How NOT to Pitch an Idea to your Team

I had an interesting experience today. For the last few weeks I have been talking with a friend about ideas he had for the BYU Experimental Theater Company. Yesterday we were tossing around some thoughts, and we had an epiphany: why don’t we turn this club into a student-run immersion program? It could be structured like a real production company, have industry experts on the board to guide us along, and students could take it as a capstone class and gain real experience producing a play. This would round out their skillset and make them more marketable once they are looking for a job.
It’s a very feasible idea: the PR department at BYU formed a real PR firm that is run by the students. They complete projects for real clients and gain valuable experience. The PR department was recently ranked in the top five programs nationwide. I am on the executive team for Grantwell, a mock-foundation housed within the Romney Institute that gives students great experience in foundation work, as we complete consulting projects for real foundations. Heck, the student newspaper is run the same way. This is not a new concept.

We put together a proposal and met with the rest of the ETC student board today. I was expecting an overwhelming response, pats on the back, maybe some cheering. I mean, we were pretty much saving the world here. This was a no-brainer decision.

They hated it.

Really hated it.

“We can’t make it a class, because the faculty members have too much to do already.” “We can’t call this a professional theater company, because BYU would have major problems with that.” “The department already teaches this stuff: you just have to fill out a proposal and get special mentoring.” “I’m talented enough to get a job, I don’t care about production.” “This completely changes ETC and we don’t like that”, etc.

I was amazed by how quickly, unanimously, and violently they opposed our idea, until I realized that we had made the mistake, not them. We were dumping a complicated-looking new program on them without showing how it fulfilled their own goals. We also made the mistake of pushing a full-scale program with no warning, on a group of people who were already overwhelmed by the complexity of their current organization.

Here’s how I should have pitched the idea:

1) Highlight what everyone wants to get out of this.
“We want to learn how to produce plays, not just act in them.”

2) Describe the problem briefly.
“We do all these student activities but still don’t have marketable skills to get a job after graduation.”

3) Touch upon the main point of the solution.
“We should create an organization that looks and runs like a professional production company. That way, we graduate already having real experience.”

4) Reinforce the idea’s feasibility.
“Many departments on campus have used this model successfully. We can learn what worked for them and duplicate their methods.”

5) Only introduce the initial tactical points.
“We can start slow, by finding someone in the industry who can help us build the right organizational structure. We will need to change the way we brand ourselves, but we’ll mostly be doing business as usual in our day-to-day operations.”

6) Outline a brief vision of what the organization could become down the road.
“Eventually, we could be an official capstone experience for theater students. We would be widely recognized and students would want to apply to our department, because of what we do here. We would place more graduates in prestigious jobs, and they could come back and make the company even better.”

I wish things had gone better this morning, but I learned a valuable lesson, and hopefully won’t repeat this mistake again.

Category: Management


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Article by: Dave

Dave Cannon is a Seattle-based entrepreneur and consultant to nonprofits and small businesses. He loves Thai food and takes terrible photographs. You can follow him on Linkedin.
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