Posts Tagged ‘Presentation’

How to pitch an idea to management and executives

This post will show you a great presentation structure you can use when you are requesting funds or resources to help you implement an idea.

pitchpostexecutiveWhen presenting to an executive it’s important that your presentation be clean, concise and to the point!

If you know the individual there may be a format they expect or prefer for presentations. For example, Max Long was president of Microsoft Canada and he believed you could do anything with one slide so when you presented to Max your best bet was to use one slide whenever possible

But not all exectuvies have pre-defined powerpoint templates you can borrow before you meet them. That’s when it’s important to have a solid strategy for presenting a proposal. This is true whether it will be you delivering the presentation or someone else is presenting on your behalf. When I taught ITIL there was a model they recommended when defining a strategy that makes an excellent format for executive proposals. I’ve had great success with this model and wanted to share it with you today!

Slide 1 – The vision

Does your company have a vision? Although sometimes from the ground visioning can seem a little vague and you may wonder why executives go offsite to discuss vision, it’s actually very important for a company’s success. What differentiates you from other companies? Why would someone choose your company’s service or product over another company? What are we good at? What do we want to be best at doing? If you can’t answer these questions it’s hard to set a direction for the company and to make the right decisions as to which opportunities to pursue and which to put aside for now.

One of my favorite quotes is “I can do anything, but I can’t do everything!” This is true for companies as well as individuals. How do you decide which plans are worth your limited time and money? You look for plans that help you achieve your vision. When you have an idea to put forward, you need a vision as well.

A vision is your ultimate goal.  Let’s be clear, your proposal or idea will not achieve this vision, but, it will be a step in the right direction! A vision is something you strive for. I strongly recommend taking a few minutes to look up the vision of the company you are presenting to as well! It can certainly help if your vision aligns with theirs!

I think this will make more sense if we look at a few specific examples:

I want budget to buy everyone new laptops because our existing laptops are out of date – Perhaps your vision is a team of employees who feel empowered and productive! Will buying new laptops make them feel empowered and productive? Not necessarily, there are other factors in play which affect their productivity and sense of empowerment but it will help!

I want to take some software we have in house and make it open source – Perhaps your vision is a company seen as leaders in their field.  Will publishing some open source oftware make you leaders in the field? No, but it shows the development community that you have software in that field and you are confident enough to share that software with the developer community. It should certainly help your reputation (as long as the software is good )

I want to upgrade to the newest version of Office because of the data capabilities. Perhaps the vision is a team with the information they need to make the best decisions!  Once again, Excel doesn’t guarantee you will have the information you need when you need it or that they will make the right decision, but having tools that help you analyze data effectively will help!

So slide 1 should be a single sentence that states your vision and possibly an image that captures your vision.

Slide 2 – Where are we now?

Now that you have presented your vision, it’s time to create a sense of urgency. You want to provide your audience with a feeling that the current situation is not acceptable and something needs to be done. You need to provide an honest assessment of the current situation. If you are taking the time to present to the executive, presumably it’s because you see something you feel needs to be fixed or an opportunity that should be seized. Now is the time to help them understand that need or opportunity!

This is a good time to present data or statistics that demonstrate the need  for change. You want new laptops? Get some data, tell them exactly how old the current laptops are, maybe get some data from the service desk to see if you can find out how many users are losing productivity because of laptop issues.

If you don’t have data, a good story can fill the gap. Was there an incident where a customer was unhappy because your team didn’t have accurate data that shows the need for better data analysis tools? A strong management team understands the value of a good customer experience and the potential negative impact of a bad customer experience so if you can provide specific examples where customers were unhappy because of the current situation that can also demonstrate a need for change

Slide 2 should provide some data or some specific examples that demonstrate why the status quo is unacceptable.

Slide 3 – Where do we want to be?

Okay, slide 1 was your vision, a long term goal you would like to reach eventually. This slide should be a very specific goal you can reach in the foreseeable future. It should be a SMART goal. A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Which basically boils down to “what do you really think we can achieve if we implement your proposal?” What exactly will get better?  Will customer satisfaction be 50% higher? Will employees spend 10 hours less a year dealing with IT issues? How long will this take? Will you achieve this goal in 6 months? a year? Ideally you want something that will show a return in a single year, you are going to have a tougher time proposing something which takes multiple years to show a benefit.

If you do have an idea that will help the company in the long run you might want to break it down into smaller proposals. What could you achieve in year one, in year two? in year three? Most companies do their budgeting one year at a time, so it’s easier to approve or finance a project for one year. After your first year you can approach them for a follow up project.

Slide 3 should provide a realistic goal for the end of the project you are proposing. Be specific general statements such as “employees will be more productive” or “users will be happier” won’t cut it. You need something that can be measured such as 15 % less calls to the service desk for this application, 10% increase in satisfaction on the employee satisfaction survey.

Slide 4 – How will we get there?

Okay, you’ve got their attention. They understand the problem, they understand where you want to take them. Now, they are ready to hear your proposal! This is the one section that may take more than one slide, because this is where you pitch your actual proposal. This is where you ask for the funding, the time, the resources, the commitment from other teams to help you, whatever it is you need to execute your plan!

Slide 5 – How will we know when we get there?

On slide 3 we specified a specific and measurable goal we were going to achieve. On the last slide we specify how we are going to measure how close we are to that goal. If you said there would be a 10% increase in employee satisfaction, when will that employee survey be distributed? Will you need to issue an extra survey to measure the success of your project in a timely manner? Will you work with the Service Desk to get reports on the amount of time spent on incidents for the application you are trying to improve?

If you are lucky there is already a reporting structure in place you can use to measure the success of your project, however you may need to work with another team to collect some baseline data now and agree on data that will be collected as the project progresses to make sure you can tell if your project is working!

What gets measured gets managed! It’s important to monitor your progress as you execute your plan. If the reports indicate things are going well, then you have some great data to share with your boss to show that their investment is paying off! If things are not going well, you want to know that sooner rather than later so you can determine if you need to make adjustments to your plan if needed. You don’t want to go up to the executive a year after they gave you the funding and say, oh well it looks like it didn’t work. If at the end of the year your project doesn’t work (which is a possibility, lots of things can go wrong, unexpected barriers may prevent your success) when you go back to your boss, if you can show them you were monitoring the progress and you tried to redirect and adjust when things weren’t going as well as you hoped that’s going to be a much better story to tell than saying, we did ‘x’ then at the end of the year we found at that didn’t work.  But hopefully, the reporting you set up will showcase that you met or maybe even exceeded your original goals!

You may think the reporting is just something management wants, but it helps you as well!  It allows you to monitor the success of your project so you can tweak as needed along the way, and it allows you to concretely show the impact your project delivered when it’s over.

Finding Inspiration

I just attended and presented at TEDx Youth Montreal. An incredible opportunity to inspire and be inspired.

Our first presenter is Olympic medal winner Andreanne Morin. She was on the Canadian Women’s eight team at the London Olympics and came home with a silver medal.  50 weeks of training a year, 6-7 days a week, 3 workouts a day, oh and she’s a law student! Through sleet, snow, fatigue, they trained and worked. When the big race happens your training pays off, especially the most gruelling workouts when you were tired and didn’t think you could do it. Because you know you got through those and you can do it when the time comes!

The next presenter is David Ragsdale, a neuroscientist who pulls an actual human brain out of a bucket! He then proceeds to explain what defines each of us, changing the way we see ourselves completely.

A 13 year old girl named Sophia who has a disease that caused all her hair to fall out and was forced to realize that now she’ll never fit the mold of the perfect 13 year old and explains that since she accepted that and took time to just figure out who she is and stop worrying as much about what others think she’s never been happier. “No-one here fits the mold, we are all different, so take a step back and figure out who you are and break the mold!”

Uhhhh… wait a second, I usually present to a bunch of geeks and explain how to write code, how exactly did I end up here again waiting for my scheduled time to go backstage and get miked up.

I have 9 minutes, no cue cards, and no slides. Why does 9 minutes seem like such a daunting task when I used to spend all day standing in front of a class explaining and presenting.

A video from a TED talk by a man who took fun pictures with his 28mm lens of people in Israel and posted huge photos of them on walls in Palestine, then took pictures of people in Palestine and posted giant photos of them in Israel. Showcasing local everyday heroes and giving everyone a reminder of the commonalities between the two sides.

Next, Sasha Diguilian, a professional rock climber who recently won a gold medal at the Pan Am games. The training is hard, she says, but every time she considered skipping a training session she reminded herself that every training session she attended was a step forward, every one she skipped was a step backwards. Why would anyone choose not to keep moving forwards!

I’m up next. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time preparing for 9 minutes. On the train, in the hotel the night before, in the hotel the morning of, sitting on a bench in the hallway visualizing it in my head, changing only a few words here or there, not wanting to risk throwing off the speech I had written up. I think the last time I wrote every word of a presentation and memorized it was in high school.

My talk, is apps, seriously Susan? I mean isn’t that just your job? How do you make that inspiring? Well, some aspects of my job are inspiring, no seriously, when you see the apps other people create it can blow you away! Do you have a smartphone or tablet? They are everywhere. Of course the apps make them really shine. Anyone can build an app, in an afternoon you could build something simple. That’s a great way to start. Now think bigger, something that could help you day to day. Now think bigger, something to help others day to day. Now think bigger, what app could help a charity. Now think bigger! Could your app have a real impact? Help someone with MS record and report their daily symptoms to their doctor? Take a recording from a stethoscope and send it to a program that analyzes the sound to determine if an infant in Africa has pneumonia so they can be treated in time to save them?

“Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do”

It’s a quote from an Apple commercial, but I love it.

Are you crazy enough?

Dream it! Build it! Live it!

You could see the students in the audience nodding, they get it, they see the potential of the devices they already have in their hands. The students seem to understand it better than most adults! That’s why they inspire me, they don’t see the barriers or limits, they just see the potential. May we all take a lesson from the students and be crazy enough to think that we can make a difference!

My talk might never be posted online, so maybe only 200 people will ever witness a 9 minute talk that took me hours of work. But, no regrets! I will never again share a stage with such an inspiring and diverse group each of whom inspired me in a different way. I can only hope that in some small way I repaid in kind.

Want Your Presentation to Rock? Hook Your Audience Early!

Every day professors there is a lecture room with someone standing up front talking about Fourrier Transforms or looping algorithms. Whether it’s a class presentation,  a lunch and learn for fellow students, or a presentation on a co-op term, all of us are called upon to present from time to time. When we put together a presentation it can be tricky to deliver the information the audience needs in a way that will hold their attention. You want a presentation that will grab and hold their attention. Luckily there is a very easy 5 slide structure you can use in your slide decks to quickly get the audience invested in your presentation.

I really believe you have to get your audience hooked right from the beginning. Whether you are presenting at a conference, to a client, to your boss, or to co-workers. You want to make sure the audience understands what you will be talking about and why they should care right away! We all have limited time, so when I sit down to listen to someone else present I want to know right away what am I going to get out of this presentation.

The structure I use at the start of my decks is based on the principles in Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson.

Let’s say I wanted to talk to a group of programmers about developing an application for a Windows Phone. A typical presentation might start out with a slide that shows a picture of a windows phone, then it might display a slide that lists the tools you need to download to start developing, then a slide listing the hardware and software requirements to use the tools, you have a few slides talking about the different types of phone applications you can build, then maybe you do a Hello World example, and you do various code examples and demos and finish up with talking about how to publish an app to the marketplace. Sound about right? That’s fine, but it could be so much better! All you need to do is put careful thought into the first 5 slides!

Slide 1 The Setting

The very first slide in your deck should give your audience the setting, telling them where we are right now. Think of it like a sort of one sentence status update, a state of the union. Ideally this setting should be expressed as a single sentence with a single image on the slide to reinforce it. For example

“The Windows Phone MarketPlace offers great opportunities to get noticed” and an image of someone who stands out in a crowd.

Other examples of setting statements

“SQL Server 2012 CTP3 has just been released”

“MVC is becoming a popular model for web development”

“All companies need accurate information to make decisions”

Slide 2 The Protagonist

The second slide should help the audience understand how they fit into this setting, so they can understand how your first statement is relevant to them. Again keep the slide simple, one sentence, one image!

“You know .NET, so you can code a windows phone application” with a picture of a happy programmer, or the .NET logo, get creative have fun with it.

Other examples

“We are currently running SQL Server 2005”

“Our team maintains 15 corporate websites”

“We have 45 databases at our company storing 61 TB worth of data”

Slide 3 The imbalance

This slide should give a sense of the conflict, the problem, it should start to make people feel like we need to do something. Stick with the one sentence, one image format.

“The Windows Phone Marketplace is an untapped opportunity” with a picture of Monty Burns from the Simpsons rubbing his hands together with glee (like I said you can have fun with the images)

Other examples

“We need the business intelligence features in SQL Server 2012”

“None of our websites share code”

“There is wealth of information in our data that can help our company succeed”

Slide 4 The balance

This slide should tell the audience the desired outcome, where we want to be in a week, a month, a year, or even in an hour when this presentation is completed. Oh and guess what format the slide should be…yup one sentence, one image. By the way lets be clear, I do mean an actual sentence, with punctuation and everything, a bullet point is not a sentence.

“We want to develop windows phone applications” with an image of a windows phone showing the company logo on a tile

Other examples

“We need to upgrade to SQL Server 2012”

“We want our code to be re-usable across websites”

“We can get information about trends and patterns from our company data to plan company strategy”

Slide 5 The solution

Now it’s time to reveal what you will really be talking about in your slide deck, the solution, how will we get from where we are now to where we want to be, from the imbalance to the balance!

“You can develop a phone application” with an image of a finger pointing at the audience.

Other examples

“There is an upgrade path from SQL 2005 to 2012”

“MVC will allow us to re-use more of our code”

“SQL Server Analysis Services cubes will help us report on trends in our data”

Put it all together and it comes out like this

The Windows Phone Marketplace offers great opportunities to get noticed. You know .NET, so you can code a windows phone application. The Windows Phone Marketplace is an untapped opportunity. We want to develop windows phone applications. You can develop a phone application


All companies need accurate information to make decisions. We have 45 databases at our company storing 61 TB worth of data. There is wealth of information in our data that can help our company succeed. We can get information about trends and patterns from our company data to plan company strategy. SQL Server Analysis Services cubes will help us report on trends in our data

If you were in the audience after these slides, would you know what was coming next? that’s the whole point, now I understand what you’ll be covering, how I am affected, and why we are having this discussion.

Just 5 slides and you are well on your way to a great presentation. An interesting aspect of these first 5 slides: they don’t take long to cover in your audience. I probably average about 30 seconds a slide on these. So they add very little to your overall presentation time yet they go such a long way towards setting the stage for the rest of your presentation. So next time you are firing up PowerPoint, before you jump straight into the content, take a minute to think about those first 5 slides. By the way, if you go back and read the first 5 sentences of this blog post…you’ll see this format can work for introductions to blogs as well Smile


This blog is also posted on the Canadian Solution Developer