Get your Elephant in the Room under control!

Carlos E. Espinal
Jan 15 · 3 min read
Image by Duncan Hull — https://www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk/28251201308

When presenting/pitching, do you know & can you spot your company’s ‘Elephant in the room’?

From our favourite online encyclopaedia:

The expression “elephant in the room” (usually “the elephant in the room”) is a metaphorical idiom in English for an important or enormous topic, problem, or risk that is obvious or that everyone knows about but no one mentions or wants to discuss because it makes at least some of them uncomfortable or is personally, socially, or politically embarrassing, controversial, inflammatory, or dangerous.

It is based on the idea/thought that something as conspicuous as an elephant can appear to be overlooked in codified social interactions and that the sociology/psychology of repression also operates on the macro scale. Various languages across the world have words that describe similar concepts.

I love this expression because it’s so obvious…how could you NOT notice something so big within a confined space… and yet, sometimes we do ignore it, or at least fail to acknowledge it; When it comes to pitching your company, it’s not unusual for you to have an ‘Elephant in the Room’ and, funnily enough, it’s often easier to ignore it (out of fear) rather than confront it head on.

Why is this important?

Frequently, your ‘Elephant’ is something that’s perhaps awkward to be up front about, such as a like-for-like competitor already in market; or that several companies like yours have failed in the past, or that there is a big player out there who owns most of the market.

I’ve received many presentations over the years and also observed how others hear and perceive them and what inevitably happens is when you ignore that ‘Elephant’, it grows in your audience’s mind. It grows to the point where it consumes their entire mind space and the points you are trying to make get lost because the audience is actively trying to suppress their desire to counter with ‘how about xxx” which has been festering in their minds all this time!

Whether you address it directly or indirectly, you need to address it sooner rather than later. The solution is simple: you have to realise that this elephant isn’t real. It’s merely a blow up Elephant and one you can deflate easily if addressed early on in your presentation. People will either agree with the way you deflated it or not but you’ll at least be able to move past it.

How do you identify your Elephant?

Unless you are willing to delude yourself, you likely already know what it is. It may be a question investors or friends have repeatedly asked you when you explain what you are working on. It usually starts with something like ‘isn’t that like…’ or ‘didn’t that…’ or something like that. In short, if you are feeling uncomfortable about something, most likely that’s your Elephant.

How do you deflate your Elephant?

Through logic. The fact is, you would not have started working on your business if you didn’t have good reason to believe this ‘Elephant’ was not going to hurt you in the long-run. If it’s a competitor everyone asks you about, you can simply talk about how you feel you are tackling things differently and serve a different need/customer. If it’s a sector that has had many deaths in the past, perhaps talk about how the timing is different now vs. then, and really delve deep into why that is the case. For example, one of our companies, Thriva, helps you take control of your health and find out what’s happening inside your body with a simple finger-prick blood test. When they went out to pitch, it was around the time Theranos was imploding, and there was enough ‘perceived’ similarities, that pitching without addressing that case as specifically different (and how) simply led to the eventual burst later by someone with the obvious question. Naturally, the founder was on to this, and addressed all the key points of differentiation early on.

In conclusion, to move past an Elephant, you simply need to have a sound logic as to why the Elephant doesn’t apply to you; any reason is better than no reason at all!

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