Stop Trying to Convince Your Audience. Start Compelling Them.


Accepting a national book award author Ursula K Le Guin spoke “resistance and change often begin with art…and very often the art of words.” And I believe the same is true of understanding.

When we launch a new product, identify a growing trend or seek support for a controversial perspective leaders are trained to simplify, simplify, simplify.  What’s your elevator pitch, we ask? Where is your tagline?

In helping a client prepare for a recent board meeting I was struck by how delicately the balance between simple messaging and story telling must be weighed. This client was presenting a significant evolution of their product line and they were seeking funds to pay for the required development. The leadership team worked for two weeks to get the presentation just right. At first collecting dozens of data points crafting a detailed argument. A couple of days before the meeting they started to “simplify” the message. At first, this was helpful. They became passionate spokespeople for the cause. Then 12 hours before the meeting something shifted. They started to speak in “elevator pitch” mode and focusing on the number of slides.  You could feel the enthusiasm almost physically drain from the room. They had gone too far. (For the record they fixed the problem in plenty of time for the board meeting which went fantastically well.)

A compelling, impassioned value proposition is an art not a word count. It’s why Ted Talks are 18 minutes and not two. It’s why we have websites and not just landing pages. It’s why our board meetings are not just 15 minute coffee breaks.

Please don’t misunderstand the point of this story. Simplification of messaging is good. Taglines are hugely valuable. And yes, you do need an elevator pitch because we do get in elevators (or on the phone) with influencers and have just a few seconds to catch the listener’s attention before they make an escape. But…most of the time we don’t need an elevator pitch. We need a story. A story so compelling your audience will leave you but the story won’t leave them. A tagline can’t do that.