Beyond Elevator Speeches! A Process for Influence

By Abram, Stephen | Information Outlook, November 2006 | Go to article overview

Beyond Elevator Speeches! A Process for Influence


Abram, Stephen, Information Outlook


My airplane book this month is How to Have a Beautiful Mind by Edward de Bono (Vermillion). It's a great book. I don't know how I missed it when it came out in 2004 since I love to read de Bono. Anyway, it's about how to be interesting and how to chat with nearly everyone, how to debate, listen and disagree well--all things I can learn to do a lot better!

It has made me think about how to make libraries beautiful in the mind and interesting to people who matter.

At Internet Librarian in October, I had the opportunity to hear and introduce Joe Matthews, an old friend of SLA and author of a number of books on how to make the financial and value arguments for libraries and librarians. His latest book is, The Bottom Line: Determining and Communicating the Value of the Special Library (Libraries Unlimited, 2002). He told powerful stories of the impact of libraries. One memorable one was the six-figure bonus awarded to a special librarian for saving the company over $20 million.

We must talk about the result and less about the line-item budgeting. Without a doubt, nearly every innovation we try to make in libraries today involves some investment of dollars and time as well as commitments to riskier technologies and pilot projects. To achieve our technology and program goals we have to get folks at all levels on our side and excited. How?

Elevator Speeches: No Magic Beans

Over the past few years we have heard a lot about the special role of elevator speeches--those sound bites for when you have the ear of a key decision maker or influencer for a few floors. We're told to craft a few short stories or facts and install them in the heads of these folks. Then, magically, good things could happen. There are even many examples of where this strategy worked. I love this tactic, but let's remember that it's just a micro-skill and we can't leave our communication strategies up to chance encounters. Let's learn how to make our magical moments. What would be steps to move into deeper conversations with our decision makers and key influencers? There are two simple things we need to know first.

How do ideas grow?

Sometimes new ideas look like they arrive fully blown. They don't. People follow a very specific process whereby they come to accept new ideas. It's a simple five-step process. First, you need to have the awareness that some product, process, or concept exists. Advertising and PR help here.

Then, and don't neglect this step, people have to be interested in it. This isn't always the case. If you're not interested in reality TV, no amount of awareness activities will engage you in the next step, evaluation. This is your first major yes/no step. Will I invest any more energy to know more about this idea by researching or trying it? Would I even invest as little energy as typing the word into Google? Getting to trial moves your target audience of decision makers from evaluation to where they can make a decision about adoption. So, understand this short process: awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, adoption.

When you ask someone with power to adopt your ideas--to invest time and effort in supporting, financing or discussing them--without filling in the first four steps, you're more likely to fail.

This process can happen very fast. For example, a new chocolate bar with an exciting flavor can get from awareness through adoption in seconds. I just discovered dark chocolate M & M's. Time from awareness to stomach: minutes! Now, suppose the new ideas are a suite of complex processes and technologies like Web 2.0 or Library 2.0 or intranet repositories. We'll see the market taking years to absorb and integrate the solutions promise here.

Second tip: Your idea needs to have five qualities to be more easily acceptable to the people you desire to invest their enterprise's energy and money in. Overall, the idea's benefits must be visible in some way.

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