A Key Technique in Presenting your Case - Shut Up


There’s a saying, much loved by sales reps, that everyone’s selling something… and if you’re reading this blog, it’s pretty likely that you’re selling your knowledge. Whether you’re an IT governance specialist, an enterprise architect, a consultant, or a process management guru, you’re trying to convince people that what you say has value. Don’t let the word ‘selling’ obscure things – it’s about convincing people. After all, having the answer is only half the battle, convincing people that the answer is right is often the hardest part of moving things forward.

So it’s worth considering the ways that you can make your case. I’ve spoken before about how creating motivation models can help here, in formalizing your understanding of the expected benefits from a recommended course of action. But even when you’ve taken care to prepare for a key stakeholder meeting, it may not be enough. You may well have identified your stakeholders accurately. You may well have identified each of their concerns. You may well have identified the expected benefits and how they relate to the stakeholder concerns that you’ve identified. But even with all this, you can still fail, because of a key failing – perfect is the enemy of good.

Or, to put it another way, know when to shut up.

I’m betting that just the use of the word ‘selling’ put a good few backs up, and part of that is the image that we all have of the ultra-pushy salesman. Perhaps me might even think of Alec Baldwin’s famous scene in Glen Garry Glen Ross – “A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing”. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it now.

The funny thing is, having worked in sales, and delivered about 2000 presentations, it turns out that being pushy is not a good technique for convincing most people – whether it’s about convincing them to buy something or convincing them that your chosen architecture is the right approach for the project. This is especially true for any decision that is not on-the-spot, which is pretty much always the case in enterprise organizations.

At this point, many might be thinking that a) I’m stating the obvious, and b) this isn’t them. Where the observation becomes relevant, and more subtle, is that the same nervousness that causes a pushy sales rep to never shut up, can also tempt us to fall into the same trap, and not give the audience space to think.

First of all, you may be tempted to reach for as many benefits as possible. This runs the dual risks of proposing weak and questionable benefits, but also diluting the stronger benefits that genuinely do speak in favor of the solution being proposed.

Another variation of the trap is to try to anticipate questions and address them ahead of time. This isn’t a bad instinct by itself, but nervousness can cause the best of us to take it too far.

Despite what someone who’s never had specialist training might think, silence is an essential technique in convincing others of your case – it gives them space (which gives them confidence), it enables questions, and it avoids coming across like as someone who is unsure of their core message. In other words, know when to shut up.