As a leader, you probably want to get people to buy into your ideas. The idea could be a plan of action, change in process, product or service, or new way of thinking. Sometimes, however, people may not recognize the benefit, have the know-how to follow through, or see things differently. In situations like these, knowing how to get people to buy into your ideas is necessary to move forward.

What is Buy-In?

Getting buy-in doesn’t mean selling, manipulating, or coercing anyone. It’s also not about forced compliance. Rather, it’s about influencing and inviting people into a new experience that you believe in. One way to differentiate between the two approaches is that “selling” is ultimately about benefitting one person or group while getting true buy-in is about benefitting everyone.

Of course, people aren’t always going to be interested in what you have to offer. In such cases, shaming, bullying, or forcing people to go along with you will likely fail in the long-term. They may go along if they have to, but they’re not bought-in.

Often, however, it’s not that people aren’t interested. They just might need additional information, a different perspective, or to see how your idea can meet their needs. This is where knowing how to get buy-in is important.

The Secret to Getting Buy-In

There are many ways to get buy-in. Unfortunately, many leaders default to a common mistake: too much talking. They present facts, data, and logic, often in ways that are either overwhelming to their audience or just downright boring. People then lost interest, don’t understand the why, or don’t see how they can benefit (also known as the WIIFM, which stands for What’s In It For Me).

Fortunately, we learned a simple secret in kindergarten that can help: show AND tell.

When we show instead of just tell, we give people the experience of what we’re proposing, not just share information about the experience. Advertisers know this secret well, using imagery, emotions, depictions, and real-life examples that give people a sense of what they’d experience with their product. As leaders, however, we can build off of this approach to get buy-in without resorting to selling.

How to Show and Tell

Here are a few examples that demonstrate “show and tell”:

  • In the movie The Guilt Trip, with Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand, Seth Rogen’s character is trying to pitch a cleaning product that he invented to a potential seller. After many unsuccessful attempts using a very scientific, data-oriented approach his mother (Barbara Steisand’s character), convinces him to try a different, people-centered approach. He finally relents and ultimately uses a combination of humor and drinking his product to demonstrate how safe it is. Of course, the buyer is wowed and convinced. (You can watch the scene here.)
  • Teenage neighbors really wanted to get a puppy. The parents were initially skeptical, but the kids kept persisting. Finally, the kids put together a PowerPoint presentation showing what their role would be, from walking to cleaning to feeding. It worked! (And, wouldn’t you know it, the parents ultimately grew even more attached to the dog than the kids 🙂
  • I worked for an organization with an ineffective client onboarding process. Although colleagues shared their frustrations and provided feedback to senior leadership, not much happened. To incorporate the “show,” I developed some outlines and templates and pitched them to senior leadership. This made it easy for them to see the benefits and buy into the idea. (This also ties into another crucial leadership skill of proposing a solution instead of just giving feedback, which I’ll cover in a later post.)

Creative Show and Tell

Showing and telling requires considering the needs of your audience and finding a way to speak their language. Some ways to do this include:

  • Letting someone test your product
  • Allowing people to try your service for free
  • Doing an activity related to your idea
  • Creating a visual representation of your plan
  • Sharing a story of what people might experience using your approach
  • Presenting possible outcomes from adopting your perspective
  • Using a demonstration
  • Using art, music, or theater to express your goal

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to getting buy-in. You’ll need to step out of the box and put on your creative kindergarten hat. Brainstorm, bounce ideas off colleagues, or experiment with different approaches. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Who is your audience? How do they communicate (visual, aural, verbal, logical, etc.)?
  • What is the outcome of your idea? How can you demonstrate that outcome in the present?
  • How can you pitch your idea, vision, or service as an offering versus what you hope to get in return? In other words, how you emphasize what you’re giving versus what you’re getting?
  • How does your idea, service, or product serve others? How can they experience that benefit in the moment?
  • If you simply focused on having fun presenting your idea without worrying about the outcome, how would you want to present it?

Got some stories around your show and tell approaches? Feel free to share in the comments!