I used to attend local chapter meetings with our I.E. technician. She always told me that we engineers have a very strange sense of humor that she doesn’t understand. I argued with her that our jokes are great, we understand each other perfectly, and we are perfectly normal like everyone else. Our conversations typically ended with her saying, “yeah right.”
This happens in business presentations and conversations too. I’ve seen brilliant engineers and scientists have challenges to present to a wider audience. It happened even when their projects or careers are at stake. Communication skills are becoming critical as projects are getting more complicated and teamwork is becoming a must. The bright side is, there are approaches and processes to enhance our communication skills. I will write more on this subject, but let’s focus on presentation for management this time.
The first step is making a mindset adjustment to recognize our audience may not think the same way as we do. Just like my story, sometimes they just don’t get our points. Why is that? Using college education as an indicator, 60% of men and 70% of women are not science or engineering majors. It is fair to assume there is a high possibility that they would apply different logic when forming opinions or making decisions.
The second step is remembering the number one priority for management is sustaining business, and a positive financial result is a must for long term sustainability. Following that mindset, it is not hard to understand why management always wants to see presentations with return, cost, and other financial figures. The same even applies to a quality or safety project which, unfortunately, is not enough to get buy-in only because “it is the right thing to do”. The bottom line, it is always better to present with business benefits or financial figures in front of management.
Are financial numbers the only things can catch management’s attention? Not really. Management also care about employee retention rate, safety, and other objectives that may not directly link to financial performance. In this situation, the trick is to quantify the projected outcome and help the audience form a comparison. This enables them to make a statement like “20% improvement” instead just “much better”. On the other hand, it would be perfect if we can link these objectives indirectly to financial performance. For example, we can use the liability cost of potential safety incidents to generate a comparison on the scale of severity. These impressions help management to form a potential financial impact in their own mind. Drop me a note if you would like me to show more on how to get it done.
The reverse side of this story is the common mistake of focusing too much on the technical details without mentioning the business impact. Of course, the technical details are important. It is often necessary to support the accurate conclusion, recommendation, or prediction. However, the audience may not have adequate background to understand it all. We should drill down the details to the appropriate level based on the key audience. In many cases, it may be better jump to the conclusion and only go to technical details when there is a question from the audience.
To recapture all the details, here is a quick summary of the tips.