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How to Make a More Confident, Compelling Case for Content Innovation

Did you watch this year’s Emmy awards? I slogged through it in hope of finding some inspirational messages about storytelling.

I came away disappointed, save for this gem from Alex Borstein, who won best supporting actress in a comedy for her role in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Alex told a brief yet poignant story of her grandmother “Nudgy,” who escaped near-certain death in a Nazi concentration camp by asking one question: “What happens if I step out of line?”

Nudgy’s decision to (literally) step off the path saved her life. It also paved the way for her granddaughter to advocate for change with powerful words of encouragement: “Step out of line, ladies.”

Thankfully, the stakes for Hollywood actors and others who speak up for themselves are far lower than those Nudgy faced. But it can still feel nerve-wracking to advocate for support from those who determine the fate of our proposals.

Your role in content innovation

Alex’s words are sage advice for content marketers. Presenting innovative ideas and novel approaches takes guts – and, often, a persuasive in-person presentation to company leaders. That’s not necessarily one of the skills content marketers spend time honing.

Several Content Marketing World 2019 speakers shared their tips on overcoming the pain of the pitch, crafting convincing presentations, and delivering them with confidence. When you are ready to be a content marketing rule-breaker or risk-taker, try some of their ideas and get the approval to take your content to the next level of success.

Never stop selling content’s value

Getting permission to evolve and improve your operations requires you to be willing to “step out of line.” Diverge from the status quo and advocate for your work as a storyteller and generator of business value. And, as a thought leader in your company, you need to do this again and again.

The idea that content marketers can “never stop selling internally” was part of CMI founder Joe Pulizzi’s keynote presentation. In fact, it was No. 1 on his list of seven content marketing laws for the next decade.

Joe asserts that content marketing ideas and initiatives don’t get killed because they don’t produce results. They get quashed because someone who holds the purse strings doesn’t understand what it is the content marketer does – or how it affects what the purse-holder does.

Every time you pitch a new idea, your first responsibility is to educate members of your leadership audience about the value of content marketing by framing your argument in terms of how they stand to benefit.

For example, if you want buy-in to get your overarching content marketing strategy off the ground, position it as a process to move your company’s content creation closer to your customers’ needs, suggests CMI’s Chief Strategy Advisor Robert Rose.

Alternately, if ROI is the end-all-be-all of your stakeholders’ concerns, Marketing Insider Group’s Michael Brenner recommends building your case around content marketing’s ability to achieve specific company goals with greater efficiency and effectiveness.

Counter future rejection by validating current beliefs

Once you get the focus of your message right, there’s the matter of delivering it to convince decision-makers the time to act is now.

In her keynote presentation, The Red Thread’s Tamsen Webster looked at emotional factors that drive people to consent to change, including one of the strongest human motivators: fear.

Marketers often weaponize the emotion of fear ­– fear of missing out, fear of failure, etc. – in their content messaging. It can work well, especially when that change only requires a simple or low-risk adjustment, like trying a new deodorant or following new diet tips.

Yet, Tamsen contends pain is a less powerful motivator when the change requires a significant mind shift, not just a small behavioral shift. Marketers need to remember that when it comes to getting executive buy-in for an unfamiliar or unproven content idea.

When presented with an idea for change, Tamsen says, a decision-maker’s brain typically considers three factors:

  • Does it want the described change?
  • Does it believe what’s being said about the change?
  • Do the proof points validate what it already knows and accepts as true?

To persuade stakeholders to approve meaningful, long-term change, align your talking points with and validate your stakeholders’ existing ideas and beliefs. To help marketers build the story that establishes these favorable conditions, Tamsen gave CMWorld attendees a glimpse of her secret formula: 

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Deliver your pitch with confidence

Once you’ve acknowledged your need to sell your ideas and know what to say (and how to say it), all that’s left to do is get up there and present your pitch. Easy peasy, right?

Well, not for everyone. For those who fear public speaking, the very idea of presenting in front of an audience – let alone one made up of executives who might reject your ideas – can put them off their game and derail their chances of reporting back with a win.

As Creative Circle Vice President Michael Weiss discussed in his CMWorld session, The Five Feet of Fear, stage fright can range from mild jitters that cause sweating and shaking to all-out panic that causes deer-in-the-headlight stares and erases the presenter’s memory.

No matter what symptoms you experience, glossophobia is no joke, despite the classic Jerry Seinfeld bit about how some people fear it more than death:

Michael admits he felt so much pressure at his first TED talk, he ran up and down a set of stairs for 10 minutes to burn off his anxiety before he could get on the stage.

In case a few pre-presentation wind sprints just won’t do it for you, Michael shares tricks and techniques that can help anyone become more comfortable and confident presenting to an audience of marketing decision-makers (or anyone else):

  • Manage the physiological signs of anxiety. The simple act of standing up can change your energy and make you feel more powerful. You can also try a quick breathing exercise: Inhale for four seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds. Exhale for eight seconds. Doing this will lower your blood pressure and bring more oxygen into your body, making you feel more relaxed and focused.
  • Gain a psychological upper hand. Convincing others to take your advice is all about having confidence in your ideas and your ability to communicate them clearly. To increase your confidence with the material, rehearse your presentation out loud, from top to bottom. If you’re worried about your voice, delivery style, or any distracting mannerisms, ask a friend to sit in on your run-through and share constructive feedback.
  • Make a power move: If you feel you’re losing your audience’s attention, take command of the situation. For example, after delivering a critical point, hit the period key on your laptop to black out your slideshow. With nothing to see on the screen, your audience naturally shifts their focus back to you
  • Put everything into perspective. Ultimately, your audience is listening and watching your presentation because they want to hear your ideas and advice, not critique your performance as a speaker. If you stumble over a word, forget a detail, or lose your train of thought, take a breath and keep moving forward.

Reclaim your power to promote progress

It’s never easy to step out of line, step up on the stage, and advocate for change. But you can make it easier on yourself by practicing these tips. Accept responsibility for your program. Use your audience’s existing values and beliefs. Practice power breathing, power moves, and your powerful presentation.

Do the prep work and have confidence in your ideas – and in yourself. There’s no limit to what you might be able to accomplish.

Register to attend Content Marketing World in San Diego. Use the code BLOG100 to save $100. Can't attend in person this year? Check out the Digital Pass for access to on-demand session recordings from the live event through the end of the year.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute