CXO

Essential CIO tools: The wrap-up

Marc J. Schiller offers solid advice for acing your next executive presentation.

We started this series to address a critical problem that plagues many IT leaders: Delivering highly relevant, content-rich, influence-building presentations on a regular basis without spending huge amounts of time preparing them.

The basic solution I've proposed is to draw from an arsenal of three key presentations, which you should always have at the ready, they are:

  1. The vision presentation
  2. The strategy presentation
  3. The business presentation

Remember that just about every time you're called on to present at some meeting, your subject matter will be directly related, in whole or in part, to one or more of these critical areas.

Now it's time to put this idea into practice.

Let's revisit the situation that got us started: There's an upcoming meeting at which you have to present. Before you call your favorite lieutenant for help, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the "official" topic of this meeting?
  2. What is the audience expecting from my presentation?
  3. What do I want to achieve with this presentation?

Then with the answers to these questions jotted down on a piece of paper, use the  following approach to quickly build your presentation.

Context not content

Whatever the topic of the meeting may be, steer away from trying to deliver deep content on the topic itself. That's not your job. Leave that for your project managers, consultants, and other subject matter experts. Instead focus on how this particular topic fits into your vision, strategy, or business operating model. (By the way, if the topic doesn't in any way connect with your vision, strategy, or business operations, you shouldn't be at the meeting, let alone presenting.) A few examples:

Suppose the meeting is called to kick off a new project. This is a perfect opportunity to highlight how this particular project fits in with your vision and strategy and where it sits as part of the IT investment portfolio.

Or let's say the topic is the cancelling or restructuring of a major project. In this case, refer to your strategy and IT investment portfolio to provide context and meaning to what is going on.

Perhaps you have to present at a town hall with other executives or welcome new employees who are coming on after an acquisition. That's a perfect opportunity to educate your audience on your organization, key strategies, and service delivery model.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Your job is not to present on the topic per se but rather on the importance of the topic and how it fits into the bigger picture. You communicate the strategic message and leave the detailed content message for the next level down.

Shorter is ALWAYS better

The very best speeches in history were all very short. The Gettysburg Address: slightly longer than two minutes. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech just over 16 minutes. Winston Churchill's "Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat" speech, a little more than five minutes. Corporate America is notorious for allocating too much time to meetings and presentations. The baseline standard tends to be one hour. In most cases that's way too much time. Here's a simple test: Think about all the presentations you've attend. When was the last time you were not bored by one of your colleagues' presentations? Not often I bet.

Senior executives and fast-paced startups tend to work in 20-minute blocks. Their belief: Nothing is so complicated that its essence can't be effectively communicated in 20 minutes or less. Hedge fund managers and venture capital investors typically follow the seven-minute pitch rule, i.e., they have seven minutes to pitch their ideas; if they can't get it in seven minutes, it won't work in the marketplace.

I wholeheartedly endorse this approach. And you will be shocked to see how much more interesting your presentations will become when you scale them down to seven minutes. (OK, maybe that's too ambitious for some of you, but 20 minutes should be your target.)

Reinforce 1 - 2 key points

Once you decide how a particular topic fits with your vision, strategy, and business model and you set the right time parameters, it's time to choose the key elements you want to emphasize for this particular presentation.

Do not make the mistake of using every presentation opportunity to give a rushed version of the same 90-slide presentation on every aspect of your vision, strategy, and business operating model. Pick one or two key elements that align really well with the particular topic of the meeting and really hammer those home.

Do not assume that because you told people something once or even twice before they remember it, let alone really understand it. A good leader knows how to carefully reinforce key messages in context. That's when it really comes to life for the audience.

Let's recap

Everything you'll be called upon to talk about in some way relates to the three standard presentations we have talked about over the last couple of weeks — your vision for IT overall, in your industry, and in your company; your IT strategy; and your deliverance of day-to-day IT services.

Now, as you sit down to prepare for any presentation, you are equipped with both the content and the approach to quickly assemble the relevant pieces from your standard presentations in order to deliver on what people want. But, more importantly, you'll be able to use every presentation opportunity to drive your agenda, build your influence, and shepherd the IT strategy you know is right for the company. And best of all, you can stay on message and not waste a whole lot of time doing it.

Marc J. Schiller is a leading IT thinker, speaker, and author of the upcoming book The Eleven Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders. Over the last 20 years he has helped IT leaders and their teams dramatically increase their influence in their organization and reap the associated personal and professional rewards. More info at http://marcjschiller.com.

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