On Enemies and lukewarm defenders

It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.”

This is a great quote from Niccolo Machiavelli (thanks to Dave Roberts for sharing it over on Vox):

The context in which Dave shares it is apt, but it resonated with me for another reason: persuasion.  Specifically the art of the persuasive presentation, which is something I have been thinking alot about in recent weeks as I gear up for the start (in earnest) of my new gig at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business working with MBA students on presentation skills. Any time you walk into a room set to give a presentation the recommends some course of action, you are likely walking into an audience with some people who are inclined to be enemies of your ideas, some who are lukewarm defenders, and if you are lucky, you may have a few passionate allies.

As the Machiavelli quote suggests, “the incredulity of men” is a huge a problem when presenting a new idea, even if you have the facts on your side.  You cannot simply hammer your audience with facts, or data, you need to appeal to their emotions as well, and meet them where they are with examples that will resonate with them.

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