In my last column I showed you how to gather statistics to build a solid case for upgrading your IT infrastructure. All the statistics in the world won't help you secure that signature, however, if you put your boss to sleep with technical mumbo-jumbo. Keeping your pitch brief, clear, and fact-based will tilt the odds in your favor. In this column I'll share the five-step process I use to present a winning technology proposal to my boss.
Just the facts, Jack
Most bosses don't have the time to listen to a lengthy spiel on why you need to install the latest technology. Have your statistics at hand, but don't go through them item by item--that's guaranteed to put your boss to sleep.
For my proposals, I write an executive summary of no more than one page with all of the supporting documentation in the appendix. The information is there if my boss wants to read it, but she's not forced to wade through pages of dry figures looking for the pertinent points.
Don't go solo--bring a colleague when you make your presentation. If you find yourself at a loss for words, passing the baton to your colleague will buy you time to get your thoughts in order. I've been able to get myself out of a tight fix on several occasions by turning to my teammate and saying, "So, John, what's your opinion on that?" By the time John finishes speaking I've had a chance to catch my breath and get my brain back in gear. To pull this off successfully, you need to scrupulously adhere to my next tip.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
I can't emphasis enough the importance of rehearsing. If you rehearse your presentation several times it becomes second nature, which will help keep you from getting rattled. Act out the presentation by having coworkers play the role of your boss or the review committee and try to shake you up. Rehearsing really brings out the weak points in a presentation--you'll be surprised at the number of changes you'll make after you've been put through the gauntlet by your coworkers.
Don't get defensive
Like most technology workers, I'm justifiably proud of the designs my team puts together. If someone takes a crack at our design I see red. But I've learned to keep my feelings to myself and stick to the facts.
Getting defensive makes you look unprofessional. If your boss takes issue with an item in your presentation, say that you'll be happy to investigate alternative solutions. Ask yourself if defending one item is worth risking the entire plan.
Have a sacrificial lamb
Don't swing for the fence. It's unlikely in these days of tight budgets that you're going to get everything you ask for. I make sure there's at least one item on my list that I'll agree to drop. I've been able to pull more than one proposal back from the brink by agreeing to cut an item or two. I'm not suggesting that you pad your proposal, just that you leave room for negotiation.
My suggestions aren't written in stone--you'll need to tailor them to your environment. One thing is certain, however: pitching a technology proposal to management is a skill worth having.
Robert Currier has been in data networking for more than 15 years, the last five as Director of Data Communications at Duke University. Currier is an accomplished writer, public speaker, and photographer. His credits include product reviews in Network World, features in PC Computing and photographs in the Chronicle of Higher Education.