Project Management Institute

Show your best side




Even the best project will collect dust unless its merits are made apparent to all stakeholders via good networking and presentation skills.

No project, no matter how effective or brilliant, gets approved on its merits alone unless it was senior management's idea in the first place. Project managers must win key stakeholder buy-in, which requires solid networking and presentation skills.

Networking takes time because the project manager needs to meet separately with each stakeholder group, says Jerry Perone, PMP, chairman of PMI's Troubled Projects Specific Interest Group. The general manager at a Fortune 500 technology company recently approved a proposal by Perone based on its support by the lower levels of management. Months before Perone set up an appointment with the key stakeholder, he took his idea to each department to get buy-in. As soon as he had the entire company's support, he approached the general manager.


  • Limit the number of words per slide to 36, including six bullets per slide and six words per bullet. Type smaller than 14 point is too small for an audience to read.
  • Stick to less detailed charts and graphs when using graphics, otherwise the point size becomes too small for the audience to read. Gantt charts are usually six- to eight-point, but it's better to segment and highlight your points so people can see them.
  • Avoid putting too little data on a slide. Too spare a slide can make the presentation boring, especially if the presenter is not a good speaker.
  • Use clip art sparingly. These cartoons and images have become the “hackneyed phrases” of the Power-Point world.


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“The most useful tool in getting on the CEO's calendar is the company's [employee] organizational chart,” says Perone. “Study it, know their names, who reports to whom.” He initially used the chart to find allies. “I looked at the organizational chart and identified a small piece of the company that had been friendly to me in the past. I showed them drawings and got them to agree to do a little piece. Then I started talking to another area of the company and got them on board by pointing out that I already had the previous group working on it. It got to the point, where I was saying to people, ‘Why aren't you on board with everyone else?’ At this point, I hadn't spent any money, and I'm just showing drawings around.”

Just as a good politician knows how to talk with different constituencies, a successful project manager recognizes how to form key alliances. “It's necessary to have good relationships with the functional managers,” says J. Davidson Frame, PMP, academic dean at the University of Management and Technology in Arlington, Va., USA, and a PMI Board member. “Know how to talk to them and understand their politics. For example, if the head of testing is an empire builder, treat her as such.”

First Things First

Once you've won support through networking, it's time for the presentation. Begin with a general overview of the project that includes the costs and resources needed to execute it, says Perone. He finds executives are actually more receptive to a project when they know about its scope up front. “Managers can then relax and sit through the details and justification,” he says. Early in his career, Perone reserved information about estimated expenditures until the end. “But they would keep interrupting to ask about costs,” he says.

With the emergence of Microfsoft® PowerPoint®, flashy graphics software and streaming media, there has been a tendency to focus on the technology in a presentation at the expense of the content. “It's looking to me like we're seeing style over substance,” says Lee K. Lambert, PMP, co-founder of Lambert Consulting Group in Dublin, Ohio, USA. “I'm seeing lots of questions from management like, ‘What's the point?’”

He suggests that, instead of wowing executives, focus on making a point by showing the problem, the project's objectives and its parameters. Senior managers who are perpetually squeezed for time are usually more impressed by clear, concise presentations with lots of content than by longer technology-laden affairs. “I believe in succinct presentations,” says Lambert. “Managers don't have time for flash. The less audio/visual, the better.”

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Strike a Balance

Key stakeholders must see that project ideas are based on research, but a presentation that consists solely of data is often boring and difficult to follow (see sidebar, “PowerPoint Pointers”).

“Project managers must remember that they are sharing a story, not just data,” says Carl Pritchard, PMP, a lecturer and principal of Pritchard Management Associates, Frederick, Md., USA. “There is a big difference. One conveys the history, background and purpose of the project. The other is just a jumble of numbers and facts. Senior management is just as compelled by a good story as anyone else.”

To engage, project managers must tell the story and end with the objectives. “Data alone means nothing unless it's put into context,” says Pritchard.

Seek Action

Project managers must definitively state at the end of the presentation exactly what senior management should do.

“Perhaps the single biggest failing of project managers is that they don't ask for what they want,” says Pritchard. “They don't go for the close by specifying ‘And now what we want to do is X,’ or they don't present that request clearly.”

Pritchard blames this failing on the fact that project managers, particularly those working in technology, are used to working on projects where they are the experts and know what can be accomplished. “They don't need to tell people what their new system can do; it's self-evident,” he says. “Presentations don't afford the same advantage, but there's still a reticence on the part of the project manager to tell people what they, as presenters, want their audience to do with what they've been given.”

Ultimately, success in networking and presenting requires good listening skills and empathy. “Content is the main focus of discussion, but there is also a softer people side,” says Julie M. Wilson, PMP, practice executive and principal for IBM Global Services in Laguna Beach, Calif., USA. “The leader has to be someone people want to work with.” By combining intuition and intelligence in networking and presenting, the probability of success is bound to rise. PM

Martha Gold, a freelance writer based near Ithaca, N.Y., USA, has written for the New Corporate University Review, Employee Benefit News and Lifting and Transportation International.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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