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Photo illustration by SPARK Publications.


You’ve got it! The next big thing, the best idea since sliced bread, the perfect solution to the company’s current challenge. The problem? You’re one of the youngest and least experienced people on the team, and your ideas have been overshadowed or ignored in the past. How can you make sure that your ground-breaking idea is sincerely heard and considered?

What makes your plan more ideal than any other that’s been proposed? Are you sure that no one else has suggested this solution yet? If it’s very similar to another idea that was previously shot down, why is yours better? Be specific. Run it by uninvolved third parties who have a completely neutral perspective, such as friends and family, and then run it by co-workers you trust who are familiar with the problem. Specifically ask for constructive feedback and adjust your plan as necessary.

The best way to make sure that your idea is objectively considered in a corporate setting is to assign it value. If it will save or make the company money, the idea is much more likely to be viewed favorably. This includes saving the company time because time is money.

Take any feedback you received and smooth any sharp edges on your idea or plan. Be honest with yourself about any roadblocks, pain points or challenges that were brought up. It’s not the end of your idea if they exist, but it’s important to acknowledge them and have potential solutions prepared for when management points them out during your proposal.

If you can test your idea before you pitch it, do it. This will allow you to bring actionable data and examples into your proposal instead of just speculation. As Julia Maddox espouses in the SPARK session, “Innovation: The Future of Your Business – Design Thinking Can Help,” it’s important to fail and learn from your failure. She says, “In early stages, keep prototypes inexpensive and low resolution to learn quickly and explore possibilities.” 

Anxiety is the price we pay for the unprepared mind and mouth. To make your proposal the best it can be and ensure that you have the confidence you need to communicate clearly, take the time to prepare for it. If you need to make a presentation to adequately share your idea, spend time making it look good. Create a script and rehearse it, both alone with a mirror and in front of an audience.

Lois Frankel, PhD, author of Nice Girls Don’t Speak Up or Stand Out: How to Make Your Voice Heard, Your Point Known, and Your Presence Felt, says, “Put your main point up front, and follow it with more detail.” This is similar in structure to an essay, where you state your theme in your intro and follow it up with supporting data. 

Choose your location wisely. Give your idea the time it requires to pitch properly, but don’t over-inflate it either. If you can sum it up in a minute, make an elevator pitch. However, if your proposal will take more than five minutes, schedule a time with your supervisor. Let him or her know what the general topic is but save your actual idea for the meeting. This will be respectful of your supervisor’s time, ensures he or she comes prepared to listen and provides adequate time to loop in any other appropriate team members.

Make your time count. You have your audience’s undivided attention, so make the most of it. Come fully prepared. Have facts and figures in-hand, on paper, to refer to as asked. Make sure your presentation materials are in order and that your laptop or any other electronics you are using are fully charged.

Speak at an appropriate volume for the setting and be sure to enunciate. Speak with conviction and avoid “maybe” statements. Practice a few filler responses to buy yourself time to think about unexpected questions, such as, “That’s something I hadn’t considered. My first impression is this but let me do some additional research and I can have something more concrete for you soon.”

Keep your presentation succinct. Don’t waste anyone’s time with specific details about how the plan will work unless they ask. Thank your audience for their time and ask for immediate feedback or impressions to ensure that your idea was interpreted as you intended.

If there were specific questions during your presentation that you couldn’t answer, send a follow-up email as soon as you can to address those concerns. Be specific about what the question was regarding and how you would address the issue.

Let a few days pass before casually asking if your supervisor has had time to consider your proposal, if any additional information is needed for it to be considered or if they have feedback or adjustments they would like to see. Don’t pester, and choose your follow-up times wisely, but make sure that it’s clear you want an answer about how to proceed with your idea. “Be tenacious but gracious,” says Maddox in her Elevator Pitch Toolkit.

Your proposal went great, but the feedback you received was vague or confusing. You spent time preparing your pitch and have eliminated any issues in your communication, so consider other issues that may be afoot. Did you choose a bad time to approach the idea? Could you try again at a time of year when the workload is lower, or the company has fewer pressing priorities? Does your supervisor or others who heard your idea have rigid opinions that contrast with your idea? How can you challenge those opinions in an objective way? 

Another potential problem: your audience wasn’t the correct team to pitch to in the first place. If that’s the case, ask your audience if they agree with your idea and if they would be willing to voice their support to the appropriate team, or help you secure a meeting with them. 

The biggest potential problem is if your supervisor is not open to receiving your idea. If you find yourself in a workplace that doesn’t value the input of its employees, or discourages rocking the boat for any reason, you may want to consider finding a new job.

If your idea doesn’t go over as well as you had hoped, don’t be discouraged. Some things will just never work out for reasons that are out of your control, and it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try again when you have another great idea. Make sure you review any specific feedback you receive and make note of information that could be applied to new ideas. 

Finally, be the kind of listener you want to pitch ideas to. In meetings, practice active listening whenever someone else is pitching an idea, ask questions and give constructive feedback. This will make others more likely to listen to you in the future. 


Kacie Brinner is the information services project supervisor and Prop 65 SME at industry business services provider SAGE and a volunteer leader with SPARK, the industry network for young professionals.