Strong presentation skills can be an important advantage when negotiating projects with your company's senior execs. But leave the Mr. Cool act at home.
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IT budgets are shrinking. President Obama requested a 2013 federal IT budget of $78.9 billion--a 0.7 percent cut from the government's 2012 budget. As learning to do more with less becomes a national reality, many IT leaders are learning that strong presentation skills can go a long way toward getting sign off on important projects.
Making a case for an IT investment requires more, however, than piling on obscure acronyms and technical bells and whistles in presentations to corporate bean counters. Just ask Rick Gilbert. Founder of PowerSpeaking, an executive training and coaching firm in California, and author of Speaking Up: Surviving Executive Presentations, Gilbert said IT leaders need "to throw away almost everything they've learned about public speaking when presenting to the C-Suite."
Gilbert offers IT professionals these five tips for captivating a C-level audience's attention--and budget share.
1) Shift your thinking. IT professionals love to wax about high-tech products and propositions. If, however, you delve into too much detail without painting any sort of big picture, you might find yourself losing control of the meeting, warns Gilbert. "C-level executives tend to be very bright, very time-pressured and powerful people. They can change the timing and the focus of the meeting in an instant. If a mid-level manager goes in and doesn't expect that, they can be completely knocked off base."
2) Skip the jargon. Presenting your CEO with a detailed account of how you plan to migrate a company's data to the cloud is a sure-fire recipe for disaster, warns Gilbert. "There are a lot of ways that people process information--technical people are naturally more detail oriented and are going to want to know the algorithms. But when speaking to a top-level person, the language needs to be the language of business, the language of profit and loss, and the language of shareholder value. The C-levels aren't interested in how it works."
3) Adjust your attitude. It's not uncommon for a company's techies to butt heads with other business line leaders. Especially if those leaders have a tendency to view the IT department as a cost center rather than a profit center. Just remember, said, Gilbert, "a technical person needs to understand that we're all working together, we're all in the same company and C-level executives want IT professionals to be successful. We need the expertise of technical people as much as we need sales and product development expertise in order to be competitive in the marketplace. It's really about understanding the bigger picture that the C-level person has in mind."
4) Crunch the numbers. Chances are you're one of many business line leaders vying for a small slice of a company's annual budget. That's all the more reason to build the most compelling business case you can, with plenty of ROI figures, to convince senior-level executives to allot the largest amount possible to your IT endeavor. "The executive may have a limited pile of money but there are five guys at the IT manager level all fighting for that money," said Gilbert. "I need to be well prepared, know how much money I'm looking for, be able to provide estimates because my business development people have done the proper analysis, be clear about what all this is going to entail to find out what investment C-level people are willing to make."
5) Don't be slick. Presenting an IT proposition to the C-level suite might make you feel as if you're in a sales position, but save the suave act for another time. "If executives feel that a presenter is overdoing it or is trying to be too glib or smooth, that'll just bring negative points. They want somebody who's serious and enthusiastic, not somebody who's a smooth presenter."
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