How to Successfully Present an Idea at Work
Creativity is everywhere. Whether you are an engineer, artist, lawyer, or chef, you have unique ideas. Across all origins and sizes, all ideas share a common trait: they will never become anything more unless voiced and acted upon.
The process of making your idea a reality starts with the communication of that idea. The effective communication of this idea is the first step because it will determine whether you have supporters. When deciding how to present your idea, you should first focus on your audience. Always remember that you are playing the role of a speaker and presenter when you share your idea, so keep your audience in mind.
Two main factors when choosing who to tell your idea:
- Is this person in the position to make decisions? If not, can she/he connect me with someone that is?
- Does this person have the time to actively listen to my proposition? Is my idea relevant to this person?
- This doesn’t mean you have to tell your idea to someone in a high-power position. Your audience may be an expert whose opinion is valuable. They can be someone who can link you with the right individual, or they can be a colleague that is simply willing to help you flesh out your idea. Knowing who to talk to and when to ask for a few minutes of someone’s time is highly important. It shows you know about strategy, that you are organized, and that you understand how your internal processes work. Who is this message for? Who in the company will this message resonate with most?
- Let’s say that you made your inquiries and know that the right person to pitch your idea to is your company’s CEO. As much as they want to listen to you, they are likely pressed for time. So in time-sensitive situations like this, you must learn to be precise. Avoid a storytelling format and go straight to what’s important. What problem or issue does your idea solve? And how does it do it? Linking your idea to a problem that needs to be solved will make its value more clear. If you cannot find a problem, keep looking. Ideas frequently come from the realization that something is not working as it should, and can be improved. Make that problem visible, then present your solution.
People that can “sell” their ideas aren’t geniuses or magicians, they just believe in what they’re saying. You cannot expect someone to buy into your idea if you don’t believe it yourself. Make sure to convey that conviction with your body language, tone, and word choice.
“So, how do you show that conviction?”
Studies have shown that body language, vocal tone, and word choice both communicate your ideas and re-shape your own feelings and beliefs.
One of the most cited studies on the importance of verbal and nonverbal messages in personal communication is one by Prof. Albert Mehrabian of the University of California in Los Angeles. His studies show that we overwhelmingly deduce our feelings, attitudes, and beliefs about what someone says not by the actual words spoken, but by the speaker’s body language and tone of voice.
Prof. Mehrabian actually quantified this tendency: words, tone of voice, and body language respectively account for 7%, 38%, and 55% of personal communication.
So, how much can an “empowering” posture help you build up your confidence?
If you communicate with a drooping back and shoulders or simply have a posture that conflicts with your message, it weakens your message and raises doubts in your audience.
Imagine you are not 100% convinced that your idea will work, but you feel it is worth trying. Practice projecting confidence through your posture, intonation, and general body language, and check the results with someone you trust. Would they buy that idea? That may give you some insights to improve your presentation.
Trust that you are there because you are valuable to the company and the team, and thus have a perspective worth giving.
Overall, some tips from the article:
- Find the right stakeholder to pitch your idea. You shouldn’t approach someone just because they are “important” in your company. Your main goal is to find someone whose inputs may be valuable for you.
- Link ideas to problems to be solved. Creativity is great, but effective creativity is better. Make sure your idea is solving or at least relates to the problem.
- Non-verbal communication can re-shape the way you feel and think about something. Use it in your favor. Project confidence.
- You are the first buyer of your idea. If you don’t believe in it, no one will.
- Trust that you are part of the company because you are valuable and that what you have to say is important.
Whether you’re in a daily meeting, ideation session, or casual discussion, try to explain your idea clearly and remember that both you and your audience need to be engaged for effective communication.