposing this idea and that idea, no one would get their work done. Besides, then, what would they need me for?” And so, with little experience in promulgating your ideas, it’s easy to be scared: “What if my boss thinks it’s stupid?” Fact is, done right, there’s everything to gain and nothing to lose by presenting your idea. As long as you’ve pre-tested it, taken care of the politics, and presented it well, your employer will impressed with your leadership potential even if they don’t adopt your idea. And you will have had a fun adventure.

Here’s how to maximize the chances of a great result.

Doing your homework

1. Write out your idea in one page or less, perhaps in as little as a single phrase. When in doubt, err on the side of making your idea too big. As Goethe said, “Dream no small dreams because they have no power to move people’s hearts.”

2. List your idea’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities for its application, and threats to its success.

3. Write a step-by-step implementation plan for your idea, as a list or a flow chart. Allow for contingencies: If Problem A happens, we’ll do X. If Problem B happens, we’ll do Y.

4. Imagine you’re the CEO of a company and someone is presenting that plan to you. What tough questions would you ask before giving the green light? Change your plan as a result.

5. Show your plan to one or more trusted people, ideally including at least one respected employee within your organization, if possible, your boss. Change your plan as a result. If the respected employee likes your plan, ask if he’ll attend the meeting at which you present it, maybe even introducing you.

5a. Often, a new idea implies criticism of one or more people associated with the status quo. If so, could you bring them on board or get a powerful person to co-advocate for your plan with you. Do that behind the scenes, before you make your public presentation?

6. Create a simple handout or PowerPoint that you’ll use in your presentation.

7. Write scripted answers for any tough questions you’re likely to be asked. Practice paraphrasing your answers.

8. If you haven’t already, tell your boss that you’d like 10 or 15 minutes to present an idea to him and/or to a meeting’s attendees.

9. I know this sounds touchy-feely, but it’s been working for my clients. Starting a few days before your presentation, say aloud an affirmation such as “I’m going to knock their socks off”10 times, three times a day. Say it with expression. Really feel it. I hypothesize that works because the repetition actually rewires your brain. Old messages such as, “I’m dumb” are literally replaced by “I’m going to knock their socks off.” It may or may not work, but you have nothing to lose by trying it.

The presentation

1. Imagine you’re a movie actor playing the role of a CEO presenting a bold new idea to staff. In your presentation, be that person: confident posture as you stride into the room, crisply distributing your handout, a calm, measured tone during your presentation, a confident request for and concise answers to questions.

2. Present your idea as a PAB story. The problem that currently exists, the approach you’re going to take to solve it, and the benefits likely to accrue. Ideally, make your PAB story human: the story of a person whose life will be improved by your idea. Then explain how your protagonist is just one of many people who will benefit.Keep your presentation crisp. In most cases, two to four minutes is long enough. You can present additional information in response to questions. So, after your PAB story, confidently say, “That’s the basic idea. Any questions I can answer?”If you have an idea you’re excited about, follow the above plan and pitch it. At minimum, you’ll increase your perceived value in your employer’s eyes, and likely make a difference to your organization and indirectly to the world. What could be better?

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