How to win support for your business case28 Feb 2019
Gaining support for a project you're excited about is a multi-phase process, and writing an excellent business case is only the first step. Whether it's via a presentation or speaking to stakeholders individually, winning approval is necessary if you wish to succeed.
How can you present your ideas persuasively? Here are some tips to help you bring the decision makers on board.
Get in early
Don't wait until your presentation. Use the time beforehand to build as much buy-in as you can. Figure out who the key decision makers are and do your research. What are their greatest concerns when it comes the business – do they have any main focuses? Building your business case to answer these points will help strengthen your pitch.
Approach them. Discuss where they think competitors are doing well, or what's allowing your organisation to pull ahead in the industry. Talk to them about the company's strategy. The more information you can pick up, the more you can tailor your business case to show how your project fits well with what they need.
I think another benefit is that it gives you the chance to spot flaws in your proposal early on. Understanding beforehand the concerns or road bumps you might encounter allows you to adjust your business case appropriately, or find solutions. Listen to any feedback you can get.
You won't always get the chance for a full presentation. Sometimes, you may find that you only have five minutes to convince the room to back your business case, instead of the hour you'd hoped for. Preparation is key.
An elevator pitch highlights what's essential, allowing you to better craft your presentation around these points.
A colleague of mine learnt this the hard way. She had a great idea and it showed real potential for the company. However, it all hung on a 30-minute presentation. Due to a last minute reschedule, half an hour wasn't what she got. Having nothing sorted for such a change, she stumbled, and missed including some of the vital information they needed for their decision. If she'd known her key points and which slides were essential she likely would have won the stakeholders' support.
Even if you don't end up needing your elevator pitch, you'll still benefit from creating one.
You should know your business case inside and out. An elevator pitch highlights what's essential, allowing you to better craft your presentation around these points.
On the other side of that, if they ask you to expand on a certain idea it's important you know your subject well enough to do so.
Hook with the need
Grab your listeners' attention. Your audience's time is precious – show them why they're spending it on your business case. As with any good presentation, you should hook them in as quickly as possible. Here are a few tips I've used in the past to do so:
- Identify the business need your project is addressing.
- Lay the issue out clearly.
- Explain the dangers of doing nothing, and contrast these with the benefits of action.
- Tie it in with the company's strategic objectives.
Make sure your audience knows why it's important that they keep listening.
Remember to craft a story
When I think about how a story adds to a pitch, I always find the topic brings me back to one particular memory.
A few years ago there was a presentation on a sales technique a speaker at my workplace wanted the company to try. He had the stats. All the case studies backed his viewpoint up and it offered excellent opportunities to bring in new prospects. Yet I struggled to stay attentive.
I knew I needed to listen, and I was interested in the topic. So why did my attention keep drifting? Because the speech was made up of dry facts. He lacked emotion and narrative.
It may sound counterintuitive that a story mattered so much when all the information was powerful. However, while you may think narrative will get in the way, in reality, it's the white rabbit that leads Alice down into Wonderland, enticing her to follow along the garden path.
Humans, at heart, are storytellers. It's an integral part of who we are and how we interact with one another. Tales evoke reactions. In fact, engaging narratives seem to inspire action even after the story has finished, according to a research paper by Paul J. Zak, titled 'The Neuroscience of Narrative'.
Crafting the right story and using powerful emotions to weave your case together can help draw in the decision makers. Don't be afraid to let your listeners know why you're so passionate about your project.
Remember that your audience doesn't have your knowledge or your specific industry interests.
You need to change your language to communicate on their wavelength. Jargon, or information on industry-specific areas, is likely to lose the interest you're fighting so hard to gain. Forget why the project benefits you. Instead, why does it matter to them?
The stakeholders you're trying to win over are likely business people. Convert the benefits your organisation will gain from the project into tangible Return on Investment (ROI) stats.
Address concerns directly
Don't shy away from confronting concerns. Your stakeholders want to know that you've considered potential risks and have solutions prepared to mitigate them. If a risk sits within a specialised subject matter, mention if you have an expert on board who can help deal with the issue. Knowing you have the right people for specific needs will aid in easing any worries the decision makers may have.
However, avoid diving too deeply into each and every risk as well. Deal with the most important ones, and keep the focus on the potential the project offers your company.
Choose the right medium
Straightforward slides filled with information aren't the only option you have for your presentation. For example, to hold an audience's attention I like to use a mixture of different mediums to demonstrate my points. Here are some you could consider:
- Could you circulate documents beforehand for them to review?
- Create visual representations for your data. Bar graphs or tables convey certain information much more efficiently than words.
- Consider video. In certain cases showing how something works using a short clip effectively demonstrates its usefulness. It also breaks up the monotony of slides, grabs attention, and refocuses your audience.
If you have a project you want to see succeed, talk to ICML today about how we can help you craft a compelling business case.