One day, Mike Figliuolo and
his team went to his boss to
make a recommendation for
action. Another team was present
with its own recommendation
and went first. The leader of the
other team handed the boss the
team’s 25-page presentation in
support of the recommendation.
The boss threw the 25 pages
across the room and said, “Talk
to me! What do you want? I’m
busy. I don’t have time for all this
paper.” As Figliuolo recounts in his book, The Elegant Pitch,
“They were surprised. We weren’t. We knew better, and
our presentation was three pages.”
The Elegant Pitch is a tutorial on how to get recommendations
accepted by making presentations that tell
decision-makers everything they need to know — not
everything you know. This may seem obvious, and yet
most people never make the distinction, Figliuolo writes.
Instead of carefully parsing down their presentations to
the most salient and compelling points, they try to include
every single supporting point, hoping that the cumulative
weight of the argument will carry the day.
The typical process for developing a recommendation,
writes Figliuolo, follows four steps: 1) gather large amounts
of data and do excessive amounts of analysis; 2) identify
insights from this excessive analysis; 3) assemble all of the
analysis into a comprehensive 30- to 60-page document
to show the rigor of the analysis; 4) present this tome in a
two-hour meeting, impressing decision-makers with the
depth of the insights.
Does it work? Not usually, writes Figliuolo.
The Structured Thought Process
To make presentations that lead to accepted ideas and
recommendations, Figliuolo argues that the data-heavy
and analysis-heavy tomes should be replaced by what
he calls the “structured thought process.” This process
follows nine carefully defined steps that, he writes, must be
followed in order:
- Define the Question.What is the problem and why
does it need to be solved? Absolute clarity is essential.
- Create a Core Idea.This is the heart of the
recommendation — the action you want to take and the
reason you want to take it. At this time, the core idea is
a hypothesis of what the recommendation would be and
why the audience (the decision-maker) would want to
accept the recommendation.
- Build the Architecture.Arrange your facts and
analyses in a logically structured argument.
- Create the Story.Transform the structure in the
previous step into a simple narrative that leads the audience
to your conclusion.
- Discuss and Refine the Story.Go to other people
with your story, get their feedback and refine the story
based on this feedback.
- Select Core Facts and Analyses.Don’t accumulate
every fact you can get your hands on. Be selective: Find the
right facts and analyses you need to support your architecture.
- Prove or Disprove the Hypothesis.Your original
hypothesis might be wrong. You’ve pulled together facts and
analyses. Now analyze this material, focusing only on the
analysis you need to do to prove or disprove the hypothesis.
- Finalize the Communication.How will you make
the recommendation? Whether it’s a presentation, a memo or
simply an email, your recommendation is basically written.
All you have to do is assemble your material.
- Share the Idea.Paying careful attention to how
decision-makers prefer to receive information (e.g., slides,
memo, email), share the assembled presentation.
It may seem that this process is backwards: You hypothesize
what your recommendation will be and then try to
prove it. In fact, Figliuolo writes, the structured thought
process is a simplified version of the scientific method we
all learned in school: Start with a line of inquiry, make
a hypothesis, conduct an experiment and collect data,
determine if the hypothesis is proven or disproven, and
share the lab report.
Figliuolo brings to his process years of real-world
experience as a former McKinsey consultant, former
Capital One executive and current consultant to blue-chip
companies. Filled with real-world tools and methodologies,
The Elegant Pitch (the title comes from the positive
feedback he received to one of his presentations) is a
valuable primer for convincing impatient decision-makers.
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