The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Avoid this advice at all costs: “State your conclusion first and then explain the reasoning behind it.”

I am sure many have heard this dubious gem about how to persuade business audiences. It is well intentioned but atrocious advice.

Driving this effort are the dual objectives of clarity and brevity, both admirable outcomes for any business meeting. However, if you actually want to dissuade people quickly, then go for it.

The “conclusion first” advice is a natural reaction to lengthy diatribes that wander aimlessly around business subjects, driving bosses crazy. The senior leadership are thinking, “I wish they would get to the point.”

So, the standard advice is to state your conclusion upfront and then add the evidence. The written word is different, but here we are talking about oral business presentations.

“Conclusion first” sounds quite logical and reasonable, except it doesn’t work very well when it comes to persuading an audience.

If you are just imparting information then it is probably fine, but if you are seeking agreement on a course of action, then expect low rates of success.

If we put up our action recommendation before the evidence, we are asking for trouble. When there is no context, the audience cannot judge fairly. Your bold, naked conclusion instantly comes under silent assault from a room full of armchair critics and skeptics.

They now tune you out. They are totally focused on why what you just said is rubbish and won’t work.

This, by the way, is when they are supposed to be absorbing your rationale. Instead, they are no longer listening to you and are concentrating solely on negatives.

The Japanese language, like some others, offers a fix for this problem. The verb is at the end of the sentence, so while we are absorbing content, we don’t know if the sentence is describing something in the past, present, or future.

We also have no idea if it is positive or negative. This prevents the listener from jumping in and cutting us off. They have to suspend judgment about the content.

This enables us to explain the reasoning, then bring up our recommendation, rather than the other way around.

Start with evidence, proof, facts, data, and expert opinions, but wrap it up in a short story. This story should have a few defining guideposts: time, place, people, and emotion.

We try to capture our audience’s attention by helping them see the scene in their mind’s eye.

For example, “I caught up with our client CEO Ben Smith in Tokyo after Thanksgiving. We were meeting in their wood-paneled boardroom, on the 46th floor of their office in Toranomon Hills, listening to feedback on the program and I was getting nervous.”

That introduction takes about 10 seconds. No one is going to stop and say, “Greg, will you get to the point?”

The speaker has mentally pulled listeners into the story, taking them to a place they either already know or can easily imagine. They can visualize the people and the scene.

They are also hooked by curiosity—why was the speaker getting nervous, what happened next, etc.?

The speaker now has their complete attention, and begins explaining the issue at hand. They bring in strong evidence with context, lending his experience, rationale, logic, and reasoning to the story.

They next state the action step recommended. This is done in one brief sentence, with the speaker immediately highlighting the benefit of taking the chosen action.

Chances are high that listeners, on hearing the facts and context introduced, will jump right ahead of the speaker; they will race to the same conclusion, before the speaker even has a chance to articulate it.

Better to bridge to your conclusion—while others are already mentally agreeing with it—than having to fight a rearguard action from the start. This approach allows us to more easily persuade others to take the action we are proposing.

This is the real world of business, after all. Try it and enjoy the results.