Understand and articulate what you’re trying to achieve

(This article is a follow-on to my overview article on persuasion tips for product managers.)

Every presentation or opportunity for persuasion has a goal, or possibly a few goals. Are you trying to get some executives to make a decision in your favor? Are you aiming to protect yourself from potential blowback from something that went wrong? Are you trying to get a prospect to buy your product?

The goal can be positive or negative, and you can have more than one. (You shouldn’t have too many, though.)

Your main goal might be to convince someone to make a decision in your favor. You may have a secondary goal – “I’d like to lower the audience’s perception of risk” – if your ask includes an investment in new technology, for example.

On the other hand, your goal might be “I want to get out of this meeting alive.” That’s a reasonable goal if you have some bad news.

And obviously, your goal will affect how you present your information to make it persuasive and to save your life.

Types of persuasion goals

You can think about two categories of goal: defensive and proactive. I had both defensive and proactive presentations recently.

  • I needed to defend a situation where my team had been expected to make more progress. I wanted to represent why that hadn’t happened and lower the perception of risk that this slippage caused. That was a “defensive” goal.
  • In a different presentation, I wanted to change the way the audience thought about a particular product. This was the demo I mentioned earlier. So I presented the product in a way that no one had ever articulated. This opened peoples’ eyes about the importance of the particular product, and gave them a new sense of why we were taking such care with it. This was definitely “proactive!”
  • I had a secondary goal during my demo as well. There were parts of the demo that showed up rough spots in the product. I had put myself in my audience’s shoes, and I knew what they were going to be concerned about these issues if I didn’t do something. So as part of the presentation, I made sure the audience knew I had a plan to address these issues. I wanted the audience not to worry about them. This goal was both defensive and proactive.

Other examples


  • I want to defer or reduce blame.
  • I want the customer not to cancel their contract with us.


  • I want the group to agree that a certain action is the right one to take.
  • I want the group to change the way they think about this topic.
  • I want this prospect to agree to buy my product.

You don’t have to specifically articulate your goals in this form, per se. But you should know what they are, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to say them out loud or write them down.

Two things you can do today to use this information

(These ideas assume you are preparing a presentation for an audience.)

  1. Articulate your goal. If you are asked to present something to execs, or if you are talking to customers, or training sales people – consider what it is you want to achieve. Write it down, even if you don’t share it with the audience in the end.
  2. As you prepare (and practice) your presentation, consider for each piece if it’s furthering your goal, or won’t affect your goal, or perhaps actively detracts from your goal. In many cases you can just remove any material that doesn’t help you achieve your goal.

Please let me know some of the goals you’ve achieved in your presentations in the comments.

And if you like this article, please share it, and subscribe to the site and my email newsletter.

About the author

Your host and author, Nils Davis, is a long-time product manager, consultant, trainer, and coach. He is the author of The Secret Product Manager Handbook, many blog posts, a series of video trainings on product management, and the occasional grilled pizza.

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