Even Great Ideas Must Be Sold Well, Professor Says

Communication studies Professor John Daly knows a little something about selling ideas—after all, his own ideas have been used by the White House, American Airlines, and IBM.

In his sixth book, Advocacy: Championing Ideas and Influencing Others, Daly focuses on a common scenario: you propose an idea in a group meeting, but it is quickly passed over. It was the best idea on the table, so why was it rejected?

“There are politics to every idea,” Daly said at his recent book launch party in the AT&T Conference Center. “If it’s a good idea, you have to be able to sell it to your audience.”

Daly pulled from his own successes to help readers become their own best advocates. In his opinion, successful idea proposals take the careful maneuvering of timing, talking to the right people in the right order, and carefully preparing the most persuasive message.

With case studies from big ideas that did and didn’t fly, he lays out exactly how to go about selling a concept—making, well, a persuasive case.

Drawing from Aesop’s quote, “Persuasion is often more effectual than force,” Daly points out that successfully advocating an idea is very much like a campaign, and he lays out the framework for pulling off the win:

  • Prove the idea by using good evidence that is understandable, new, credible, pertinent, and that brings home the point.
  • Make sure decision-makers know there is an urgent problem that needs fixing—and your idea is the best solution to that problem.
  • Organize the message for optimal impact: create a need, offer a solution, and describe the benefits of your idea. Outline the difficulties that will emerge if they pass on your proposal.

Daly, who was named one of the campus’ greatest professors in May’s Alcalde, says he wrote the book for the “bright, young people who are cynical” about organizational politics, a nod toward the students who flock to his Interpersonal Communication and Advocacy in Applied Settings courses.

Advocacy: Championing Ideas and Influencing Others can be purchased from Yale University Press.

Photos by Jeff Heimsath


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