Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

Bad Business School Advice

Avoid this advice at all costs, "State your conclusion first and then explain the reasoning behind it".  I am sure many have heard this dubious gem about how to persuade live business audiences.  It is well intentioned but atrocious advice.  Driving this effort are the dual objectives of clarity and brevity.  Admirable outcomes for any business meeting.  However, if you actually want to dissuade people concisely and quickly, then go for it.  
The "conclusion first" advice is a natural reaction to lengthy diatribes, wandering aimlessly around business subjects, driving bosses crazy.  The senior leadership are thinking, "I wish they would get to the point". So the standard advice is state your conclusion up front and then add the evidence.  The written word though is different, but here we are talking about oral business presentations.
"Conclusion first" sounds quite logical and reasonable, except it doesn’t work very well when it comes to persuading an audience.  If you are just imparting information then it is probably fine, but if you are seeking agreement on a course of action, then expect low rates of success.
If we put up our action recommendation, before the evidence, we are asking for trouble.   When there is no context, the audience cannot judge fairly.  Your bold, naked conclusion instantly comes under silent assault from a room full of armchair critics and skeptics.  They now tune you out.  They are totally focused on why what you just said is rubbish and won’t work. This, by the way,  is when they are supposed to be absorbing your rationale.  Instead, they are no longer listening to you and are concentrating solely on negatives.
The Japanese language, like some others,  gives us a good clue on fixing this problem.  The verb is at the end of the sentence and so while we are absorbing content, we don’t know if the sentence is describing something in the past, present or future.  We also have no idea if it is positive or negative.  This prevents the listener from jumping in and cutting us off.  They have to suspend judgment about the content.  This enables us to explain the reasoning, then bring up our recommendation rather than the other way around.
Start with evidence, proof, facts, data, expert opinion but wrap it up in a short story. This story should have a few defining guideposts – time, place, people and emotion.  We try to capture our audience’s attention by helping them to see the scene in their mind’s eye.  
For example, "I caught up with our client CEO Ben Smith in Tokyo after Thanksgiving.  We were meeting in their wood paneled boardroom, on the 46th floor of their office in Toranomon Hills, listening to feedback on the programme and I was getting nervous".  That introduction takes about ten seconds.  No one is going to stop us and say, "Greg, will you get to the point".  We have mentally pulled them into the story, taking them to a place they either already know or can easily imagine.  They can visualise the people and the scene.  They are also hooked by curiosity – why was I getting nervous, what happened next, etc?  
We now have their complete attention, as we explain the problem or issue at hand.  We bring in strong evidence with context.  We provide our experience, our rationale, our logic and reasoning inside the story.  We next state the action step we recommend.  This is done in one brief sentence and we immediately tag on the benefit of taking the action. The chances are high that the listeners, hearing the facts and context we have introduced, will jump right ahead of us. They will race to the same conclusion we have reached, before we even have a chance to articulate it.  
Better to bridge to your conclusion, while others are already mentally agreeing with it, than having to fight a rearguard action from the start.  This approach allows us to more easily persuade others to take the action we are proposing.  This is the real world of business not varsity.  Try and it and enjoy the results. 
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