The Art of the Water Cooler Pitch

Opportunities to share your ideas in the workplace can be rare. Getting them in front of the right people can be an even bigger feat. This piece will take you through the alternative opportunities in work to move from idea to impact – and how to condense them into that precise ‘watercooler moment’.

More often than not, professionals will be 100% confident presenting their proposal, certain that it has value, but somehow, they failed to convince anyone else of that fact. The problem here may not lie with your idea, but rather who is hearing the idea. Accomplishments, learnings and challenges have helped you to identify what works and doesn’t work within an industry; if you are confident in your idea it may just be a matter of getting it into the right hands.

There is a common misconception that senior management can only be pitched to in a boardroom or with a full plan in place. A less daunting and more effective approach can lie in a simple, relaxed moment. The day presents itself with several opportunities to speak with senior level, these opportunities just may not appear pitch appropriate. It could be in the elevator, your walk to the carpark or simply standing around the water cooler seeking a couple minutes of headspace. You don’t need to create powerpoint slides which fill your hard drive, compile incomparable diagrams or rehash previous ideas for other clients. You must reassess your approach and adopt a fresh style of pitch: the water cooler pitch.

The office water cooler brings people together on a more personal level. It’s often seen as a rest place for sharing the escapades of your weekend with your co-workers, but it also supplies facetime with management. Senior management looking for hydration to bring some relief to the working day will regularly frequent the water cooler. Why not utilize this space for your pitch?

The water cooler is a calm space, it provides a necessary break so it is likely your boss will be in a relaxed mindsight open to conversation. Of course, it can be tempting to pitch out every promising idea you’ve ever had, but this is a mistake. Utilize the moment and approach it in the correct way- casually and relaxed- remember this is just a conversation. Success lies in the way you carry out your conversation. Use your water cooler moment to build rapport and thus accelerate the conversation, management hold the key to your advancement.

You may find the thought of speaking to your seniors daunting, but it is important to remember they have hired you; you are a representative of their company. Trust and credibility have already been established.

Those who are in a management role, are always looking for ways to keep moving the team forward. If you have ideas for innovations, new ways you can contribute to the team, or if there is a way your idea can advance a team initiative they will want to hear it, regardless of the setting.

Yes, this is just a conversation, but that does not mean you shouldn’t prepare. Know what is motivating your management. Before you can hope to build confidence and make a connection with your audience, you need to know who they are and what they care about as it relates to your pitch. You already have the idea, you’ve done the brainstorms and the S.W.A.T studies but it wont count for much if you are not familiar with who you are pitching to. Gather some insight, where they began in the company, what is their usual strategy, what successes have they had a role in. Do your homework ahead of time and be concious of the goals your management has. This will help you assess whether they are approaching the right person.

If you know of someone in your company who is good at getting senior approval or seems to be able to read them particularly well, then pull them aside and ask for advice. If you can make them an ally in your request then they will likely advise you on how to make your approach stronger. Once you have an understanding of what they are looking for and what makes them tick, you’ll be ready to approach.

Be Conversational, but Professional

You're walking a fine line. No one wants to hear a stale, pre-prepared pitch. It should feel natural, like a conversation. It should not feel like you're cornering the prospect of over-rehearsed fluff. But at the same time, you don't want to be so relaxed as to seem unprofessional, unprepared, or forgetful. Yes, it is simply a water cooler chat but you are speaking to your superior. Have a calm and prepared approach, but still demonstrate a professional demeanour

Be Enthusiastic

If you're not interested in what you have to say, why should anyone else be? You need to have a genuine passion for the idea you're selling, whether it's a huge plan for a solar house, or a new ad campaign for paper cups.

The opportunity has arisen, you are taking advantage of the water cooler. One of the biggest mistakes someone can make during a brief pitch is trying to cram too many details into that moment.

Start your pitch by quickly establishing rapport. In the first 10 seconds you can connect the dots that will tie you two together, remember it’s watercooler conversation so keep it simple - when making an initial connection, look for opportunities to relate to the person. Maybe you both love the same football team or enjoy playing golf; maybe you both have children and can relate to the challenges that presents; or maybe you both simply worked for the same company at some point in the past. Finding one or two things that you both share will make you more relatable and memorable.

Like all other pitches, you should not give your full pitch right off the bat. Ease them into the idea, try to keep it simple. You're better off presenting a problem, solution and why you're the solution They do not need to hear a full business plan right away.

With your common ground established, move in with your idea. Start with the outcome, explain how your idea is going to troubleshoot your boss, your clients and your team. It will interest them to hear there is something that needs to be troubleshot. Remember to keep the conversation casual you don’t want them to think this is a pitch, take a sip of water and ask for their opinion on the topic.

Tease out the conversation by defining the problem which will lead to the idea and its scope. Remind yourself that this is the casual watercooler pitch, the culture is comfortable. Your language should be simple, you are not sitting across a desk so avoid using the overly complicated tech speak and jargon.

Keep your boss relevant to the conversation, allow them to be hero of the idea, be clear on what the idea means to them, rather than to you. It is not just an idea that they need to approve it is something they are involved in from inception.

Most pitches are a one-way communication, with perhaps a question-and-answer session afterward. But this is a different style of pitch. This is a discussion, not a slide-driven presentation so you need to be able to prompt questions. Try to be flexible enough not only to "let go" of your pitch, but also to get the conversation back on track if it strays.

Let the idea sink in, ask if they have thought about the idea before. If they haven’t, no problem. Keep moving and introduce yourself as the solution. At this point, if your boss hasn’t moved on, you can slip in a proposed revenue model, top level numbers matter to everyone in the business and will interest senior management. This will have echoes of a regular pitch but given the water cooler setting it will be subtle enough. Conclude with the ‘ask’ but put a twist on it, rather than ask for what you need to take it to the next step, ask what you can do for them to take it to the next level. After all he has technically been involved from the beginning of this idea.

Be ready for questions.

If they ask a follow up question, you are moving in the right direction. There are certain questions which will always be asked, either during or immediately after your pitch, if you don’t address them first. The more of these questions you can answer head on the more confident your audience will be in your ability to drive the business forward in the long run.

Regardless of the specifics of your idea or the situation you find yourself presenting in, getting your ideas across will still be tough, but with the right navigation, they can be impactful. If your water cooler cohort is interested in hearing more, they’ll say so. Even if your pitch ends here and there is no follow up you should still view it as a success. You established common ground with senior management. You have grabbed their attention, helped them see the possibility and made them uniquely positioned to take this idea to the next level. Management want staff who are able to speak honestly openly about the issues in the business that need to be addressed. Be the person that speaks with facts, confidence and reasonable suggestions that produce results. This builds your boss’ confidence in you.

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