Putting your worst foot forward

When presenting to a sophisticated audience, the most effective way to gain credibility is to put your worst foot forward…

Pointing out weaknesses makes it hard for your audience to formulate their own ideas as to why your concept won’t work

Take the story of Babble.com. The founder created his website after having kids and finding out that everyone was a ‘parenting expert.’ The site was created to give an objective view on parenting and tips. He needed investment funds for his new venture.

All the investment pitches I’ve seen follow a predictable structure: The entrepreneur tells the potential investor why placing their cash into their venture is a smart decision and will yield massive dividends.

Babble approached the challenge differently – the opening presentation slide was titled “5 reasons you shouldn’t invest in Babble” - Incredibly babble raised $3.3m in investment capital!

Two years later Babble were asked to present to Disney regarding further investment. This time the founder presented “5 trends that could kill Babble’s business” - and once again, he gained incredible success with Disney executives purchasing the company for $40m.

This is due to the Sarick effect (named after the social scientist). When presenting ideas and creative work, we intuitively assume that we should minimise the weaknesses and emphasise the strengths. However, social science experiments show that when presenting to a sophisticated audience it’s actually more effective the other way around.

There are four reasons why this is such an effective strategy:

  1. Pointing to the weaknesses in your idea disarms the audience
    • — A sophisticated audience are accustomed to poking out holes in your ideas. They become used to being sceptical and looking for the issues. By pointing out the challenges, you quickly disarm any defensiveness.
  2. Highlighting weaknesses makes you look smart
    • — Any amateur can appreciate art, it takes a professional to critique it. Those that critique ideas are generally considered to be more intelligent.
  3. It’ll make you seem more trustworthy
    • — Showing the limitations to an idea will show you to be honest and modest (both appealing traits) and will dismantle the feeling that you are ‘salesman like’ for your audience.
  4. Your audience will be left with a more favourable view of the idea
    • — Pointing out weaknesses makes it hard for your audience to formulate their own ideas as to why your concept won’t work. If your audience are sophisticated they will instead be accustomed to problem solving. When you highlight the challenges you foresee, their minds will switch into problem solving mode and will start overcoming them. Indeed when the Disney execs were presented what could “kill Babble’s business” they reported that they found themselves thinking, “oh, that’s not so bad”.

So there you have it… Put your worst foot forward to get your best foot in the game.

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