Suppose you need to get executive signoff on a technical proposal. Your CEO and CFO don’t come from IT or software backgrounds. They’re generalists who want a solution for a business problem, and your job is to present the proposed technical solution in a compelling, understandable way.
If you’re staring at a blank PowerPoint slide, unsure where to begin, consider these five best practices:
1. Start with the end in mind
Define the outcome you need. How will you know you’ve succeeded? Then, share only as much technical information as necessary for achieving your goal. Often, a high-level overview is adequate, followed by an opportunity for Q&A.
2. Describe the pain points that need a solution
Is there a business problem that affects your organization’s ability to serve customers? Are you facing a cybersecurity risk with the potential to cost millions of euros in lawsuits and fines? Do you see a technology opportunity that could generate a billion dollars a year in new revenue?
Executives and managers want the bottom line on top. “We’re facing a technology challenge that is causing $2 million per quarter in customer attrition.”
Your audience may not understand the technology specifics, but the eye-popping attrition number signals the need for urgent action.
3. Speak your audience’s language
A cardinal rule in professional communication is “know your audience.” What are their goals? Their needs and concerns?
When you connect your message to something they care about deeply, you create an “attention bridge.” Because you have their attention, they are more inclined to stay with you during the technical discussion—even if they have to ask clarifying questions or want you to repeat the information in a different way. You gave them the hook to stay with you, even if they don’t understand all of what you’re explaining.
4. Set the context before diving into technical details
Listeners want to know WIFM—what’s in it for me to listen to this? You will have my undivided attention if you tell me you’re going to help me save 5 million dollars. My eyes may glaze over if you launch into a detailed discussion of cloud and edge computing without that $5 million context.
If you want to connect with non-technical executives or managers, provide a high-level explanation of the technical solution, without going into extensive details. If someone asks a question, keep answers brief—and, to the degree possible, free of technical terminology.
5. Be humble
If you’ve received feedback that you’re “talking down” to colleagues, find a peer or coach who can serve as a sounding board and coach you on effective communication techniques. You want someone who will be brutally honest with you about how you’re coming across and can provide specific feedback on how to adjust your approach.
Enter technical conversations with a humble mindset. Assume your listener is really smart yet doesn’t have the background to digest everything you know and are excited about. If an audience isn’t understanding the technical issues you’re trying to explain, take a deep breath and try a different approach. For example, would a metaphor help build understanding?
Or ask listeners to explain what they’ve learned so far. This enables you to determine what the audience has grasped and where they still have questions.
To improve your odds for a YES on your next tech proposal, check out "Presenting To The Bosses."
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