President Barack Obama is a gifted orator who quickly rose to the pinnacle of American politics. But he still struggles to sell some of his economic stimulus initiatives to fellow elected officials and the public.
Regardless of the lengths he's gone to pitch his ideas, there's a big chunk of Americans who aren't buying his business strategy.
No one knows if Obama is right. Measuring the success of massive policy efforts like his takes years. Still, there's a lot we can learn from watching the president try to build support for his plans. Here are seven elements to selling big ideas.
It's hard to get people's attention if there is no perceived need. People have been interested in hearing the president's plan because the economy was in a nosedive and it was affecting their lives.
A lot of research must be done to make a good case for why the idea should be considered. The president inherited a declining economy and broken financial system. He needed to come up with facts that would support his recommendations so people could see their potential.
The message has to be straightforward. For example, the president needed to explain to the public the reason the government was providing capital to the automotive industry. It was because the government believed that the U.S. could compete if carmakers created more fuel-efficient cars. The government also didn't want more than 2 million people to lose their jobs, which would ripple through the rest of the economy.
The seller has to be a good communicator both in writing and verbally, though verbal skills are more important because big ideas are usually sold in person.
A seller's posture, hand gestures and facial expressions will help potential buyers sense if he has confidence in his plan.
Listeners need help visualizing a speaker's proposition. When the government let
go under, it was important to show that other companies needed to be helped to prevent a chain reaction. Comparing the situation to a train wreck or a series of dominos would have improved the average person's understanding of the consequences of not helping other financial institutions.
This is the most important part of selling an idea and an area in which Obama has fallen short. I was recently on a train in Atlanta with thousands of people who had gone to a tea party to protest government aid for financial companies and automakers. They didn't understand why the government stepped in to help these industries. Obama didn't sufficiently explain that letting a major bank fail is like shutting down a region's electricity or water provider. There needs to be enough banks to lend to other companies, otherwise jobs and stock investments would be at risk. It was also important to make sure foreign investors could feel confident in the U.S. If there's no money flowing to businesses, they won't have the juice to pay their bills.
Annette Simmons wrote a good book on the subject called
Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins
(Amacom 2007). It helps readers construct compelling stories that illustrate their visions and the reasons behind them. She provides a variety of storytelling methods. After all, great ideas are sold through confident pitch masters who offer simple messages backed by facts everyone can understand.
Marc Kramer, a serial entrepreneur, is the author of five books and is an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton's Global Consulting Practicum, where he serves as Country Manager for Chile.