Heather Hansen

Want to Win? Stop Communicating and Start Advocating.

You have a big idea. If you want to win support, attention, loyalty and engagement for your big idea it’s time to stop communicating and start advocating.

Let’s talk about definitions. Communicating means to share ideas. (It also means to spread disease. No one wants that.) Advocating means to publicly support ideas. Your big idea needs you to be an advocate. When the stakes are high, communicating isn’t enough. You have to advocate to win.

There’s a time and a place for communicating. When I was a freshman at American University, they had a major called CLEG–Communications, Law, Economics and Government. I wanted to be a journalist, so studying Communications was perfect, because journalists should be sharing ideas. Though it might be hard to believe in today’s media landscape, journalists are not supposed to advocate for one side over another. Communicating works for journalists.

Then I decided I wanted to be a psychologist so I changed majors. I studied the mind, motivation and the roadblocks to winning that we put in our own way. I learned how to ask questions to learn, to teach, and to share. Because psychologists share ideas too, communicating works for them.

I’ve also been a teacher at Villanova Law School, and teachers communicate. I had to share my ideas with my students so they could use those ideas to become lawyers. And for those who wanted to become trial attorneys, they had to learn to use those ideas to advocate. Because a trial attorney’s client expects her to win. When you want to win, you don’t want a communicator. You want an advocate.

Sometimes your stakes are high. When you have a big idea and you need funding, attention, loyalty or engagement around that idea, you want to win. So advocate. 

For over 20 years I’ve been a trial attorney. I’ve advocated for my clients in the courtroom, and I’ve won awards for it. More importantly, I’ve taught my clients to advocate for themselves. Jurors don’t want to hear from me. They want to hear from the person accused of doing something wrong. And when my clients turn to the jury to tell their stories, it isn’t enough for them to communicate. They have to publicly support their choices, their actions, and their ideas. They must advocate.

And there are times you need to advocate too. When you want to win, you have to stand up, use your body, your voice and your energy to support your ideas. You need to go beyond telling stories and start choosing your tone and your words with the precision of a sniper. Advocating to win means using data as evidence, using your voice as a tool (and sometimes a weapon) and using questions to challenge, prove and win.

Here’s the best part of advocating–when you become good at it, you turn the people around you into your advocates as well. I turn my clients into advocates so they can support their story before the jury. They can overcome the curse of knowledge, share their ideas Seven Times and Seven Ways ™ , and ask questions to win. If we do that well, we turn jurors into our advocates. When the jurors go back to deliberate, now we have people in the jury room advocating for our win. That is how we earn it.

You have a big idea. It needs you to win–funding, attention, loyalty, and the heart of your audience. When the stakes are high and it’s time to win, you have to stop communicating and start advocating.

Heather Hansen

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