One of the key elements of successful persuasion and consensus-building is how you frame the choices for your audience. I spend time in every single workshop I teach, trying to help our clients think about a problem from at least two angles: what they want the audience to think/feel/do; and how much urgency they will need to create from the audience in order to create the desired momentum.
One of the key frameworks I teach is one that I refer to “must-should-nice to do.” I understand… this is not a very memorable or catchy phrase, and my colleagues on the Latimer Learning and Marketing Teams will certainly cringe. But despite its flawed name, the framework works incredibly well.
Here are the basics… We categorize the idea/request/proposal/recommendation into one of three categories:
- Something we MUST do
- Something we SHOULD do
- Something that would be NICE to do
Now let’s dig deeper:
- Something we MUST do. These issues are immediate risks, that are a clear and present danger to the business. Many of our client companies refer to these kinds of issues as “burning platforms;” current, significant problems, that absolutely must be solved for, now. In these cases, we need to help our audience SEE the burning platform, and we must build consensus around the urgency to put out the fire. We must make the risk feel real, immediate, and expensive. In these kinds of cases, the decision tree is much less about how expensive it will be to solve the problem, and much more about how expensive it will be not to. Example: “We have ignored the environmental and health (EHS) issues at our plant for far too long, and we now are now at immediate risk of endangering the neighboring town, hurting people, and ourselves in significant and expensive ways. We have to begin repairs within the next three weeks, regardless of the cost.” Message key: The speaker must make the audience feel the problem in the most real way possible (Financial cost? Legal risk? Destroyed credibility?), and make it crystal clear that action is required. Now.
- Something we SHOULD do. These issues are less immediate, but could very easily become future burning platforms if ignored. For these kind of issues, our consensus building lies in helping the audience see how much the problem will grow if left unattended. A major part of the pitch is usually how much cheaper and easier it would be to deal with the issue now. The longer we let it grow, the bigger, harder, scarier, and more expensive it will be to solve for later. Example: “Over the next four years, we will see a major degradation of our EHS safety measures at the plant. If we ignore those problems for much longer, it will become significantly more expensive, for us and our neighbors. It is comparatively cheap and easy to solve the problem now. It is also the correct thing to do. We should be prepared to act within the next 4 to 6 months. Every month we wait beyond that, our risk goes up.” Message key: The speaker must make the audience see the value in the cheaper, proactive solution, and make a compelling business case based on the ROI of acting early.
- Something that is NICE to do. There are no burning platforms here. There might not even be growing future risk if we don’t act. These kinds of issues are more about doing the right thing for the business or the generous thing for others. I often think of the song by The Beach Boys “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” when coaching this strategy. In this case, we need to help our audience visualize a future where they feel great about something that they have done. We aren’t acting because of present or future danger. But rather we are acting out of the possibility of a better future for ourselves or the people around us. Example: “Right now we have no EHS problems with our plant. But we are about to start a major expansion, and we all know what the regulations are. Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of simply complying with the regulations, we were the company in our industry that went above and beyond the regulations? Wouldn’t it be nice if we set a new standard of cooperation with our neighbors, and were willing to spend a little more money in order to do the right thing?” Message key: The speaker must inspire the audience to visualize, and feel great about, the act. The message is less about a financial business case, and more about the intangible ROI of doing the right thing.
The point here is that in our message development, we need to be really clear about what we are asking our audience to do, and why, and how much urgency we need to create. What will trigger the kind of reaction that we want our audience to have?
This is how we build the most powerful messages.
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