Bullet points and how to kill an audience

When pitching to CEOs, the key to success is to not get too technical and to keep slide shows brief, two CIOs say

How many bullet points in a PowerPoint presentation does it take to kill an audience?

That was a question one CIO asked at the recent Infrastructure Management World conference. The CIO in question is advertising agency Ogily and Mather’s Atefeh Riazi and she was recalling how she went about selling the CEO on increasing the annual spend on IT infrastructure.

Because of its technical nature, IT infrastructure — which includes hardware such as servers for datacentres and advanced core networks — can be a tough sell for managers in IT, Riazi says.

She got laughs for her talk advising against the common practice of “killing” a top-level management audience with a PowerPoint slide presentation that goes on too long. However, she was serious as she explained that IT managers will lose funding if they can’t figure out how to effectively communicate the business value of infrastructure spending.

“Every time we talk to top executives, we talk about where is the growth, where is the profit, where is our competition going to be ... But there is zero discussion of infrastructure,” Riazi says. “We lose them if we start talking about MPLS networks.”

Fred Modruson, CIO at Accenture, agreed about the need to avoid technical talk and boring presentations. “You have to show benefits and costs” behind new infrastructure, he says.

Modruson says IT managers obviously must touch on technical terms when meeting with business managers. “It’s a matter of knowing your audience and of putting things in context,” he says. “It you want to provide MPLS don’t start right off talking about, say, hardware and refresh rates. Instead, start by talking about how [telco] costs will go down with MPLS, perhaps.”

Does Modruson still rely on PowerPoint presentations? “Yes, but not as much”.

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