In a previous article in Mailing Systems Technology, we discussed the importance of building a business case to get approval from senior management for a major expense or transformation. In many situations, managers may be asked to present their business case to a group of executives or a similar committee. The effectiveness of the presentation may be more important than the business reasons when making a decision.
Most companies still use PowerPoint for briefings, so that will be the basis for this article. Managers should prepare for the meeting using the same techniques as if they were presenting at a conference. They should think of the executives in the room as an audience that they want to influence and inspire.
As a reminder, an effective business case will include:
1. Executive Summary
2. Problem Statement
3. Impact Statement
4. Proposed Solutions
5. Basic Project Plan
8. Restated Summary
The presentation will be a summary of the business case, with fewer points/slides:
2. Problem Statement
3. Proposed Solution
4. Project Plan
5. Financial Impact
6. Next Steps
The overview is simply a list of the topics to be discussed. This prepares the people in the room for what they are about to hear. It’s the first step in “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.”
The problem statement on the slide should be an abbreviated version of what you plan to say. For example, when replacing an inserter, the bullet points could focus on lack of adequate integrity controls, slow speeds, and down time for repairs. Verbally, you would expand on each area, emphasizing the negative impact to the business.
When talking through the slide, have exact numbers on hand — the number of reported errors, the calls to customer service, etc. You may have a printed copy of the business case next to you and just read directly from it. While reading from a slide is discouraged, reading from the business case adds authenticity and reminds the audience about your previous diligence.
The proposed solution is more than just the actions being taken, but how those actions will impact the operation and the company. The bullet points will highlight the changes, backed up by the details in the business case. In other words, the solution explains the results of the project.
A new inserter means more than just updated equipment; it will change the entire statement process. In most situations, this means adding 2D or data matrix barcodes as well as job information files. Depending on the age of the current equipment, new inserters may run two or three times faster. The company may need fewer machines, as well as fewer operators, to complete the work more quickly than the current process is able to.
The Project Plan slide only contains the milestones and the associated dates. For a new inserter, the milestones would be assembling a team, publishing a request for proposals (“RFP”), selecting a vendor, and installing the equipment. Have a proposed list of team members ready to review with the executives. They may have other assignments for those individuals, or they may want someone else to be involved. There may be other projects you aren’t familiar with, so be prepared to make changes.
The Financial Impact slide should highlight the areas of the budget impacted by the project. Detailed information on costs — equipment pricing, programming hours, etc. — should be included in the business case, and ensure this information is readily available to be referenced. Be prepared to explain the reasoning and sources for estimates.
For the inserter project, the major categories would be staffing, equipment, software, and real estate. Each of those areas have several line items — salaries, benefits, leases, maintenance, etc. The importance is to keep the attention on those categories where the project has a measured impact. If costs will increase, don’t try and hide it. Instead, be upfront, and have an explanation as to why the additional expense is worth incurring. Not every project saves money.
Instead of a “Summary” slide, end with a “Next Steps” slide. After verbally recapping the meeting, highlight the actions needed to move forward with the project. If approvals are required, secure them while all the executives are together. Follow up with an email noting the decisions and subsequent events.
For example, the next steps may be to approve the project, assign a team, and start the RFP process. If a signature is required for approval, have the documentation prepared and at the meeting. Ask the executives when they’ll notify their employees about the project and when you can send out invitations to the team. Share the PowerPoint with the team members so they understand what their managers have approved.
Just like speaking at a conference or association meeting, you need to be prepared for the business case presentation. That includes designing visually appealing slides, drafting speaking notes, and rehearsing how you will present.
Too often, people try and put too much information on a PowerPoint slide. The details of the project are in the business plan. The slides are used for talking points and giving a place for attendees to make notes. The slides should have minimal text. Use bullets and short sentences. Whenever possible, use five or fewer bullets.
Many conference rooms are equipped with large LCD screens to display presentations. This is a great way to keep everyone on the same page. However, systems fail — usually at the most inconvenient times. Make sure that you have physical copies of the slides for every attendee. Follow company guidelines regarding color print and duplexed pages.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. In addition to being a briefing, this is a performance. Listen to what the words sound like when said out loud. Learn to modulate your voice so it doesn’t sound like a recital from a drone. Spend extra time on practicing your opening and closing lines.
If possible, rehearse in front of a small group in the same room as the meeting. Make sure that you’re comfortable with the computer or screen controls. Consider assigning seats for attendees, and practice directing your attention towards those positions when making key points. Be aware of your stage presence. Your attire, body language, and eye contact all come into play.
Ask for open and honest feedback. Recently, I was rehearsing with a client before briefing their C-level team. As we were going through the slides, the client stopped me. One of the phrases I’d chosen was associated with a recent project that had failed. We substituted the phrase, and reached a successful outcome.
When presenting, be prepared for questions. If someone brings up an idea you hadn’t considered, don’t be defensive. Instead, acknowledge the suggestion and offer to follow up. If you disagree with someone’s point of view, don’t be disagreeable. Consider staring your counterpoint with, “I’m sorry, but I may not have explained myself in the best way. May I try again?” Remove — don’t escalate — the tension.
A well-written business case is an effective way to gain support for a major purchase or project. Equally important is how that case is presented to senior executives for their approval. Expending the extra effort on the documentation and the presentation will increase your opportunity for success.
Mark M. Fallon is President & CEO, The Berkshire Company. You can read his blogs at www.berkshire-company.com/the-berkshire-company-blog and www.markfallon.com/blog. Contact 508.485.9090 or firstname.lastname@example.org.