Elevating CIO Messaging: 5 Questions That Lead To Better Communications

CIOs need to be better communicators
Tech chiefs need to know more than tech—they need to know how to talk about it. Here are some tips.

CIOs, CTOs and other technology-focused leaders cannot rest solely on their functional acumen if they want to continue to succeed. With companies prioritizing AI, data and technology-fueled innovation and transformation, CIOs, CTOs and their teams have to demonstrate and effectively communicate how they contribute to business strategy.

The goal is to be seen as better business leaders in addition to tech experts. To accomplish this, elevating messaging in meetings and presentations to senior leadership, the board and company-wide employees is a vital step in being seen as more strategic, less tactical and an integral member of the C-Suite.

Here are five questions tech executives should ask themselves before every communication opportunity to help perfect their presence, presentation and ability to persuade.

1. Who is my audience and what do they really need to know?

Often, subject matter experts feel the need to share everything they know about a topic. Resist that temptation. Don’t overload the audience with all the information you have. It should be about what they most need to know. Put yourself in their shoes.

It’s important to make sure content is easily understood by everyone in the room. Keeping it simple and high-level, without giving too many details, is a more effective way to engage senior leaders and also employees. It’s best to share overarching strategies and benefits—for example, how is this new website going to enhance customer experience and growth, rather than showing scores of slides detailing wireframes.

To make it easy for people to remember your most important points, have three key messages.  Help your audience know what is most crucial. Be explicit: “Here are the three things you should remember from today’s session….”   

2. Is my content too technical?

Talk to the non-tech people in the meeting. Refrain from getting in the weeds and using buzz words/jargon, acronyms and references you are not 100 percent sure everyone will understand.

Often you need to give an update about a project. If most people are not directly involved with the project, don’t go into every step. Instead, share lessons learned that everyone can benefit from.

Storytelling is an excellent way to make information relatable and relevant. Recounting how a new software might enhance a team’s ability to collaborate is better than giving detail on how the code was written.

Strive for interaction. The more you have a dialogue, the more you can uncover what others in the room really want to know. If you are going to ask for something significant, such as approval of a new platform or for more budget or staff, try to socialize your proposal with a few key executives in advance. You don’t want to walk into a meeting with no idea of what the reactions will be.

During the meeting, ask for questions and comments throughout rather than waiting for the end. Anticipate questions by brainstorming what could be asked—and what you hope you won’t get asked—so you are prepared. And, rather than say, “Any questions?,” come prepared with something specific such as, “What are you hearing from customers?” 

For larger groups, utilize the Chat feature. Also conduct live polling—show a multiple-choice question and share the results in real time.

3. Did I rehearse out loud?

Practice your talk track out loud to eliminate stammering and ums. Be crisp, concise, well-spoken. Be disciplined—don’t overtalk. Never read a script. It’s important that you come across as authentic and transparent. It is extremely difficult to keep people’s attention if it sounds as though you are reading. Slow down—if you rush through content, people will not be able to really hear and understand. And, if you don’t pause, your colleagues won’t be able to jump in with their comments and questions.

Pump up your energy.  Be sure to enunciate and speak loudly. Standing up will help you project your voice more effectively. If you aren’t passionate about your topic, no one else will be.

It’s a good idea to video yourself—you can just use your phone—and see how you come across. While most executives don’t relish the idea of watching themselves, it can be an eye-opening experience.

4. Am I being too negative?

As a senior leader, you certainly want to address risks and deliver honest information, but frame it with positive facts and figures before getting into any trouble areas. You don’t want to shy away from potential issues, but address just those that are most crucial.

One CIO we worked with had the reputation of always being negative because they listed every bad outcome that could occur every time they presented. Instead, review your process for identifying risks, focus on the few that are most likely, and most importantly, discuss solutions.

5. Am I showing confidence?

Be purposeful. Believe in yourself. Make sure your body language, facial expressions and overall demeanor reflect this. Even small things such as not sitting in a swirl chair that encourages unnecessary movement can make a difference. Rehearsing will make you surer of what you will say and how you will look.

Research shows that having an affirming mantra and saying it out loud before you present—out of earshot, of course—builds confidence. Think: “I GOT THIS!”

With Enterprise IT spending projected at more than $4.6 trillion in 2023, the role of technology has never been more impactful. CIOs, CTOs—and their teams—who master the art of communicating will be best prepared to influence the decisions companies make today about how to spend that money. The potential to positively affect business performance for years to come and elevate your own role in the process is immense.

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