Imagine you’re traveling abroad, in a crowded public market in Marrakesh, or Bangkok, or Istanbul, hunting for the perfect souvenir. Suddenly, you realize you’ve strayed from your planned route. You’re lost. You ask for directions, but you don’t know the local dialect; you can’t understand them, and they don’t understand you. You start to panic and wonder if you’ll ever find your way back.
That’s what IT conversations often feel like to business leaders. One moment, they’re excited about the company’s IT destination. The next, they’re trying to speak a new language and find themselves completely, hopelessly lost.
In a foreign country, a translator can help business leaders navigate their surroundings; on an IT project, the onus is on the IT professional to translate. In fact, more than 40 percent of IT professionals believe communication skills will be more important than technical skills by the year 2020, according to a study by Aruba Networks—and nearly 90 percent think they’ll need to be strong business communicators in the future to be successful.
Get a head start today by memorizing these six rules for talking tech with non-tech people:
Have you ever been frustrated when your doctor used technical medical terms to describe what was wrong with you—“myocardial infarction,” for example, instead of “heart attack”? IT terms and acronyms that might seem obvious to you are Greek to most business leaders, so take great care to avoid them. Instead of “CSP,” for instance, say “cloud services provider.” Or better yet, just say the company’s name and what services they provide.
Business leaders want to know what technology will accomplish, but could typically care less about how it’ll accomplish it. Instead, emphasize the IT project’s outcomes and objectives—such as business process improvement, leading to lower costs and increased productivity—instead of the project’s nuts and bolts. The company’s business plan will offer clues about what elements tie in to the organization’s goals.
Risk is the only thing business leaders care more about than the benefits a project can provide. They care very little about servers, but a lot about stolen information and a damaged reputation—so emphasize what’s at stake.
Business leaders may not understand all IT concepts—but they understand plenty of other things. The best IT communicators speak in metaphors. IT security, for instance, is often likened to health (there’s a reason, after all, computer threats are called “viruses”). Before meeting with business leaders, prepare a few comparisons that describe your project’s status.
Verbally explaining IT concepts to business leaders often isn’t enough. To make sure they comprehend the concepts, you typically need to visually explain them, too. Use charts, pictures, infographics and videos—whatever media makes sense. Maybe use all of the above. The more times and ways you repeat your message, the better it’ll be understood.
Business leaders have neither the time nor the patience for long, complicated explanations. To hold their attention, be as short, sweet and succinct as possible.
Technically, terms like “cookie”, “architecture”, and “sandboxing” are English, but to business leaders they might as well be Dothraki, one of several fictional languages spoken in Game of Thrones, the HBO show based George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels. Using the above six tips to communicate will ensure everyone from mid-level marketing managers to the CEO knows what you do—and why it’s important.