The Presentable CIO: Turn Complexity Into Clarity

One of the most effective ways to increase your credibility and ensure your leadership value is giving amazing public presentations. This blog entry discusses, with examples, ways to build and deliver more dynamic presentations.

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In discussion forums, articles, and at conferences, there is an ongoing dialog about the inability of IT executives to win a seat at the strategic executive table. In a quest to be relevant and strategic, CIO’s and other IT executives continue to struggle to find the silver bullet or path into the CEO’s trusted inner-circle.

This is a big topic; but I maintain that few skills can more effectively catapult an individual’s perceived strategic and leadership value more than effective presentation skills.

I’ve been presenting to business and technology groups for more than 20 years. I often tell coaching clients that, the podium imparts credibility. Let’s discuss what that means and how you can build and deliver presentations that increase your esteem among colleagues and dramatically enhance your career.

The Podium Imparts Credibility

Here is a secret about presenting that must be understood. An effective presentation almost always increases your credibility to those in attendance. Here is why:

If you cover material that most of the audience knows you are considered an expert and knowledgeable because you have reinforced the knowledge and intellect of the group.

and

If you cover something new and novel, you are considered an expert and knowledgeable because you have introduced a new idea to the group.

I hope you caught that. Convey what they already know - you are an expert. Convey something new - you are an expert. Sounds almost too good to be true, but I promise you, it is.

The only way to effectively negate the positive benefit of giving a presentation is to be boring. Giving a boring presentation is actually worse than factual errors in your presentation. And while I’m not suggesting you include factual errors or mistakes, I want the bigger point to be internalized.

To that end, I am offering a few pieces of advice about both the creation and delivery of presentations.

Tips for Building a Better Presentation

When I say building, I mean both determining what material is important and how it is presented - including audio-visual aids and PowerPoint slides.

Have 3 Main Points

I’ll allow up to 5. But the truth is, your audience will love you for covering less material, not more. The danger we face is that we have a LOT of great information and feel it adds value to share it…ALL of it!

In presentations, less is truly more.

PowerPoint or Slide Basics

This topic deserves a mention all it’s own. Most of us have heard the phrase, “Death by PowerPoint,” and more or less understand that it has something to do with uninspired and boring slides. Slides filled with a lot of text and crowded or poor quality clipart.

In fact, an entire series of blogs could be spent on this topic alone.

It is important to understand that, while much maligned, PowerPoint is not really the problem. It is a tool - and a potentially powerful tool - to add impact to your presentation. You can certainly give a GREAT presentation without slides; but assuming you will, at some point, give a presentation with slides, here are some tips to make them more impactful.

  • Fewer slides
    I attended a webinar a few days ago with more than 48 slides in a 1 hour presentation. That is simply too many. Slides are meant to augment the message, not repeat it.

    While working with one client, they had a sales presentation on their medical billing services. It included more than 75 slides. They asked me to assess and help them do something to reduce the slide count.

    By the time we were done, they had 12 slides. Only 1 slide contained a bulleted list - and that was only a single word per bullet. More than 5 years later, they still send me thank you notes on helping stop the insanity.

  • Less text, more pictures
    Building on what I said above. If you are simply using the slides to display the exact words you are saying, I don’t need you! I can read on my own time.

    Instead, if covering 4 primary points that conclude with how your IT group reduced trouble-ticket response time by 85%, consider just having an image of a happy computer user with an extremely large “85%” (300 point Arial Black) on the screen. You can explain how you got there. They will remember 85% and happy!

    Below I have examples of two slides contrasting bullet points versus using an image and a key outcome.

    This is true even for complex and technical topics with a technical audience. If there are additional complex elements - like source code or detailed numbers for instance - DO NOT include them in the presentation slide deck. Instead, have a document you hand-out AFTER the presentation (or that you email later).

    With the above mentioned client, this is precisely what they did. A backgrounder document with all the details can always be provided for those who need to dig into the specifics.

Slide examples

Slide 1: Help Desk Improvements - bullet points

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Slide 2: Help desk improvements - outcome

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The first slide was an amalgamation of some presentations on help or service desk improvements I found online. It's not perfect but I promise, the 2nd image will emphasize the outcome better. During your presentation, discuss how you got there while the slide is displayed. If necessary, a more detailed document can be provided to attendees after the presentation.

Kill Jargon - Ruthlessly

While building your presentation, be very careful about the technical jargon you use. I typically say kill it - although for a technical audience, it may be appropriate. However, even then, try as much as possible to put the jargon into context.

In fact, don’t assume that when you mention, “cloud computing” or the “Internet of Things” that technical audiences agree on what you mean. There are nuances in the definitions of these terms. Address the nuance and kill the jargon.

Understand the Difference Between Expected and Valued

This is particularly true when speaking to management or the executive team. I just blogged about this, but the topic is critical to help bolster your strategic credibility and standing. Your presentation needs to emphasize what your audience perceives as valuable and let them know that you know what is expected and what is valued.

It’s All About Them

Avoid being the smartest guy in the room. This is a knock on IT professionals in general but I know a LOT of CIO’s and IT managers who do the same.

When we lack confidence in our presentation skills, we compensate by demonstrating our knowledge on the subject. This can often lead to more confusion than clarity. The true sign of your knowledge on the topic is that you can effectively make it understandable to the non-technical audience.

It is truly all about them!

Tips for Delivering a Better Presentation

Now let’s cover the actual delivery of your presentation.

Preparation and Practice

Know your material….WELL and then practice it….A LOT!

It is always interesting to me to work with an executive who buys into the value of a great presentation, but then cannot find the time to spend working on it. The adage, “There is never time to do it right, but there is always time to do it again,” while imperfect applies. The challenge is that if you give a poorly rehearsed, fragmented, or boring presentation, then you may not have the opportunity to do it again.

Eyes, Ears, Heart

I got this from a presentation by Vincente Poscente. And this should take place in the first 45 to 90 seconds of a presentation.

  • Eyes
    Motion - body, hands, etc. - no flailing around, but a strong movement across the stage as you start presenting is powerful and engaging. It is purposeful.

  • Ears
    Avoid monotone droning. Vocal fluctuation adds excitement. Be willing to be transparent and enthusiastic.

  • Heart
    Sure, you’re covering technology or strategic planning, but you and everyone in the room is human. If you can convey an anecdotal and personal story and then apply it to a broad point of your presentation, you will engage your audience well.

Anecdote example:

Below is an example of a story that involves my oldest daughter when she was 3 or so. The broad message of the anecdote is that we, as IT professionals, can be so focused on fixing a technical issue that we miss the broader and larger context of the real solution.

* I apologize about the video quality. It was filmed at an IT conference in a darkened room.

Abandon the Podium

I know, I just said the podium imparts credibility and now I’m suggesting you abandon it. I suppose when I suggest that the “podum imparts credibility,” I actually mean, “presenting in front of a group of people as a subject-matter expert imparts credibility.” But the former phrase has a bit more zing to it.

However, standing behind a podium and looking down at notes is a sure way to lose your audience. You are better off having the podium to the side and occasionally moving back to the podium to glance at your notes.

Also, a podium becomes a crutch to hide behind and kills any opportunity for kinetic motion. It effectively kills the “Eyes” part of, “Eyes, Ears, Heart.”

Make Yourself Presentable

As technology executives, we tend to focus on understanding emerging and relevant technology - and we should. We work on identifying and hiring the right talent - and that is critical. We implement ways to better manage our projects - budgets and timeframes are important.

We often, however, fail to work on making ourselves more presentable. However, in the goal of becoming more strategically relevant, your ability to appear as a confident subject-matter expert may be as or more important than the above listed skills.

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