Advancing your career depends a great deal on your ability to present and get your points across effectively, to senior executives as well as peers.
I once attended a meeting on behalf of Rob Carter, the FedEx CIO. It was the Friday morning CEO staff meeting as the peak of the shipping season approached. I was there to discuss the preparations of FedEx.com to handle the expected shipping and tracking volume. I remember exactly my presentation when Fred Smith, FedEx's founder and CEO, turned to me.
"Mr. Smith," I said, "marketing is projecting 1.0 million shipments on peak day. We are scaled for 1.2 million shipments and can go higher with little customer impact. The systems will be monitored 24 hours a day. We are ready."
And I sat down. Mr. Smith said: "Best IT presentation I ever heard." And then he went on around the table. Undoubtedly it was not the best IT presentation he had every heard, but it met the guideline of "get up, tell him what he needs to know, sit down."
Very few of us have the stage presence and speaking skills of Rob Carter. But we all have to find ways to be effective communicators. That means having your audience understand your points. It does not mean you must be a great speaker, though that certainly helps. At the same time, I have come away from listening to many a great speaker without understanding the point of the talk. But it sounded good.
Your ability to communicate effectively can easily be a limiting career factor. Directors and VPs must be able to communicate in a variety of settings on numerous topics for any number of reasons. Here are my four fundamentals for effective (IT) communications.
1. Get to the point immediately. In other words, state your conclusion first, then support it. If necessary, start by giving the audience the brief background on why you're giving this presentation, then state your conclusion, recommendation, finding, etc. For example you might say, “We have been studying what do about... Our recommendations are..."
By far the most common communication error I see is trying to build the case for the conclusion. This state-the-problem, review-the-analysis, give-the-conclusion approach is just wrong for the vast majority of corporate settings. Its fundamental flaw is the assumption that the audience is more interested in the analysis than the conclusion. A presentation structured this way will usually spend far more time reviewing the analysis than offering the recommendations. Give an executive a presentation deck built this way and watch the exec flip to the back to read the conclusion.
The second flaw in this approach is the assumption that the presenter will actually have the time necessary to build the case. More often than not, the time set aside for the presentation gets cut because the meeting is running long, your 20 minutes is now five, and half the audience is packing up to head to their next meeting.
The third flaw is the feeling by the presenter that he or she must prove the analysis was solid. Assume that your analytical skills are trusted and use that analysis to support the conclusions.
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