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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"Video is also good if you need to show a demonstration of some kind. In that case, you might want to hire someone to produce it for you. Again, though, you need to keep it short," Lundberg says. "A mistake I've seen a lot of CIOs make is to run a long promotion-type video about their company. Really, nobody cares how fast your cars go or how big your ships are. It just looks like a commercial to them, and we all know how much people love commercials."

On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes nothing works so well as a good, old-fashioned analog prop. For example, when Murphy had to talk about business transformation to 650 salespeople from his company, he opted to unroll a supersized printout representing the company's systems and its complexities.

"It was probably four feet wide and 10 to 12 feet long. I rolled it out in front of me on stage and let it roll over the stage floor," he recalls, explaining that the highly detailed technical chart showed all of the data connections among 300 or so master applications. "It wasn't the drawing but rather the act of rolling out the scroll that amplified my point about complexity," Murphy says.

Props like that, he says, get the point across in a way that words and data charts can't.

Show your passion

Most techies are used to developing highly detailed, well-documented reports and requirements, making it extra difficult to switch from that scientific frame of mind to an emotional one. But Douglas says just such an adjustment can help IT folks connect with their audience.

She cites the case of one IT manager from a large financial institution speaking out at an IT managers meeting. At a point where the meeting seemed to be going off track, the manager rose and issued an impromptu plea regarding the critical need to work more cooperatively.

"I can see him standing, I can see the room. He stood up and called people up by name, saying, 'We are here to come together.' He was passionate about the need for people to leave their own silos behind," she recalls.

What made the moment so memorable, Douglas says, was the manager's obvious emotion. "When he talked about the excitement of being in that organization's IT department, there was a transparency, a vulnerability," she says. "He made great eye contact with people. He commanded presence from both the tone of his voice and the passion that came through. It was just riveting."

Douglas doubts it would have had the same impact if he had put up a pile of slides and talked through critical data points.

AmerisourceBergen's Murphy would agree with that assessment wholeheartedly. "It's hard to sell if your passion about what you're selling doesn't come across."

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer. Contact her at

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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