What is it about sharing an idea that is so terrifying?
When you’re working on an idea, there’s nothing more exciting than working over the details and bringing your little nugget of a thought to life. Who hasn’t lost a few hours to sketching out a landing page (or five…) or writing a new strategy for their team to try?
Ideas are exhilarating. Creating something new — something you think will make an impact on your team’s success or happiness or efficiency — is such an empowering moment. When you start to see things in the bigger picture and realize that you are someone who can make an impact — well, there’s kind of nothing better.
But then comes that moment where you’ve got to pull the curtains off and reveal your idea to the people who can make it happen. And that’s when things start to get a little scary.
Putting your idea out there is a vulnerable moment. You’re sharing something you care deeply about, that you’ve spent lots of time on, and that represents something meaningful to you. By sharing it, you’re taking a risk.
Risks can have huge payoffs. But they can have downsides too. And that’s where things get scary.
And while I can’t make sharing an idea — and the vulnerability that comes along with it — any less nerve-wracking, I can help you be more prepared and improve your chances of getting the response that you are hoping for. By knowing *how* to raise an idea, you can be more confident that you’ll get the chance to bring it to life.
How to raise your big idea: a fearless step-by-step guide
Inspiration or idea?
Sometimes it can be hard to think when you’re really excited about an idea. When you just came across something you think will solve all of your team’s problems, the enthusiasm to share it can be overwhelming.
But sharing an idea before it’s ready to present usually means that it gets rejected.
There’s usually a lot of research and thinking that has to be done before a brilliant idea you had one day turns into the kind of brilliant idea your team is implementing 6 months later. An idea on it’s own isn’t as valuable as a plan — so be sure that’s what you’re working on.
An idea is: “grow our sales staff so customers can get more personalized service.”
A great idea, definitely. But not a *plan*. And a plan is what you need. How will you grow sales staff? What does “more personalized service” look like? Is it just about more sales staff, or does it involve other activities too? How much will it cost? How will it pay for itself?
There’s a lot of thinking to do before your inspiration becomes your big idea. Give it time, and give it patience. Think through it. Don’t jump the gun — ask lots of questions and come up with lots of answers.
Then, once you’ve determined that your idea is ready to go, don’t delay. The longer you put off sharing it, the more likely it is that you never will. So pick a good time, and leap.
Bring your idea, fully-formed
Especially if you are presenting to a manager or executive who doesn’t have a ton of time, be sure to bring a full-on idea to them or you risk being turned away. Why?
Well, imagine someone walks up to your desk and says: “I’ve got a great idea for how you can staple your papers together. Instead of stapling them in the top-right corner, staple them in the bottom-left corner. It’s going to be a total game-changer!”
What’s your first thought? I imagine most people’s first thought is simply: “Why?”
Then come the follow-up thoughts:
- Why is stapling in the bottom-left corner a game-changer?
- Will it take more time?
- Will it cost more money?
- What about all the papers I’ve already stapled the old way? Will I have to go back and change all of those?
- What about other people who access my papers?
You need to think like your manager before you present anything to them. Run through the list of questions you think they’ll ask, and come up with answers *before* you get in the meeting. (You can even ask a peer to review your idea to see what questions they come up with!) Answering a person’s questions before they have to ask them instills great confidence in your words.
And while you’re going over how to answer the biggest questions, don’t forget the most simple question: “Why?” too.
When you’ve been working over an idea for days or weeks, you’re usually so deep in the details by the end that you’ve completely forgotten the number one question you really need to answer. Why is this such a good idea?
Once you’ve got that nailed down, then focus on answering the second most important question: “How?”.
Think about what your manager cares about. What are their big pain points? How can this idea help them? Who would they need to sell this idea to in order to get it approved? What questions would that person have?
Bring all the information, answers, and data you could possibly need to the meeting. The more prepared you are, the more confidence your manager will have in your idea and your ability to bring it to life.
Keep it simple
As we mentioned above, when you’re sharing a new idea, your presentation of information matters. Leaders are usually pressed for time, and so the more concise and packed with value you can make your presentation, the better. The fewer questions they have to ask, the more satisfied they’ll be.
Keep your language concise and clear. Focus on giving facts, and put them in an order that makes logical sense so it is easy to follow along.
Eliminate phrases like this from your vocabulary immediately: “I know I’m new, and so this probably isn’t anything, but I did just kind of want to bounce something off of you…”
Save time (and credibility) by just jumping into the pertinent information.
For an initial discussion, try to limit your presentation to three main ideas — any more than that becomes hard to process. Remember, this is probably all new information to your manager, and overwhelming them with facts and details will probably have a counterproductive effect.
Bring visuals or hard copies of anything that can help demonstrate a point. It always helps to be able to see exactly why something will work, since many people have a hard to absorbing audio information alone. Plan to follow up with them in an email with all the main details as well.
This is a big one I’m guilty of. Presenting a new idea can feel like another way of telling someone the way they’ve been doing things is wrong. After all, you are saying your new idea is will solve existing problems — which means the way things have been done before is causing problems.
I feel this intensely, and so my instinct is always to apologize for having a new idea at all. I’ve talked myself out of sharing ideas that I *knew* were great, and delayed having meetings that ended up going spectacularly well, just because I convinced myself my ideas weren’t good enough.
But apologizing for being in someone’s office and taking up their time with your thoughts, only undersells what you’ve got to offer. You are there for a reason. You are smart, and you’ve given this idea thought. It’s not a waste of their time to hear what you’ve got to say.
If you apologize for your idea, you’re subtly telling them that you don’t think this idea or meeting is worth their time. Don’t do that. Believe in yourself and the amazing things you can do.
Take yourself seriously
Don’t forget that when you’re sharing a new idea, you are — at a basic level — selling. We all like to think our work and ideas alone should be enough, but the fact is we all work with other people, and other people have feelings that are influenced by how you interact with them.
So if you roll up to your big idea meeting with your boss with your hair a mess and papers falling out of your backpack, this has as much power to influence what she hears when you speak as the actual words you are saying.
So treat your meeting with the seriousness it deserves. Dress nicely, sit up straight, speak firmly. Come prepared. You deserve to share ideas — you wouldn’t be in your role if they didn’t think you were smart enough to have great ideas about it.
You like your idea enough to be there, so give it the best shot you can by presenting it as powerfully as possible! Let your sincerity come through, and demonstrate through your language and your presence that you take it as seriously as you want them to.
Focus on the facts and the positives
Make sure your language in your pitch focuses on the positive things your idea will bring, rather than the negative things the old system caused.
Your manager likely worked on or within the current systems your company is using, and you want to be careful not to talk negatively about work they may have done. When you’re excited about your idea, it’s easy to forget that the current system was probably someone else’s great idea at some point, and that talking trash about it doesn’t do much to sell your own idea.
Instead, focus on facts about the current system like employee retention numbers or click-through-rates, or whatever stats align with your argument. Then present the improved numbers or impact you expect your idea to have, and keep the conversation focus on the future and data rather than feelings about the past.
Pick the right place and right time
Ever had someone tell you bad news the second you walked in the door? There’s nothing worse than feeling blindsided. So don’t put your manager in the same position by springing an idea on them when they’re not prepared.
You should be in an official meeting setting when you present your idea, and your boss should know you’ll be pitching them an idea. Just being in that mindset makes them much more likely to be prepared to say yes.
Beyond setting meeting times, you should also make sure this is the right time for this idea at your company or on your team. If your idea doesn’t align with current company goals or priorities, you’ll have a harder time selling it and it may be better to save it for a time that your leadership will be more focused on it.
Temper your expectations
As a lifelong overachiever, I got pretty used to effusive praise from teachers throughout my early life. After sharing one of my great ideas with someone else, I tend to sit back and wait for marching bands to come around the corner and streamers to start falling from the ceiling.
So it was a huge surprise to me when I started pitching ideas at work in the real world, and most of the time, my managers gave me back responses like, “Alright, this is a good start.”
A good start?? Did they not appreciate how brilliant this idea was, and also how much work I did in my off time to help bring it to life?
It’s totally normal to feel really invested in your idea, and so even getting a fairly positive reaction to your proposal can feel like a let-down.
Try to remember your boss has a lot to consider when they are hearing your idea. You have most likely given them a lot to think about, and they will want to give it some serious thought before jumping to any big conclusions.
Even if they like what they hear, this meeting is likely only the first small step in a much bigger process, and there is much more work for both of you to do — and it’s better to celebrate your wins once you’ve actually achieved the results anyways.
And if your idea is rejected: don’t forget that the rejection of an idea is just that — the rejection of an *idea*, not the person who came up with the idea. Just because your idea can’t be implemented doesn’t mean your boss hates you, or even thinks your idea is a bad idea. Sometimes things just can’t happen.
There are so many factors that influence why your manager would or would not get on board with an idea you present, many of which you may not even be aware of. So don’t let a rejection feel like a slap in the face; it almost never is.
You’ll only know why an idea gets rejected or accepted if you ask. Sometimes the meeting will naturally flow into a discussion of why or why not an idea is a good fit for your team, and you’ll get to hear the things that worked in favor of and against your presentation.
If it doesn’t, though, schedule a meeting with your manager to talk it over. You can find out if a rejected idea is something that is strictly impossible, not possible right now, or if your idea needs more tweaking before it can be seriously considered.
This is really helpful information, since it lets you know what direction you should move in next. Should you look elsewhere for ways to innovate, or is this an area you should continue to try to improve?
Take their answers seriously, and always thank them for their time and help. That’s just good to do, no matter how the meeting goes.
Go forth and fearlessly innovate!
Do you have an idea you want to present at work? We’d love to hear about it, or about a time you presented an idea fearlessly in the past. Share it in the comments or on Twitter!