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8 Tips for Presenting a Technical Recommendation

Aug 21, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development, Project Management, Speaking  //  4 Comments

 

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I’m asked do these sorts of “make a recommendation for a solution” presentations all the time.  I know how difficult it is.  These presentations are different than teaching moments.  They need to have a certain structure:

  • Problem statement / Challenges
  • Summary recommendation
  • Detailed recommendation (with the whys, too.)
  • Very brief recommendation of a path forward
  • Summary

So I have these tips for presenting your recommendations:

1. Make your material readable.  It sounds so non-technical and trivial to say that fonts and diagrams matter, but they do.  A recommendation that can’t be seen or read is less than useful.  Every Be The Next Microsoft Employee contestant struggled with this, some to the point that we weren’t even sure what was being presented.   Don’t let your presentation materials get in the way of presenting your ideas.  Handouts of key diagrams are always beneficial.  Using zoom features can help, too.  Buck had a great tip: put your laptop on the floor, then stand 3 metres away (okay, he said 10 feet) and see what it looks like.  If you can’t read it, neither can your audience.   If you are presenting on older projectors or without a proper screen, then stand back 12 feet.   If your slide looks like a blog post, you are doing it wrong.  Concepts go on slides, not documentation.

2. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.  All the contestants used words that could come back to haunt them later.  Words like guarantee, promise, for certain and warranty are things you can’t commit to as a vendor or presenter.  You don’t have the information you need to make these commitments, nor do you have any idea how your solution will be implemented.   Instead of making promises, case studies and well-qualified data can back up some assertions, but you will still need to use many qualifying words like may, might, and can to ensure that you aren’t making promises you can’t keep.

3. Know why are you are recommending something.  My mantra is every design decision comes down to cost, benefit and risk.  There is no one right answer for every organization, environment, team, culture or financial situation.  It’s not enough as an architect to say “this is the way that everyone does this”.  A professional architect knows that solutions need to be implemented in the context of cost, benefit and risk, including legal and organizational constraints.  Some people feel that costs and risks should not be addressed, but I have much more confidence in a recommendation when I can see that the recommender understands the trade-offs associated with everything they are proposing.  If your recommendation includes legal constraints, confirm, verify and reconfirm your recommendation.  Keeping your client out of jail is a good thing.  Context is King…and Queen.

4. Ensure that you address all the parts of the problem.  If a client asks you to solve their performance problem, all the solutions to address something else won’t make much of a difference if you don’t address the performance problem.  They may also suspect that your proposed solution can’t solve the problem in any manner.  Don’t forget the cost side, either.  Be ready with multiple levels of solutions to meet the financial constraints of the audience.

5. Ensure you don’t try to solve a problem you weren’t asked to. I’ve seen this before: a consultant has solved some brilliant problems in the past and spends all his time talking about how his solution will solve that problem…but not that was totally out of scope of the request.  Management may already have a solution in progress.  One of our contestants threw in a last second proposal to replace an ERP system, something that wasn’t asked for at all.  This would have been a real shock to everyone in the room and probably derailed the rest of the discussion.  Stick to the scope of the problem.

6. Be confident & positive.  Even if you aren’t.  I mentioned that all our presenters showed signs of nervousness. That’s to be expected.  But audiences really do want to see a confident speaker, one who speaks up and shows confidence in his or her solution.  The best way to do this is to be prepared and be confident in what you are presenting based on the resources you were given.  Don’t worry about the fact that you didn’t have enough time, that some things you wanted to demo you couldn’t get to work.  You can’t change that.  Go with what you have and do it well.  Be strong.

If you are there to provide a solution then you should be showing the meeting group that you think what you are presenting is a good thing.  Be serious, but even when you are talking about a problem or risk there’s no need to add drama to the situation.  The current environment and situation might have serious problems, but there’s no need to be negative about that.  In fact, I’ve seen consultants come in and mock the heck out of current situation and be totally oblivious that the people right in front of them built that solution and have done miracles trying to keep it going under changed demands.

7. Watch your time.  Don’t end too early nor go long.  Leave plenty of time for questions, comments and clarifications.  You can have some backup materials for anticipated questions.  I believe, though, the best use of time is for a discussion to ensure everyone understands what you have recommended and why.

8. Make your presentation about THEM.  It’s so painful to see a presenter that is clearly presenting about THE PRESENTER.  If you are saying I, my blog or my book too many times, you might be that guy.  If you are constantly pointing to yourself, you aren’t focusing on the solution.  If you are making a recommendation, it’s fine to say we recommend (if you are representing a group or organization), but you should be putting the client’s needs at the forefront.  Not yours.  One of the best ways to show that you are about them is to start your presentation with a brief understanding of the problem and the pain points of the organization.  Don’t spend too much time on it, just reflect what you’ve been told and show along the way how your recommendation addresses their pain points.

Recommendations need to have have the what, why, and how much questions addressed. They need to be clear and understandable.  I’d love to hear what recommendations you have for making technical recommendation presentations.

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