12 Insights on Selling your Ideas from 4 Top CEOs

Have you heard the saying “In a strong company, the best ideas win”?

The reality is that it takes more than a great idea. It takes the ability to get folks to listen, understand and agree with you.  Adding to this, business execution is so complicated today that even the strongest individual contributor has dependencies.

So I asked 4 highly successful CEOs, whose companies I had worked for in some way, for their insights on persuasiveness and selling ideas. I captured highlights of what they shared in an quick reference document below.

Joe Costello
Chairman, Montana Systems

Dean Drako
Founder & CEO, Eagle Eye Networks & IC Manage

Aart de Geus
Founder & CEO, Synopsys

Wally Rhines
CEO, Mentor, a Siemens Business

Joe Costello, Chairman, Montana Systems

Start with a clear end in mind

The “end in  mind” for any presentation is the experience you want to create  for your audience. Think through exactly who your audience is, where they are coming from, how you can most efficiently connect with them.

Get people to see things differently

Find ways to literally jolt people into a new way of seeing the world. Tell a story to help the audience get out of their own mental loops. Humor can help people to see the logical inconsistencies in the world that they accept.

Bring all of you to the discussion

Don’t hold back – put it all out there. Passion is contagious and will help get your audience engaged and open to your message.  If you are not  passionate about your message, how can you expect your audience to be interested? Be inspiring.

Dean Drako, Founder & CEO, Eagle Eye Networks & IC Manage

Show your conviction

Take a position and show your conviction. Not everyone will agree with you; learn why they disagree, to better overcome obstacles in the future.

Focus on your audience’s priorities

Identify your audience and focus on why it’s important to them, not to you. Then pay attention in real time.  If you are not connecting well, establish some direct interaction to change that.

Use real life stories as examples

Use real data, with names and dates, whenever possible.  It increases people’s interest and their belief in what you are discussing.  It also makes your points more memorable.

Aart de Geus, Founder & CEO, Synopsys

Speak from the heart

Be genuine & truthful

Add a fresh insight

Wally Rhines, CEO, Mentor, a Siemens Company

Know your audience

Understand who you will be engaging with, their interests, and what would have an impact on them. Imagine what they audience normally hear, then look for something new and memorable.

Share useful data

Engineers in particular need data; they are not as influenced by emotion and want to see an analytical approach to your theme and conclusions. Also, collecting data can help you refine your thinking.

Don’t pitch your products

Audiences usually stop listening when a speech becomes a company commercial or product pitch, other than occasional anecdotal examples. So, look for a higher level theme.

The vast majority of us won’t reach the levels of influence of these four executive have achieved. Even so, most of us can improve our skills here. And in so doing, we can help ourselves, our companies and our customers to be more successful.

So, if you’ve ever struggled with getting some of your best ideas accepted, I hope some of these shared insights resonate with you sufficiently to try them out.

Having a bigger impact is a rewarding experience. Even more so, if you have a strong vision you’d like to pursue.


Gloria Nichols does CMO and strategic marketing program consulting for technology startups. She has an MBA from Harvard Business School, and a BS in Engineering from Stanford University.