Ever notice that when you’re in a meeting or a team brainstorm, you’re often hit with a stroke of genius, only to sound like a rambling maniac when you actually try to explain what you’re thinking to everyone in the room?
Practically all ideas start off as half-baked and vague, but if you can learn how to quickly sort through the mess to see if what you’re thinking is any good, you’ll instantly make yourself far more valuable. (And you’ll leave the conversation feeling like you said the right words in the right order.)
Not sure where to start? Read through these five steps to make any idea sound more concrete—fast.
Step 1: Decide if Your Idea Is Relevant
Before you go any further into fleshing out your thoughts, take a moment and ask this very simple question: Is this relevant to the conversation at hand?
For example, you could have a brilliant solution for trimming the budget, but if you’re in a meeting about a client’s social media strategy, what you’re saying won’t be at all on-topic. Be honest with yourself about how pertinent something is to your current situation. If you can’t find a good enough reason to say something, but think your idea is amazing, write it down and get to it later.
Step 2: Summarize Your Idea in One Sentence
Ever notice that when a series of random thoughts pop into your head, it’s hard to figure out what your actual point is? Before raising your hand or speaking up, quickly see if you can state it in one sentence. If you’re already mentally stumbling through what you’re going to say, chances are it won’t come out much better when you start talking.
One easy way to do this? Summarize the very basic problem you’re addressing in your head and write down your solution in 10 words. You’d be surprised how much clarity you get when you keep things short.
Step 3: Consider Any Supporting Evidence or Information
If think your boss, co-workers, or clients will be intrigued by your initial ideas, try to come up with follow-up evidence or examples to provide to back up what you’re saying. Anything can help strengthen your argument, so before you blurt it out, think through what your supporting evidence is.
For instance, before I pitched a new vertical to a blog I work for, I quickly came up with examples of other publications that were doing similar things. While my research wasn’t entirely fleshed out, it was enough to catch my boss’ attention—and she asked for a full proposal.
Step 4: Ask “So What?”
One of the most important principles in writing is the big “So what?” and it definitely applies to promoting ideas, too.
Ask yourself, “So what?” when it comes to your idea. Why would someone care about this? What specific goal does it help move your company toward? Or, how does it help your team solve its current problem? It’s much easier to think of an angle for your pitch if you have a complete understanding of your audience.
Step 5: Decide When to Bring Up Your Idea
You might find yourself in a fast-paced meeting where you don’t have time to collect your thoughts and spill them before the entire group moves onto something else. Or, maybe you have a great solution for a potential project you can take on, but it doesn’t have to do with your current team brainstorm. While your thoughts shouldn’t be absolutely irrelevant to your work, lots of game-changing epiphanies come during the worst times and aren’t fully considered because of that. Don’t be afraid to put off telling people about what you’re thinking until later. You’ll still get points for being brilliant.
Likewise, if your window of opportunity is right in the moment, don’t be afraid to speak up. And, because you’ve followed the above four steps, avoid using a qualifier like, “This is really half-baked, but…” Just go straight into it, see what feedback you get, and move on. Remember: No one will be as hyper-critical of your idea as you are, so even if it flops, chances are people won’t remember it soon after.
Remember, every idea starts off a little half-baked when you first think of it. The trick is learning how to quickly decipher your main messaging, who your audience is, and why you’re saying it. Once you do that, you’ll be surprised how quickly you can seem like the most put-together in the room without much effort.