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Tips for speaking like a business strategist

Tracy Mayor | Feb. 11, 2014
As an IT pro, you know you need to think strategically, but can you speak strategically, too? CIOs share advice on how to catch the ear of senior management.

"People in the tech world are getting better about open and honest communication, but it's still too much of the business telling IT what to do and then IT just carrying it out," Madden laments. "That's not good for the business, and it's not good for the team of smart technical people you've assembled. At best, they'll build the wrong thing — and nobody wants that."

Having worked with hundreds of clients, Madden says she has learned to ask tough questions, and lots of them, at the outset of a project — "before things get political." "I can't tell you how many times we asked, 'Why are we here? Why did you hire us?' and heard multiple answers," says Madden, who is in the early stages of starting a new tech company.

She encourages her teams to sit down the day before embarking on a new project for an internal risk-assessment meeting, where everyone touching the project lists everything that could possibly go wrong — "everything from 'they might hate us' to unreasonable deadlines to natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy," Madden says. The next day, the team shares its list with the client.

Madden acknowledges that it's counterintuitive to start off a new relationship with negativity, but she stands by the process. "I've never seen it backfire; I've only seen it help," she says. "The freedom to be honest allows us to continuously improve, and it ups our credibility when the client sees that we're in control."

Tracy Mayor

How to Speak With Presence
Your strategic insights aren't worth anything if you can't convey them with authority. Here's how to nail a boardroom presentation on the first try, in 10 steps.

1. Think about your message beforehand. Remind yourself that you know your stuff.

2. To begin, stand up or sit up straight.

3. Smile all around as you take a deep breath.

4. Start with the hook of your presentation, i.e., why you are speaking today.

5. Assume a neutral but authoritative tone.

6. Pause for emphasis when making key points, then explain them.

7. Summarize your key points in your conclusion.

8. Include a call to action, if appropriate.

9. Acknowledge tough questions openly.

10. Don't be afraid to say you don't know. Promise to deliver an answer at a later date.

Adapted from The Leader's Guide to Speaking with Presence: How to Project Confidence, Conviction and Authority, by John Baldoni (AMACOM, 2013)


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