The Six Blind Men and the Elephant saved my job.
Props provide a powerful way of enhancing presentations. Verbal arguments aren’t enough to convince people of your message. Try using visuals such as charts or cartoons, or physical props such as products or tools. Verbal props come in several forms: quotations from famous people, anecdotes, plays, poems or even questions.
The following is a true report of how I used my new-found communication skills and a combination of props to get me out of hot water with my company’s auditors.
The auditors had submitted a report suggesting that I, as the chief supply manager, had exceeded my purchasing approval authority. I strongly disagreed and tried explaining to them the difference between our use of approval authority and implementation authority within the computer system. They did not buy my explanation – that is, until I had a chance to meet with them.
The meeting seemed to take forever. Tension clouded the room, because the auditors intended to remain firm on their “observation” and everyone knew my position.
Finally, it was my turn. I started: “I offer the quotation from George Bernard Shaw who said, ‘In the right key you can say anything, in the wrong key, nothing.’ So to help set the right key I ask you to look at this cartoon and parable that I am passing out.”
There were some raised eyebrows at this point, but no one objected to my strange approach – yet.
After everyone had a copy of the handout I continued:
“This cartoon shows the parable of the six blind men and the elephant. The six blind men went to see the elephant, but being blind they had to examine the elephant with their hands. Each touched a different part of the elephant and noted their observation. For example, the first clutched the swaying trunk and said, ‘The elephant must be a snake.’ The next grabbed the tail and noted, ‘The elephant is really like a rope.’ Another fell against the side and exclaimed, ‘Oh my, this elephant is like a wall.’ Hugging the leg the next argued, ‘The elephant is like a tree.’ The fifth, while holding the tusk, stated, ‘You are all wrong, I know it is like a spear.’ And finally, the sixth felt the flapping ear and noted, ‘This elephant is surely like a fan.’”
The nervous laughter dissipated the tension and now the people were more relaxed. Then I explained how the computer system we were using was very big and complicated, like an elephant, and that we had poor documentation. Therefore, it was unreasonable for any visitor to fully understand the workings in a two-week period (this was the duration of the auditors’ visit). The heads nodded in agreement at this point. Then I showed a flowchart of our approval process – emphasizing that the “approval” they were focusing on was only “an approval to print”.
The bottom line is they understood my point, and the audit report was changed. It is important to know that the facts were unchanged from my earlier discussions with them, but this time I packaged my sale and they bought it.
When was the last time you had a proposal or idea turned down? Could it have gone better if you had taken more care to sell it? To deliver a powerful message understand your audience, be clear on your purpose, plan your approach – and use props!