How to present IT projects to the business

IT pros aren’t always the best at presentations and public speaking, but in this guest post, presentation specialist Mark Kyte has some advice for how IT departments can properly explain the worth their work has for the organization. 

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Presenting the intrinsic value that IT brings to the business is a challenge. Often presenters with a technical background struggle to relate to the business counterparts. Technical presenters are often derided for being boring and irrelevant when they step up and speak to an audience. It is not in the natural DNA of IT professionals to step into the limelight and deliver a presentation – especially to business users. When they do speak to non-technical audiences the presentations are often ineffective. The result is missed opportunities and projects as neither side of the equation is capable of effectively communicating with the other.

To overcome this there are several steps that can be taken when preparing the presentation:

Step 1: Don’t assume the audience knows what you know

One of the major challenges with technical presentations is to know what level of detail to cover. Whether it’s comfort or whether it’s complacency, too often speakers deliver technical presentations at level that the audience doesn’t understand.

The audience is not interested or impressed by a presenter who stands in front of them and spews jargon and technical detail which they cannot understand. Often your audience will sit politely and patiently, with glazed looks on their faces and endure your talk. You won’t know that you have bored your audience until you reach the end and they quietly file out of the room without asking you a single question. Both you and your audience have just wasted valuable time achieving nothing.

The key is to understand who will be in your audience. Your audience will have a variety of people, each with their own levels of experience and understanding on your topic. But if you can prepare and deliver a presentation that is understood by at least 80% of your audience you will be successful.

A presentation is not an exercise to show how clever you are by sharing everything you know and understand. Rather, demonstrate your value and intelligence by translating and presenting the information that is valuable for your audience to hear.

Step 2: Compare your concept to something your audience knows/understands

A true expert is someone who can take a difficult subject and translate it so that those who are not experts can understand it. The metaphor is one of the best tools to utilize in a technical presentation to help position you as an expert in your subject – someone who can take their technical knowledge and translate it into something understood and appreciated by others.

There is some work involved in identifying an appropriate metaphor, but the reward will come at the conclusion of your presentation with an appreciative audience who will consider you the “guru” on your particular topic. For a great resource on how to develop good metaphors check out the book Metaphorically Selling by Anne Miller.

Step 3: Share the benefits and not the features

The engineering nature of IT means technical professionals are typically most proud of the features they have built for a business user. While engineers should be proud of the features they have built, it is important to remember that from a business perspective, the features are unimportant. It is the business benefit that they supply that will excite and interest a business user.

A business user is not concerned that the button added onto to their primary sales page is utilizing the latest version of Java. What will excite them is that when they press the button the next sales offer they should make to the customer is presented on screen. Features interest the engineers, but it is the benefits that will excite the business.

Step 4: Make diagrams/schematics relevant

Often diagrams will be displayed to assist audience understanding, and as the saying goes a picture can be worth a thousand words. However it is vital you ensure that the diagram represents items or concepts that the business audience will relate to.

Technical diagrams often confound and confuse non-technical audiences – even with the best explanation. They intimidate an audience before the explanation commences. The result is an audience that will stop listening, but will not tell you for fear of looking stupid. Verify the diagrams and concepts are understood by your audience.

Step 5: Don’t worry about being 100% accurate

This might sound like hearsay at first glance, and I’m certainly not advocating you distort the truth or provide intentional misinformation. Techies and engineers work in a binary environment where things are right or wrong – it’s the nature of the job. Ask any developer and they will rightly tell you their program will compile or it won’t, there is no middle ground.

That’s life in the technical arena; but when we move into the arena of presentations we move away from a binary black or white world into an environment where there are many “shades of grey”.

If you try and cover the detail required to be 100% accurate you could easily deliver presentations lasting hours. Too often technical presentations are like drinking from a fire hydrant: too much information flowing too quickly! And, almost all of it irrelevant for a business audience.

When IT presents itself poorly to the business community it does itself a disservice. Most organizations are dependent upon IT to keep the business functioning. And, in an ever-changing technology landscape there are a multitude of opportunities for new ideas and new projects to flourish when the technical community can communicate and present itself to non-technical colleagues. The steps covered here will provide IT the ability to communicate the benefits and value it provides, easily and quickly to their business counterparts.

About the Author: Mark Kyte is a Corporate Presentations Specialist. He provides coaching and workshops that enhance the effectiveness and quality of corporate presentations. Mark can be contacted via his website, http://www.markkyte.com, or via his online training facility: http://www.publicspeakingskillsuniversity.com

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