Predicting and Influencing the Results of Presentations to Decision-Makers

Many of us dealing with others from whom we seek approval or agreement would be advantaged if we could more accurately predict the outcome of our pitch. We would be even more advantaged if we could format our presentation in a way more likely to elicit a positive response. I believe I know the one word which best describes what it is that motivates most people and therefore what we need to understand when structuring presentations.

All animals, ourselves included, are guided by two primary aspects of decision-making. These factors are instinctive, and experience based. A loud unexpected noise is frightening and instinctively triggers a protective defensive positioning. In varying degrees this is the case with most propositions for change.That which is new and different is generally, as a first response, especially by those burdened by career concerns, regarded initially with concern and skepticism. In comparison the initial response is likely to be more positive if the recipient of the presentation has had good experiences when a change was involved.

Depending on what is being proposed, the presentation should be differently pitched, based on the ability of the individual recipient to respond as being recommended. Can whatever is being recommended be done by the recipient without approval of others or should the presentation be used by the recipient to assist in obtaining needed approvals?

Those trained and operating in military-like environments can make decisions more quickly than others because they have the defense and career protection that derive from a senior person or source in their management and operational structure. For those who are functioning outside of a military-like command code of behavior of required obedience, the decision-maker normally attempts to ascertain the relative rank of the person who is the source of the idea. Therefore, new ideas should axiomatically be presented by the highest-ranking, most authoritative, source possible. Whatever is being pitched will be assessed more positively if the presentation’s recipient’s risk of acceptance is reduced by the source or endorsement of an accepted authority.

Next, the new idea should not be presented first or be headlined. It should be developed starting with something already broadly accepted and be portrayed as a natural evolution from what is known to be safe and tested. Accepting a natural evolution is less career risky for the big idea recipient than something which is suspect by being revolutionary. Leaving the relative safety of the present results in pressure for the decision-maker to assume a personal risk of believing that something can or will happen. This requires a thought bannister to offset the change-incurring risk of going up the stairs of the idea being presented. Change is new, and new is risky.

New idea presenters should focus on the little steps necessary to achieve the sought-for result, not the enormity of the end result benefit, even though that might be more satisfying to the presenter’s ego.

Of course, those who present a new idea to those having the power to assist or possibly scuttle, must be ever aware of the idea recipient’s personal benefits and also the penalties if the idea is a mistake. The one word I promised to share which influences a decision-making result is FEAR. The presenter should make a point to learn, before making any pitch, what it is that the person being pitched fears. That fear could be financial, reputational, loss of power, or just being wrong.

It is fear of survival which instinctively motivates all animals. In the case of humans, it is fear of having less power, wealth or good health. It is not only in politics that leading others through manipulating or assuaging their fears is effective.

Once the probable fears of the decision-maker are recognized, the idea can be presented more effectively. Some ideas have a “one-size fits all” approach and others must be customized for a single individual. The point for both is the same: accepting the idea must benefit the individual and the steps to acceptance should be presented discreetly recognizing the new idea recipient’s perception of dangerous areas.


Arthur Lipper, Chairman
British Far East Holdings Ltd.
+1 858 793 7100

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