6.11 Presenting the case
23. Is the format of presentation appropriate for the audience?
24. Is the case presented in a persuasive way overall?
Hopefully, the analytical work carried out to determine costs, benefits and so on will almost speak for itself in demonstrating the project's worth. However, the case overall should aim to achieve more than persuasion on an intellectual level. The goal should be to capture the hearts and minds of the audience, to make them enthusiastic advocates for the proposed change, and willing to put themselves out to see the project succeed. You should already have your senior project champion in place, but others in your audience may also be willing and able to defend and promote the project at a senior level in the organisation and also perhaps outside it.
Don't forget that some part of the presentation of your case may take place in an informal setting. As was suggested previously, it might be useful to make key influencers of the decision on your proposal aware of it before any formal consideration takes place. This might involve approaching someone in their office or taking the opportunity in a social context, on the golf course or on the train home. A ‘pretext’ – actually a substantial benefit to you and your proposal – is to ask the people concerned to comment on your proposal to help you refine it. In this way you can gain ‘buy-in’ to your project from potential allies.
As far as formal consideration of the proposal is concerned, normally a written proposal document is required, with or without an oral presentation covering the main points, and with the chance for the audience to ask questions. Some organisations have a ‘house style’ for such proposal documentation, defining the structure and the information to be submitted. A generic structure for a proposal is given in Box 5. This is a useful starting point in the absence of any specific organisational guidance.
Box 5: Generic structure for a written proposal
Introduction and background to the proposal – a general rationale and explanation of the context
The scope, purpose and timescale of the proposal
Benefits (financial, operational, strategic)
Cost-benefit analysis (including sensitivity analysis) e.g. financial investment appraisal results
Any other implications of implementation
Appendices containing detailed data, if appropriate
Advice on writing the proposal:
Aim for a concise and clear style.
Use short sentences for clarity.
Make effective use of tables, charts and diagrams.
Avoid over-use of technical jargon – not all your audience may be familiar with the terminology.
Keep it short.
Summarise quantitative data in concise tables or graphs. Relegate detailed analysis to appendices, clearly signposted from the main body of the document, or provide this material as supplementary documents.
Use effective sub-headings to guide the reader through the logic/rationale of the proposal.
Get someone else to proof-read the document to eliminate spelling and grammar mistakes and other errors.
Provide an overview of the main points of your entire proposal as an ‘executive summary’.
The oral presentation, when the opportunity exists, should ideally complement the written proposal and not duplicate it. Your audience will have read your document before you give the presentation, so your presentation should guide them through the main points – especially the organisational benefits – highlight the critical issues, and explain anything that needs clarification. The presentation should also be designed to show your belief in the proposal, your motivation and capability to see it through and your enthusiasm for what it represents.
This might be your only opportunity to capture the hearts and minds of your audience and it should not be wasted. The presentation is possibly as much about selling yourself as your proposal. Your audience will not give the proposal the green light unless they have confidence in you – both in your capabilities (as researcher, project leader, technical analyst and so on) and in your personal commitment to the project. The presentation is a major element in convincing your audience that the proposal can actually be translated into reality successfully by you and your team.
The oral presentation structure is probably entirely in your own hands, although you may well be restricted to a fixed time. Do not overrun – if necessary, rehearse and time your presentation to fit within the allocated slot. In particular, do not plan to use too many slides – some experienced presenters use the rule of thumb of as few as one slide per five minutes of presentation. You will not have time to present detailed evidence – you can point to your documentation for that. Keep to the bones of your argument, stressing the benefits, the practical feasibility and showing the thoroughness of your work on the proposal.
Box 6 outlines a generic presentation structure.
Box 6: Generic structure for oral presentation of proposal
Main content – ‘highlights’ of proposal
Summary and conclusion
This very basic structure is extremely simple, reflecting the often quoted advice about structuring presentations: ’Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em. Tell 'em. Tell 'em what you told 'em.’
Advice on preparing the oral presentation:
Rehearse in front of a ‘critical friend’.
Keep to time.
Avoid detail – leave that to the written documentation.
If possible, check the room layout and the equipment beforehand.
Use professional visual aids but don't attempt to dazzle the audience with the AV technology.
Avoid using too many repetitive slides.
Keep each slide simple – keep the number of words/detail in diagrams on slides to a minimum; ensure everything is clearly legible for all your audience.
Talk to the slides: don't read from them and don't allow slides to ‘speak’ for you; make sure what you are saying relates directly to the slide content.
Make eye contact.
Allow time for questions and/or discussion (some of this may take place in your absence!).
Thank your audience for their time and attention.
Presenting your case, both orally and in writing, is an exercise in communicating effectively with your audience. Good communication skills are important for any manager in a variety of contexts, not just to present a proposal, and this short section can barely even scratch the surface. Further advice is contained in sources such as Hargie, Dickson et al., 2004; Harvard Business School Press, 2004; Cooper, 1964; Drysdale, 2004; and many other similar publications.
Now that you have completed Activity 5, how well do you feel all the angles are covered by your proposal? What additional information gathering has been suggested by questions for which you perhaps had only partial answers?
Click on the link below to read the Biogenetica San Jose ITSA Replacement Business Case (Appendix 1).
Click below (9 pages, 343KB)
(a) Critically appraise the case made for this technology implementation project.
(b) If you were required to make a decision on whether this project was to go ahead, what questions would you have for the authors?
Concise; clear and logical structure (possibly this follows an organisational template).
The Management Summary covers all the key points in less than one page.
Clearly defined purpose and scope of proposal (see objectives Section 3.3. of the document).
Benefits in terms of the need to replace the old system are clearly set out with respect to the consequences of not replacing it. Tangible and intangible (financially quantifiable and non-quantifiable) benefits are identified.
An action plan is provided in the form of a Gantt chart. This is not especially detailed but probably provides an appropriate overview of the activities needed and the timescales. However note the comment under ‘risks’ that timescales are tight – just how realistic is the proposed plan?
Risks are clearly identified, and although specific mitigating actions are not built in to plans, the implication is that this will occur during the detailed specification phase.
Costs are rather vaguely specified, apparently because much depends on the first stage of the project when functional specifications will be drawn up. Other cost issues arise – for example, it is not clear that all the user time and associated costs (e.g. of temporary staff) needed to specify and test the new system has been included in the costings. Consequently the cost-benefit analysis in the form of the financial appraisal provided in Section 4.3 of the document can only be considered very approximate.
The sensitivity analysis suggests that higher than estimated costs would not affect the financial acceptability of the proposal. However, in view of the high uncertainty about costs, more than the 20 per cent increase projected might need to be considered – financial viability might be under more threat than it seems to be.
It may be that the financial case is actually quite a weak one but that the other ‘intangible’ benefits would still make this a worthwhile project. This is not stated in so many words presumably because of the perception that financial viability is the main yardstick by which the project proposal will be measured.
Much of the detail of the business requirements for the proposal is provided in a separate document – not necessarily a weakness of the case, just a shortcoming from the point of view of appraising it in this SAQ!
(b) One of the difficulties with this proposal (and many are like it in this respect) is that only when the project gets off the ground will the detail be worked up – detailed costings, etc. depend on the functional specification in relation to supplier selection and so on. The problem is that when the project has reached the stage of the review point indicated in Section 3.4 of the document, there may be little room for manoeuvre. The organisation may feel obliged to carry on with the project even if the cost-benefit analysis looks very different then from that presented here. It might be prudent to seek a more detailed breakdown of the costs involved, and identification in general terms of the options that will exist at the later review stage. It may be appropriate to ask for a remodelling of the proposal to provide for a detailed evaluation of more than one option when more information is available.
Conversely, if the financial case seems at best tenuous, then the consequences of not going ahead perhaps need to be further explored. One interpretation is that the most powerful part of the argument in favour of the proposal lies in the consequences of not investing in the new system. Are there any other means of mitigating these risks?