If you have to persuade someone to change their minds or move from a neutral position on a decision to a positive one, it is also easy to duck the issue at the beginning of whatever persuasive activity you are engaged in. Using the medium of a presentation, let us look at this.
You are trying to get agreement from your board to put two new people into your team over six months to take charge of arranging trade shows. Prior to this, the trade shows had somehow happened, but with a lot of last minute panic and favours being asked of various people within and without the company. These last minute panics tend to cost a lot of money, as the alternative of not being ready for opening day is unacceptable; (How much does an electrician charge per hour when it is 6 o’clock in the evening before the show opens and your stand has at present only a temporary spotlight?) The general professionalism of your exhibits is also, you are convinced, inferior to the other companies at the show.
The board is likely to be sceptical since this is new expenditure with no exceptional new results.
From what has gone before in this section you have prepared your closing question. ‘Do I have your agreement to go out to the usual recruitment agency and instruct them to hire two grade 4’s straight away?’ It’s nice and specific with no room for ambiguity or subsequent backsliding.
Now think about your opening. A lot of people would fudge the opening, preferring to launch into horror stories of what has happened in the past, showing the board a list of extra shows which you could put on if you had the resources and so on. This tends to put the board on its guard. Remember, very few managers go to the board with any suggestion that does not require additional resources and it is frustrating when they do not have a clue about how much you are going to ask for.
Much better is to signal the closing question right at the beginning of the presentation. It goes something like this:
‘You have given me ten minutes so I’ll get to the point as quickly as possible. I am going to cover three topics in the ven minutes. First I am going to go over the current situation we face in arranging and setting up exhibition stands, then I am going to ask your permission to hire two extra grade 4 people to carry out that role in the future, and with any time that is left I’ll show you our current ideas for the next big show. Is that OK?’
The insertion of the closed question at the end of this statement can be very revealing. It can lead to a huge row. ‘No you bloody well cannot have more people, these shows are more trouble than they are worth already’ and so on. At least you are arguing about the point you are trying to make. More often you will get a neutral reply such as ‘Yes, OK, but if we have any problems with the first bit, we will not be agreeing to the second bit.’ Incidentally, if this remark comes from the most senior person in the room it will generally get a laugh, which is always good. Sometimes you will get a more positive response and you will wonder why you are making the presentation at all.
Whatever happens you will have made real progress towards getting a decision and your own way. The message is clear—be upfront about what you are going to ask for by grasping the nettle and taking the STEP at an early stage.