Besides possessing creativity and resilience, the best innovators are the ones who can effectively communicate and “sell” their ideas to upper management. Innovators often have to get executive approval for support on a new product or venture. No matter how good an idea is it will not sell itself. The most important aspect of communication is to know your audience. In the case of an organization, know the structure, who the decision maker is, and who their influencers are. An innovator must speak the “executive language” to effectively communicate with the high ups. This entails knowing and understanding what is important to them – what is the ROI (Return on Investment) and the goal to be achieved? By highlighting how your goals are aligned with that of the organization’s, you are much more likely to receive favorable results.
Here are top tips for communicating and “selling” your idea to executives.
1. Do your homework. Gather as much information as possible beforehand to have full command of the facts and be able to answer questions with authority. Know the interests of those you are speaking to, and cater the message to them.
2. Open with your conclusions. This is a brief summary of your idea. Let your senior level audience know upfront why you are there. Don’t keep them guessing on your intentions.
3. Define the need. Identify that your innovation meets a need in the marketplace – that it will solve an existing problem.
4. Describe the benefits of your innovation. Make these benefits clear and obtainable.
5. Describe the costs, but frame them in a positive light. If possible, show how alternative methods will cost even more.
6. Request a commitment. Make it clear what next steps you are asking top management to take. This may include funding, hiring new staff, capital or providing necessary facilities to support your innovation process.
7. Be specific. List concrete recommendations that focus on ROI.
8. Look everyone in the eye when you talk. You will be more influential and believable – you must refrain from reading!
9. Be brief. Time is valuable, so make your point persuasive and concise.
10. Show that you can deliver. Prove that your idea will be a winner by providing any evidence in the beginning. Later you will show this by meeting deadlines and sharing small successes along the way with senior management as well as the rest of the organization.
Each discipline has its own vernacular, and by now you may have realized that top management speaks a different language. It only takes two levels up to speak a different language. By speaking the right “executive language” and communicating your objectives persuasively and concisely, you’ll be much more likely to gain support for your innovative ideas.
For more information, “Robert’s Rules of Innovation” offers real life examples of successfully bringing innovation to market, improving product development processes, and engaging the needed culture to sustain Innovation.