Talk to the suits: How to sell IT outside of IT

Less is more when it comes to bang-up business presentations. Here are five tips for better tech talks.

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Use more images, fewer words

As Murphy learned with the success of his iceberg picture, images speak louder than words.

"Audiences can only read or listen. They can't do both," says Suzanne Bates, president and CEO of Wellesley, Mass.-based Bates Communications Inc. and author of Speak Like a CEO and Motivate Like a CEO.

This point is particularly important when speaking in front of a live audience, which is often forced to squint while looking at small type squeezed onto slides by a presenter desperate to cram it all in.

Bates tells her clients to resist that urge. "You want people to walk out of the room remembering your presentation and what you said, and the only way you can do that is with powerful imagery and good stories."

Bates suggests that clients write a script before compiling any visuals. And then, before they log onto PowerPoint or a similar program, she has them get out crayons -- yes, crayons -- and draw images based on their messages. Those images then become the basis of a photo or more polished design.

Think beyond plain-vanilla slides

Despite the high-tech communication tools now at our fingertips, experts say most presentations still feature slides with bullet points and more bullet points. It's time to expand that basic menu to deliver maximum impact.

Michaels, for example, has used PowerPoint's animation feature to help illustrate the transformations that her proposed IT projects can bring. "We're almost always decommissioning and rebuilding, so what better way to illustrate that than to put a picture up and morph it?" she asks.

at first the message is unity
Figure 1. Give a straightforward PowerPoint slide, like this one, a little life ...

She once needed to deliver a presentation on agile development and why it would work well for her business colleagues, who were still wedded to a two-year development-and-delivery cycle.

Michaels knew that her audience didn't care about the process of agile development as much as the results it could bring. So she designed a slide featuring a block arrow with the project's name on it. The arrow was made up of smaller arrows that at first all pointed right (Figure 1).

image shifts to show business benefits
Figure 2. ... by moving the image midpresentation to show business benefits.

Then, when Michaels talked about how agile development delivers pieces over time, the smaller arrows turned and pointed down to individual business benefits listed along a timeline (Figure 2).

"Good presenters are able to pull on the right tools at the right time," Lundberg says, noting that video and other visuals usually have more impact than bullet-point presentations. Lundberg says she uses video in the same way as graphics -- to highlight a point in a memorable way. She recommends keeping video clips to under 30 seconds, going as long as a minute "only if it's really good."

"I tend to use video for humor, too," she says. Lundberg cites a presentation she prepared on IT's ability to drive both efficiency and innovation. In it, she noted that though it's possible to do both, it can be hard for an immature IT organization to achieve. She used an analogy: "Can you pat your head and rub your belly at the same time?" alongside some YouTube clips, first of a 3-year-old having a tough time and then of a daredevil teen doing that and much more.

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