Selling the Big Idea

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Imagine This:

You manage a product team for a consumer electronics company. Over the last few years, customer feedback and input suggest that there’s an opportunity to combine two of your products into one to improve customer satisfaction and usage. In fact, combined capabilities could simplify how customers use the product.

But it’s out of line with the timing of your go-to-market strategy and would require the executive team’s and the Board’s approval to disrupt the product roadmap and push this concept forward. A year ago, you presented the customer insights and got approval from both groups to explore a prototype.

And now you have it! It’s time to sell the big idea from market potential to production costs and forecasted revenue. And while the steps to this point have gone smoothly, there’s more than a 50% chance it won’t move toward production.

Why? Most leaders say they stall ideas at this point because the insights shared aren’t clear or compelling. And that’s a communication roadblock.

How can that be? After almost a year of effort by an innovative product team, the potential of a prototype stalls because of poor communication. And poor doesn’t mean the presenters weren’t confident about what they said. It means they approached the presentation the wrong way and missed the things the listeners needed.

They made one poor assumption as they built out the communication about HOW to get to product launch. They assumed the listeners could reengage with this concept from the discussion they had that launched the prototype. More than a year ago!

It’s the most common blind spot we see in high-stakes presentations: a presenter who communicates from their perspective instead of the listeners. And while that may seem like an obvious blunder as you read this…it’s not. Most communicators can’t recognize the difference between the two perspectives without some coaching to understand and adjust for what a listener values.

Take the example above. The product team has vested almost a year in getting to that prototype and working through details of market analysis, production and revenue forecasting. From their perspective, the point of a presentation at this point is to get approval on a plan and a budget to get this new concept into market. And they’ve worked hard on the HOW behind it. They’ll come in with details, charts and numbers to support the execution. And in under ten minutes, they will be at odds with the leaders.

The blind spot and gap in perspective is significant:

  • The senior leaders and Board members haven’t thought about this concept for a moment beyond when they agreed to a prototype exploration.
  • The product team has thought about it every moment for the last nine months.

It would be virtually impossible for these two groups to be on the same page, and yet, it’s how many organize presentations. They assume the listeners are where they are in understanding, interest and buy-in.

Starting with a listener’s perspective is one of the most critical skills of content development. It’s the component of a storyline that sets up more about WHAT and WHY in order to guide a listener to the HOW of the details.

And if you’ve taken a workshop with us, you know that good messaging drives clarity. The message for this presentation might be: When product X and Y are combined into a single product Z, we will see a 40% reduction in production costs and an additional $30 million in revenue.

At the start of the presentation, the listeners hear value and impact through messaging. Then, we leverage a concept we call “Funneling” to set a storyline that creates interest and validation for WHY it makes sense to disrupt the product schedule and push this new prototype to the front of the line.

Here are the elements of a compelling storyline that gain approval and buy-in from some of the toughest audiences:

Listeners start with External Perspective.

Leaders and board members think broadly, and they want to know that you’ve done the same. Before they’ll take your word for a big idea, they want to know that the concept began from someone else’s: ideally, your customer. In the scenario above, the product team has this, but they presented it a year ago and then left the ideas behind. The listeners have forgotten it and will need it to see value in the prototype. They need to remember that customers gave a lot of input on this combined product idea and in fact, it’s what drove the decision the leaders made a year ago.


Then, the listeners will want Internal Perspective.

This is contrasting what you currently have against the insights above. Why have you not combined the products before? What makes this a viable option today in a way it might not have been before?  Can you leverage change or interest called out in the External Perspective to pivot the listeners thinking on timing and positioning that helps them see a valid reason for considering this now?


And finally, listeners want you to dive a little further into Specifics.

This gives them a way to quantify the magnitude of disruption and interest. How do they think about this shift? What happens to the product timeline if they do it? What happens to the customer interests if they don’t?


These three elements set the compelling storyline that leads a listener to the HOW it could be done. And those are the insights that matter most to the product team at this point. So it isn’t that one perspective trumps another. It’s the skill of being able to put the listener first pulling them to your perspective that gains buy-in.

When I shared this concept of our storyline with a client recently, she said: “Basically, you’re telling me I have to go backwards in order to pull the listeners forward.” And it’s an interesting way of thinking about communication when you’re the communicator. When you start with the listeners’ perspective, you‘re focused on setting the stage and providing context they need to get to your perspective. In the scenario above, it would have made a $30 million difference.

What’s the risk of your communication?

If your team needs to set a more compelling storyline, we’d love to coach a group on how to do it.

We’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Speaking Up May Be Harder Than You Think

It’s true that feedback is a gift. But sometimes, managers go beyond sharing insights and they offer the employee the “perfect” solution for how to resolve it. With communication feedback…that can get a little tricky.

That’s certainly been my experience as I’ve coached people who got feedback to “speak up”.

It’s one of those phrases that seems so simple. In reality, it means different things coming from different managers.

  • Some use it to tell someone that they’re soft-spoken and need to speak up so they can be heard… They’re guiding projection.
  • Others use it to suggest that someone isn’t adding to meetings or discussions, and they need to “speak up more”…They’re guiding brand and impressions.
  • Still others use it more generally to suggest to someone that they need to speak up in a setting or with a specific group…They’re guiding executive presence.

As we’ve explored this further with clients across the globe, we continue to learn the meaning of the phrase across different backgrounds and diverse cultures. More formal cultures guide respect by not speaking up unless you’re asked to. There may be a “sir” or a “Ms. Jones” added as part of it. For this employee, “speaking up” may be harder than you think.

Many people have shared their beliefs that they don’t have the right to speak up unless someone calls on them or asks for their input. Sometimes gender plays into it and skews their confidence in speaking up.

Still, others shared their upbringing and beliefs about being assertive. They were encouraged to be assertive, so they weren’t ignored or tuned out. They enter a lot of business settings ready to defend their perspective and may be seen as pushy or aggressive. Their goal has always been to “speak up.”

And the best way to approach feedback with any of these perspectives is to start by understanding the WHY instead of jumping in with WHAT they should do differently.

The manager’s perspective is right. People do need to be seen and heard in settings to establish their brand, their experience and their way of thinking. No one sees you as a strategic thinker unless they hear you as a strategic communicator.

But everyone may not get there in the same way.

Here are a few suggestions for uncovering the WHY behind “speaking up.”

You have an employee who is soft-spoken.
Start this conversation by asking “Has anyone ever told you that you’re soft-spoken?” Technically, they need to understand how to get their voice forward and project more effort behind their words. But they may have known that since they were six years old, and they may have tried multiple ways to do this. Most people have the ability to do it; they hold their voice back for various reasons. It could be because a parent spoke softly, and they learned to follow that speech pattern. It could also be the opposite. A parent spoke very loudly, and they spoke softly to avoid mirroring an overbearing speech pattern.

Some women view soft-spoken as demure, and they may be in a culture that fosters that. Some men view soft-spoken as respectful, and they may be illustrating a more formal upbringing.

By allowing someone to tell you more about the WHY behind soft-spoken, you’ll know whether there are some perceptions to work through as well as skills to support voice strength.

You have an employee who doesn’t speak much in meetings.
Start this conversation by asking: “Do you want to add to conversations?” And then allow the employee to tell you WHY they don’t speak up. It could be that they don’t want to speak up because others speak too much, and it makes meetings run long. They may hear the feedback as a suggestion to show up more like a peer who talks too much. Managers often give guidance by saying “You should speak up like Jeff does in meetings.” Jeff may monopolize conversations more than you realize, and an employee who is more introverted than Jeff will never follow that advice.

As you explore the WHY, you may also learn that an employee doesn’t think as fast as others in the room. They may say that they have thoughts to add…. after the meeting wraps up. They just need more time to think it all the way through.

Every manager should know the make-up of a group and the different kinds of thinkers in the room. Someone who is more process-oriented needs time to think it through before they’ll jump in with an idea or answer that may be wrong. If you knew this, you could help this employee by providing agendas ahead of time. A process thinker will be great if given the time to prepare.

You might also have an employee who isn’t speaking up from a place of respect or a more formal upbringing. And they may literally not know when to do so. You can learn more about this by asking “If you have something to add, what keeps you from jumping in?” If you knew this, you could create openings in conversations and invite a more hesitant employee into the conversation. So, they’ll worry less about when it’s appropriate and speak up more when you invite them into the conversation.

You have an employee who talks too much.
Start this conversation by saying: “You had a lot of enthusiasm today. I felt like you said the same thing multiple times. Why?”

If someone was guided to be assertive, they may continue to “speak up” again and again until they feel acknowledged or as if they won the discussion. They may be seeking some kind of validation or credit that isn’t likely in most meetings.

So how do you guide the “over-talkers” to a better balance?

Their blind spot isn’t really how much they’re speaking. It’s the lack of focus on everyone else. There may be insights in the WHY behind someone who feels the need to be heard the most. For this employee, the real opportunity or learning is the perspective of everyone else. Get insight on how they feel heard by asking “How did the group react to your idea? What was the reaction you were expecting?”

You can guide this person through awareness of team dynamics and the concept of a great team player who not only speaks to share their perspective but also speaks to move a topic toward an outcome that includes everyone’s input.


“Speaking Up” can mean something different to each of us. If you have an employee who needs to show up differently, start with a better understanding of WHY they don’t speak up. Be less quick to solve it from your perspective and more patient with understanding the WHY from the employee’s perspective.

Feedback is a gift, and spending the time to understand the WHY behind a behavior gets everyone to a better outcome. If you’d like to improve the way you give feedback, we can help.

We’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Doubling Down on Your Off-Site

It seems every people leader is now responsible for hosting an off-site meeting. And for very good reasons! It’s an opportunity to bring a team together, ignite collaboration, clarify direction and invest in personal development.

We’ve seen twice as many off-sites completed and planned for in the last year than the last three years combined. Off-sites have become the new team meeting, and most of these “away” meetings are getting rave reviews from employees.

We’ve been a part of many off-sites over the last year, resetting team dynamics, facilitating the discussion of team priorities or developing skills needed to reach top priorities. And we’ve seen what works and what doesn’t with employees.

If you’re planning your off-site in the next few months, these pointers may help you consider the new dynamics before you’re confronted with them. Because, while “off-sites” are back, they need to be planned and led a little differently than before.


Here are seven dynamics to consider:

Invest in the setting. Most managers have a team event to kick-off the year or touch base on a quarterly basis. And we called it an “off-site” even when we held it down the hall in a conference room. You can’t do that anymore. Those are team meetings, not “off-sites”, and employees think of them differently. Add to it the continued push to get people back into offices. If you’re planning a day with your team in the office, consider that a team meeting. If you want the group to view it as an “off-site,” make the commitment to host it somewhere else.

It doesn’t have to be an airplane ride, but no one will be disappointed if it is. It should be a few nights away, and it should be mandatory. You can’t connect as a team if you’re missing colleagues. There may still be an occasional absence due to illness, but for those who are able to attend, invest the effort and the money to take the team to an interesting setting. It increases their desire to be there, and that’s worth a lot.

Teams aren’t as close as you think. Sure, they talk over virtual platforms all day. Or they see each other in the office once a week. But the full group is seldom all together, and it’s one of the biggest mistakes we see leaders make at off-sites. They assume people are comfortable together. And they jump right into a heavy agenda. I continue to be surprised by the number of people who haven’t met or haven’t seen each other in quite a while. It takes intention to reset people, and they need a little time to settle in and connect with each other before they connect with the work.

People can’t sit still. We assume people sit all day when they work virtually. But they move around more than you realize. And when you ask them to sit through an eight-hour agenda, it’s not something that they’re used to doing. If you can reserve a meeting room with natural light, do it! But most conference space is in the interior of a hotel or resort, so the choices can be limited. Add plenty of breaks and even a group-led stretch throughout the day. Be specific about expectations on devices and breaks. It’s disappointing to bring people together for collaboration and in short order they’re all on laptops and phones. But it happens – and it’s much more frequent these days. As the leader of the meeting, you need to set the tone and the expectations. Otherwise, people allow their own priorities to override the group setting.

Every voice counts, even the soft ones. Group dynamics have gotten harder with less interaction. And it takes more intention to be sure that everyone is participating, and the louder voices don’t overshadow the softer ones. Depending on the size of the group and the objectives of the leader, it’s often best to bring in a facilitator to run the discussion. A good facilitator will balance the energy and input to keep everyone involved, and they can provide good insights to a leader on what they observed once the off-site wraps up. It’s hard for the leader or another team member to run the agenda and participate in the discussion simultaneously. It confuses the group and often shuts down the employees’ perspective.

Are we having fun? You need to because that’s what most employees come for. Make sure there’s a cooking class, scavenger hunt, incredible race or something that’s meant to be just fun. You’ll get lasting benefits out of organizing a few fun events. Some groups like competitions; others prefer less strenuous activities. Ironically, this was one of the hardest roles of a leader during the pandemic…finding ways to entertain their teams and creating virtual games or events to bring them together. Hire someone to do this for you. Most conference centers or resorts offer corporate games and will manage the entire experience.

Let’s focus on me. Professional development is the number one ask of employees. While they like a flexible work environment, they know they’ve fallen behind on development opportunities. And the off-site is a great time to add some training to the mix. Even if it adds an extra day, it’s more cost-effective to deliver it while the team is already together versus scheduling it as a separate event. And it’s often the highest-rated portion of the meeting because it feels as if it’s focused on the employees’ benefit rather than the benefit to the company.

And… did you bring stuff?  Everybody loves bling and logo wear! It’s a great way to keep teams connected to the company brand. Send it home with them in a pullover, a cooler, an insulated cup, a cookie, and hundreds of other items. The off-site gets off to a great start when they check into their rooms and find corporate gifts. It’s one more retention strategy, and it adds to the fun factor when employees go home with a gift from their manager.


Do you already have some of these practices in place? If so, increase your efforts this year and you’ll have a happier group and better takeaways from the off-site! Or if you’re just getting started and would like a little help meeting the new expectations, we can put great ideas into actions with you.

This is the year to double down on your off-site….and we’d love to be a part of helping you get great results.

We’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates