“I won a nickname, ‘The Great Communicator.’ But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things.” – Ronald Reagan, Farewell Address to the Nation, January 11, 1989
Sarah is training for the US Olympic Sailing Team. “Sarah” of course is not her real name, but she is an aspiring athlete in her late 20′s. And like every other athlete who wants to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team, Sarah needs more than just great athletic skill – she needs money. Each year, sailors in the quest for Olympic gold must raise approximately $50,000 to $100,000 depending on their class of boat. And training for the Sailing Team is not a one-year or two-year effort. In today’s ultra-competitive world, the minimum commitment is four to five years, and in some cases it takes much longer to be ready to win the US Olympic Trials and effectively compete in the Olympic Games.
While Sarah is not a typical subject of The Beacon, her story offers a classic example for us to examine. She needs to set and communicate her goals. She needs to sell herself and her “product” to investors. And she needs to deliver her message effectively. In this way, her story is entirely similar to every client of The Latimer Group.
In the last issue of The Beacon we introduced the concept of leverage and the three variables available to persuade your audience:
- The fulcrum, which is your understanding of the audience. The closer your fulcrum is to your audience, the easier they will be to lift;
- The lever, which is your message. With a valuable message, your metaphorical lever gets longer and stronger; and
- The weight, represented by your delivery skills and credibility. The more authentic and confident you are, the more weight you can apply and the higher you can lift your audience.
Let’s look at the three variables through the lens of Sarah’s effort to raise money to allow her to train for the US Olympic Sailing Team.
Three years ago, I sat down with Sarah to discuss her fundraising efforts. She was one of the top-ranked sailors in the US in her class, but she was struggling to raise the necessary funds to continue her journey. She was running a low-budget effort,taking on some personal debt. Her progress and improvement would eventually flatten if she could not find the funds to go to the next level. Sounds similar to a start-up or a company in a growth phase.
We discussed the people she was fundraising from, and her efforts to communicate with them. It became immediately clear that Sarah was too focused on her inability to deliver “value” to her donors. She was frustrated and felt guilty asking for sponsorship and donations. She feared that because she had no financial return offer, there was little reason for someone to give.
Sarah’s view of her audience was fundamentally flawed. She believed that she needed to create an equal financial return for the donations of family and friends.In a business environment creating monetary value is critical for the person or people on the other side of the table. But in Sarah’s situation, there was no financial return that she could offer beyond a tax deduction.
What Sarah did not understand is that there are different types of value. Sure,there is financial value, but there is also emotional or altruistic value. Sarah needed to understand that by pursuing a worthwhile goal and dream, and by pursuing it with appropriate vigor and passion, she could allow many people to live vicariously through her. When people see someone attempting something worthwhile and lofty, like qualifying for the Olympic Team, they tend to want to help.
Once she recalibrated her understanding of her audience, Sarah’s entire approach to her fundraising changed. By understanding her audience better, Sarah moved the figurative fulcrum of her lever closer to her audience, thereby giving herself far more power in her ability to persuade. Everything about her fundraising efforts changed from that moment onward.
Once Sarah’s understanding of her audience changed, her entire message followed suit. We were able to design a message that simply and clearly conveyed her multi-layered goals. She was constantly communicating the ultimate goal – win an Olympic medal – while at the same time communicating her progress towards that goal. As she broke down her overall message into a series of smaller messages,this massive, multi-year effort to qualify for the Olympic Team became more digestible to her audience. Suddenly they were able to understand where she was,where she was going, and the steps she was taking to get there. In this way, Sarah was also fulfilling her value proposition.
Was Sarah’s goal to raise money? Sure. But ultimately what Sarah needed to do was allow people to live vicariously through her. If she was successful in drawing people into her dream and demonstrating she could succeed in her Olympic quest,the money would follow. The money would be indicative of a larger success.
Sarah’s message became about her journey, the challenges in front of her, and her delivery on the goals she had previously communicated. The updates she sent to family, friends, and supporters started to include more than competitive results. Her communication included stories of her travels. Not long ones, but snippets of adventure, humorous stories of language barriers or meals ordered incorrectly. She told the entire story of what it means to train for the US Olympic Sailing Team.
With her fulcrum moved closer to her audience, her lever – her message – became longer and stronger, further increasing her leverage.
Once Sarah understood what really mattered to her audience and had developed the correct message, her confidence went up dramatically. Suddenly she gave herself the license to think positively about her own chances for success. She no longer felt guilty about telling her story and asking for support. She began displaying the same confidence in her fundraising efforts that she had when racing on the water.In a figurative sense, Sarah gained weight. Her persuasive forces increased dramatically, and her newfound confidence manifested itself in two ways: she became more authentic and more credible. She knew she could succeed in competition. And once she realized that this would be interesting to her audience, she developed the self-assurance and poise to ask for support.
Sarah had successfully applied the concept of leverage to improve her communication skills. She maximized all three variables to give her the best possible positional advantage to move her audience. The end result was a dramatic increase in the funds Sarah was able to raise, which in turn led to a higher level of training, and in the end a successful campaign.
The Business Lesson
At the most fundamental level, the communication challenge for Sarah is the same as it is for any business executive. She must have a Goal, understand her Audience and have a Plan to change her audience’s beliefs from where they are today, to where she wants them to be tomorrow.
The primary difference in her story is that Sarah did not need to demonstrate financial value to her investors. Sales professionals and entrepreneurs do. But there is still an important lesson in this story for anyone looking to persuade. Regardless of your goal, your role in your company, or the industry you work in, you always need to be conscious of the various types of value and look for every possible way to strengthen your message and lengthen your metaphorical lever.
In the end, Sarah’s success was the result of embracing the concept of leverage and using all three variables to her maximum advantage. Remember… the Power of Persuasion is not telling people what to think. It is shaping what they think about.
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