Love them or loathe them, making presentations goes with the territory of being a CIO. Unfortunately, far too many of them are badly structured, too heavy or light on detail, overlong or just plain boring. In communicating and driving forward the technology vision of an organisation, it there is one thing a CIO needs to be able to do, it is present well.
So let's start by talking about structure. According to Lief Anya Schneider, managing partner with Schneider Bartosch Communications, a corporate communications and reputation management agency, all presentations should be viewed as story narratives. "CIOs should ensure that they engage from the off, retain attention and end with a slight surprise of some sort – a killer stat that will stick in the mind, an unexpected self-deprecating joke, or a reference to a valued colleague, for example – something memorable," she says.
Richard Barnes of PowerPoint presentation design agency Buffalo 7 recommends CIOs taking their cue from the TV. "Our advice is always to employ a common technique of mirroring the Six o'Clock News. Basically, tell your audience what you're going to tell them – the headlines; then tell them – which is the stories themselves; then tell them what you told them – which is the summary. And if you can do what the great Trevor McDonald did so well and include an amusing or witty 'And finally…', you'll stick in the audience's mind."
Start your presentation with a 'why', advises Karen Meager, owner of Monkey Puzzle Training & Consultancy: "'Why is it important for them to understand, listen and take notice? It is common to launch into the information without framing why it is important for them to pay attention," she warns. "The information may well be interesting, but people need to know why they are listening before they will hear it. The most common mistake CIOs make is assuming it's going to be obvious."
Another common mistake that CIOs make when presenting is not tailoring their presentations to their particular audience. One size does not fit all. As communication skills coach and keynote speaker Marc Lemezma explains, everyone viewing a presentation will have a unique set of needs, desires and concerns: "'The board will be focused on profits. The IT team and general staff will be concerned about their job security. The external stakeholder may be worried about maintaining a contract or what effect IT's actions will have on the environment. Therefore be rigorous in understanding these needs and ensure the content is relevant and answers the questions each group may have."
It is essential that the core message, however, is consistent. "A good practice is to develop a two or three-paragraph summary that encapsulates the key points and objectives of the project that is being discussed," adds Lemezma. "Validate this against the disparate needs of your various stakeholders and refine it so that it works for all."
What is also crucial is pitching the right level of technical detail for your audience. As Schneider says, there is no point in getting too technical when presenting to board members who want to hear the bottom line. "A CIO's job when communicating to a non-technical audience is that of translator," she says. "Likely outcomes and benefits should be communicated, rather than details."
In Barnes's experience it's often tempting for CIO presenters with a high level of technical knowledge to "hide behind tech talk as this is where they feel most comfortable". But as he adds, if the audience either don't understand or just don't need that level of detail, you'll lose them very quickly.
Tempting as it may be, as CIO what you shouldn't do is side-step the whole thing and send someone else to do your presentations for you. Schneider believes this should almost never happen. "It's a cop-out – and looks like one," she says. "A CIO must be seen to be the visionary leader at the helm. The only exception to this is when you invite a specialist member of your team to elaborate on a specific project they have been leading."
Finally, how long is long enough? Dominic Irvine, founder of Epiphanies, a consultancy providing learning development programmes in leadership and performance for blue chip companies, offers up a killer tip for CIOs. "The rate of speech is around 100–150 words per minute, so a 20-minute presentation will require roughly 2,500 words. That's about six sides of A4 if you were to write it down. And if you really do want to do a great presentation, get in the habit of writing it in full," he advises. "Don't make the mistake most people do of just creating slides, and then creating more and more 'just in case'. More slides don't make a bad presentation good, they just make it last longer and more annoying."
Which is the last thing you want to be. You may not grow to love doing presentations, but by adhering to a few simple rules and following some quite straightforward techniques (see boxout), you certainly won't loathe doing them and you may even start to see how much better they are received. Best of luck.
Top 10 tips for great presentations
1. Make it meaningful – ask yourself what do people need to see or hear in order to make them fully engage with this presentation?
2. Mind your body language – effective face-to-face presentations relies on body language (55%), tone (38%) and words (7%), so the presenter's body-language message is eight times more powerful than the words!
3. Make eye contact – good quality, frequent and varied eye contact is crucial for establishing and maintaining a connection with your audience.
4. Make your story compelling – as well as capturing the imagination, stories are much easier to remember than pure data.
5. And when using data, don't overdo it – if appropriate, make sure you explain how to read the data in question and why you've focused on it in particular.
6. Use PowerPoint sparingly – keep slides to a minimum; work on an average of three minutes per slide and no more than five lines or pieces of data per slide.
7. Give your audience something to do – discussion usually delivers richer and more meaningful returns than a lecture in terms of both memorability and the likelihood of follow-on action.
8. Get creative – people remember pictures better than numbers, so use images to increase the likelihood of retention.
9. Be human – moments of imperfection are not only normal, but can ease tension and increase the rapport you have built with your audience.
10. Embrace fear – hokey as it may sound, embracing your nerves from the start makes a huge difference to your chances of delivering a successful presentation; suppressing them can make your anxiety worse.
Source: Angela Muir, organisational psychologist and senior leadership faculty member, Ashridge Business School