Delivering your Business Case

Posted by michaelk on Sep 9th, 2008
Sep 9

There are many steps in putting together a solid, quality business case for IT projects like scope, criteria, align, etc. but the single most important one in "selling" the case is story-telling.


I have presented more than my fair share of business cases and I can attest that this is by far the most important.  This step exists because of incorrect communication of the business case findings and rationale account for almost 20 percent of all the reasons why business cases fail.  If you can’t communicate your plan it will cover up the quality and relevance of the all the research and analysis that you and your team put into it.


I want to take a minute to share the tasks that are related to this last and final step in building a solid, quality business case for your IT projects.




#1:  Build graphics and narratives

At the core of a business case, the worth is not in the mass of numbers.  Your business case’s value always springs from the quality of the guided conversation it stimulates about the shape of the future.  I can tell you from first hand experience, conversations move people to action.  The data in your business case is merely the backdrop, albeit an important one.


The words, diagrams, and drawings that you present in the report must spark conversations that reflect an accurate understanding of the findings and rationale.  Here are some tips that I have used to do this:

  • Confirm who the audience is.  I always make, and so should you, to know the name, rank and serial numbers of my audience members.  My final reports are always written to known individuals, not to "To Whom it May Concern" types.
  •  Speak the audience’s language.  Speak the language of business or that of the decision makers you are presenting to.  Forget the all the technical jargon, it won’t do you any good at this level.
  • Help the data to talk.  What I’m talking about here is using charts to show proportions, trends, etc.  I use text to draw attention to important findings within the data and charts.  One additional thing to do is use what I call concept visuals.  This is where I take a page from Dan Roam and use drawings to illustrate key points.
  • Use succinct, vivid text.  Nothing drives me more crazy than watching a presenter write a long sentence when just a few words would suffice.  Take this to heart folks.  People that are going to be in your presentation are very busy people and probably have a very short attention span.  Use small potent words to help drive your point home.


#2:  Tell the ROI story


Graphs and charts are great, but not really enough and will still under-communicate unless you tell the story.  ROI storytelling is about relating people-oriented tales that illustrate a key theme, finding, or message of your business case.  Don’t go crazy here, but use this carefully.  The best times that I have found to apply the ROI story is;

  • When a key, somewhat complex, point needs to be clearly understood
  • When a key point needs to be believed and,
  • When a key point needs to be easily remembered


I have learned the hard way folks, don’t use a story when describing technically-oriented features or functions.  The best ROI story is the one which resonates with the decision makers.  It usually is the kind of story that deals with the enterprise as well as its customers, suppliers, and investors.  I have used customer stories that I have found in client marketing material along with some tidbits of information I pick up during assessment interviews with employees.


I’m going to close with some helpful hints. 

  1. Be clear on the purpose and duration of the presentation.  The purpose and duration drive everything else in the preparation and delivery of the presentation.
  2. Use charts and diagrams liberallyI would say that 90% of the key data communicated should be via graphics and drawings and backed up by the numbers.
  3. Allow plenty of time for questions. 
  4. Be ready for challenges and animosity from the audience.  Your conclusions, findings, rationale, data validity, and sources are all fair game to your audience.  Prepare your self and anticipate this.  Your meeting will be more successful if you do.  On the topic of animosity let me say this.  Business cases are bound to stir up controversy.  Be professional and speak to the antagonist with respect.  Respond directly to them and then try to move on.  If they persist offer to take the discussion offline.
  5. Get feedback.  This is my favorite thing especially if you can have this presentation before presenting your final report.  This should give you time to sharpen the final written report.


As I stated in my first post here.  Preparation is the key to success.  In every expedition I’ve been on, we spend months preparing.  The same goes for important presentations as well, it could save your professional credibility.


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Five Tips to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Aug 2nd, 2008
Aug 2


Fear of public speaking is extremely common. Even the most experienced speakers get nervous. Many beginning speakers are completely overcome with panic and anxiety. This one issue prevents more people from reaching their goal to be an effective speaker than any other in my opinion.


Overcoming this fear and panic is key to successfully communicating from in front of the room. If you do not appear confident to your audience, your audience will not likely feel confident in what you have to say. Recent research on mirror neurons suggests that we "we subconsciously put ourselves in the shoes of the person we’re observing and, accounting for relevant differences, imagine what we would desire and believe in that scenario".  If the audience senses your lack of confidence, many may infer the cause is that you do not believe in your own message. This can seriously undermine your message and chances for success.


Here are five ways to overcome your fear of public speaking -


  1. Be a Boy Scout – The Boy Scouts motto  is "Be Prepared". This is the most obvious method to overcome your fear. As I wrote in the Six Rs of Communication, it is essential to have a well defined result for both you and your audience. Answer the question "What’s in it for me?" for both you and the audience. Use this answer to guide you in your preparation of your visuals and remarks.  After you have created a crystal clear RESULT for your presentation, it is much easier to create your opening and closing, choose your main points, and build your content. Your result is what you want your audience to conclude (and act upon) when you are done. When you start at the conclusion, it is a much simpler task to create your opening, main points, and then tie everything back into that conclusion. 


You (and your audience) are much more likely to reach your destination if you know exactly where you are going. With a clear picture in your mind of both your destination and the route to reach that destination, you are much more likely to feel confident. If you do not know exactly where you are going or how to get there, fear of getting lost (and looking foolish or unprepared) is much more likely.



     2. Own the Room – Prior to your scheduled time to speak, make sure to find time to survey the room where your session will take place. Verify where you can stand and walk, and where you cannot. If you plan to use a flip chart or white board, make sure you know where the markers (and erasers) are. If there is a projector and your are showing Powerpoint slides, test the projector with your laptop. Ensure your your screen resolution works with the projector. Verify you can power on the projector and project your slides on the screen. If you will be using a microphone, ensure it works and that you know how to power it on and off. Do a sound check (especially if there is an AV crew present). The goal here is to eliminate as many surprises as possible. Ensure that you feel comfortable in the space where you have to speak so that you are not distracted by the environment.


    3. Work the Room - Whenever possible you should try to meet as many members of the audience as possible. Meet and greet people who will be in the audience and dig down into why there are attending the session. Make sure you really understand their answer to the all important question "What’s in It for Me?". The primary goal here is to have as many friendly faces as possible in the audience. Remove the fear of speaking in front of strangers by minimizing the number of strangers.

    As you become more experienced, this technique can help you take your presentations to the next level. Probe for back ground stories that you can use a part of your session. One or two well told stories that are specifically relevant to the audience will increase both your credibility and rapport with the audience.


    4. Breathe like a baby – If you follow the first three tips, your anxiety and fear of public speaking should be greatly reduced. You may still get last minute jitters. I have given well over 700 presentations and I still get jitters. This next technique helps me eliminate those last minute butterflies in my stomach. Diaphragmatic breathing is a great way to release tension and quickly relive stress and anxiety. "To breathe diagrammatically, or with the diaphragm, one must draw air into the lungs in a way which will expand the stomach and not the chest. It is best to perform these breaths as long, slow intakes of air – allowing the body to absorb all of the inhaled oxygen while simultaneously relaxing the breather."




    I combine this technique with a simple mediation technique I learned many years ago. I place my left hand on my stomach just below my rib cage and breathe in deeply. I push my stomach against my hand to ensure I am using the diaphragm. As I breathe in, I silently count to myself "Ten". As I breathe out, I push my stomach in, expand my chest and count "nine. I breathe in again as I push against my hand with my stomach and count "eight". Then breathe out and count "seven". I  continue this down to one. If I still need to relax further, I slide my hand an inch or two lower on my stomach and start counting down again from ten. I have shared this technique with many others and it has never failed to relax anyone who follows the steps.


    5. Use a Royal Entrance – I learned this final technique from a class mate in a presentation class in Dallas many years ago. This technique not only relaxes me, but it invariably puts a smile on my face and pumps me up.

    Just before you get up to speak, imagine a trio of trumpets is playing a royal fanfare for you as if you were a king or queen entering the room. Just play this quickly inside your head. Here is an example -








With these five techniques you can overcomes that fear of public speaking and transform into a much more confident, capable and successful speaker.


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What are your Speaking Strengths and Weaknesses?

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Jul 24th, 2008
Jul 24


Which speaking skill is you greatest strength? Which is your biggest weakness? Vote below -





You can add you own suggestion in the "Other" box.


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Build a Memory Palace to Lose the Crutch – Part II

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Jun 19th, 2008
Jun 19

(Read the first post of this series here.)
Several Romans writers wrote of these ancient memory techniques. "Rhetorica ad Herennium" (author unknown), "De Oratore" (Cicero, 55 BCE),  and Institutio Oratoria (Quintillian, 95 CE) all cover the use of the memory palace technique in oratory. According to "The Art of Memory" by Frances Yates, each of these ancient works refers to the Greek Simonides as the originator of the technique.

His patron, Scopas, reproached him at a banquet for devoting too much space to a praise of Castor and Pollux in an ode celebrating Scopas’ victory in a chariot-race. Scopas refused to pay all the fee and told Simonides to apply to the twin gods for the remainder. Shortly afterwards, Simonides was told that two young men wished to speak to him; after he had left the banqueting room, the roof fell in and crushed Scopas and his guests.  During the excavation of the rubble, Simonides was called upon to identify each guest killed. He managed to do so by correlating their identities to their positions (loci) at the table before his departure. After thanking Castor and Pollux for paying their half of the fee by saving his life, Simonides drew on this experience to develop the ‘memory theatre’ or ‘memory palace’, a system for information management widely used in oral societies until the Renaissance. He is often credited with inventing this ancient system of mnemonics (Quintilian xi.2,n).

Cicero expands upon the memory palace technique in "De Oratore"(Book II, Section 357) -

It has been sagaciously discerned Simonides or else discovered by some other person, that the most complete pictures are formed in our minds of the things that have been conveyed to them and imprinted on them by the senses, but that the keenest of all our sense is the sense of sight and that consequently perceptions received by the ears or by reflection can be most easily retained if they are also conveyed to our minds by the meditations of the eyes.

A memory palace (also called method of loci) provides a location and series of associations for memory. The cornerstone to this method is vivid and imaginative pictures for each item to be included in the memory palace. In my experience, a outrageous action scene that includes a great deal of color, sound, and, if possible, tastes and smells is even more effective.


Ancient Greeks did not have access to paper as we know it today for taking notes. Gutenberg’s printing press would not come along until the 15th century. Oratory was very common (and extremely long winded) but there was no readily available method for writing down notes or using sources. Mnemonics were essential to oration, and oration was considered essential to politics and academics. These techniques were refined and proven over centuries, but fell out of favor as paper, printing (and now computers and powerpoint) became more common.


This memory palace technique can still be useful today for the speaker. This mnemonic technique can be used for much more than speeches of course. The key is to create vivid, outrageous active pictures for each bit of information, then chain all that information together as action scenes throughout a building (or along a journey as Dominic O’Brien suggests).

In Part III of this series, I will cover a step by step process to creating a memory palace.


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Build a Memory Palace to Lose the Crutch – Part 1

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Jun 18th, 2008
Jun 18

One of the most common reasons I hear from technical speaker’s for relying on powerpoint as a crutch is it "is impossible to remember everything I need to say". Many powerpoint users say this of course, but technical speakers take this excuse to the new level because they have have very detailed info on many of the slides because "This is a technical presentation!"


I learned a technique several years ago to help me quickly memorize the key points and examples of a presentation and remove the need to fill my powerpoint slides with text and data. That technique is commonly called a memory palace or memory journey.


My first exposure to this technique came from a very popular source for books on technology, not memory – O’Reilly Publishing. The book was called - "Mind Performance Hacks:Tips and Tools for Overclocking Your Brain" by Ron Hale Evans. I have long had a fascination with memory, so this the combination of memory and a technology term like "overclocking" was impossible to resist. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and learned many useful techniques. The memory palace technique is explained in Chapter 1.



Making mental journeys (also known as "memory palaces") is a useful way to remember sequential information. If you have several familiar short journeys handy, you can be ready to remember whatever you need to, at any time. Here’s how to start with the layout of your own house or apartment.

An even older mnemonic technique, perhaps the oldest, uses places as memory pegs. By places, I mean ordinary, concrete places, such as the rooms of your house or apartment. If you mentally organize these places into a sequence that is the same every time, you will be able to walk through the places in your mind and retrieve the information you have stored there.1

The Renaissance practitioners of the ancient ars memorativa (art of memory) referred to such journeys as memory palaces. Orators in classical times would prepare their speeches by stashing complex images that represented the things they wanted to talk about in the loci (places) of a remembered or imagined building, such as a palace. In fact, this practice is said to be the origin of today’s expressions "in the first place," "in the second place," and so on.


(Read more on Hale Evans book at his Mentat Wiki)


After reading of this I was determined to learn as much as I could about this technique. The memory chapter of the Mind Performance Hacks book includes numerous reference to the Dominic System and the book "How to Develop a Perfect Memory" by Dominic O’Brien, O’Brien is an eight time world memory champion. He uses the memory palace technique extensively (he calls it a memory journey).


Chapter Eight of this book is devoted to memorizing speeches. In this chapter (on page 47), O’Brien writes "Much like a mental diary, a speech file can help you remember a talk in its entrety without any notes. Key points are translated into key images, and placed along a simple journey".  In the introduction (page 8), he writes "my method has many similarities with the classical art of memory. The Greeks,and later the Romans, possessed some of the most awesome memories the world has ever seen."


In Part II of this series, I will review the origin of the memory palace technique.


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