CEO Tips on Selling your Ideas (part 2): Wally Rhines & Dean Drako

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

Show your conviction

Take a position – talk from the heart and take some risk. Do it with passion. People do not like listening to politicians who are unwilling to take a position and who are always “politically correct”. That is boring, and definitely not persuasive. Not everyone will agree with you; learn why they disagree, to better overcome obstacles for the future. Persist.

Focus on your audience’s priorities

Identify your audience and talk only about things that matter to them. Focus on what’s important to them, not to you. As you are creating the material, keep putting yourself in the audience’s shoes. It takes discipline but keep stepping back and looking at it from their perspective.  If you have point that the audience is not going to care about — skip it. Then pay attention to the audience in real time. If you feel you are not connecting well, establish some direct interaction to change that. See what is resonating, and spend more time on topics that are peaking their interest, rather being tied to your original planned presentation.

Use real life stories as examples

Use real life stories as examples whenever possible. Use names and dates. Real data makes your points more memorable; it increases people’s interest and their belief in what you are delivering.

Wally Rhines, CEO Emeritus, Mentor, a Siemens Company

Know your audience

Find out who will be attending, what their interests are and what would have an impact on them. Imagine what this audience normally hears from similar speakers and try to find something new, unique and memorable. A month or two after giving a speech, ask some of the people who attended what you said and see if they remember.

Collect & Analyze Data

I find that, frequently, themes that I thought would make a good speech turn out to be incorrect when I collect more data; but the additional data collection usually leads to a more interesting topic than the one I started pursuing. Engineering audiences need data; they are not as influenced by emotion and they want to see an analytical approach to your theme and conclusions — with well documented sources that they can check and research further.

Don’t pitch your products

Don’t talk about your company or your products (except for occasional anecdotal examples). Audiences usually stop listening when a speech becomes a company commercial or product pitch. Look for a higher level theme that provides a unique perspective for examining current trends, markets and technologies. Amplify it with real life examples. Find entertainment value at every stage of the speech. Sometimes I ask myself how I would make each slide entertaining or, if that’s impossible, consider eliminating the slide.

Thanks to Dean Drako, Wally Rhines, Joe Costello and Aart de Geus for sharing their insights.


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.