HBR Guide to Building Your Business Case: A book review by Bob Morris

HBR Guide to Building Better Business CaseHBR Guide to Building Your Business Case
Raymond Sheen with Amy Gallo
Harvard Business Review Press (2015)

Here is a five-step process to prepare and then deliver a “killer” presentation

Most of the volumes in the “HBR Guide to” series consists of anthologies of articles previously published in Harvard Business Review in which various contributors share their insights concerning a major business subject such as Better Business Writing, Getting the Right Work Done, and Project Management.

As is also true of volumes in other such series, notably HBR Essentials, HBR Must Reads, and HBR Management Tips, HBR Guides offer substantial value in cutting-edge thinking from 25-30 sources in a single volume at a price (each at about $15-20 from Amazon in the bound version) for a fraction of what article reprints would cost.

What we have in this volume — on sale now by Amazon US for only $18.47 — is material created by Raymond Sheen with Amy Gallo. It is also noteworthy that Chris Anderson, TED’s Curator, contributed Appendix B, “How to Create a Killer Presentation.” Nancy Duarte supplements Anderson’s material with an explanation of how to “Find the perfect mix of data and narrative,” Figure B-1.

Formulation of a business case requires effective use of the four levels of discourse that Aristotle examines in his classic work, Rhetoric: Explain with information (exposition), make vivid with compelling details (description), tell a story for explain a sequence (narration), and convince with logic and/or evidence (argumentation). According to Sheen, “No matter where you work or what type of idea you’re pitching, you should follow the same basic process for any business case you develop.”

Here is the five-step process he recommends and explains:

1. “The story starts, as all good ones do, with a problem. This is the [begin] business need [end] you’re trying to solve.” (See section 1)

2. “Once you’ve pinpointed the problem or opportunity, it’s time to identify your story’s characters”

o Your stakeholders have the authority to approve or reject your business case.
o Beneficiaries are those who stand to gain from what you’re proposing.
o You’ll draw on subject-matter experts to help create the case.

3. “Then you’ll consider alternatives for meeting the business need — different ways your story might play out.” (See section 3)

4. “After making the best choice in light of what you know at that point, you’ll create a very high-level project plan to roughly gauge the amount of time and resources you’ll need and the value your solution will bring.”

5. “Finally. it’s time to tell your story. Package it in whatever format your company uses for business cases and present it to your stakeholders. If no templates exist, create your own logical format.” (See section 5)

With Gallo, Sheen explains HOW to complete each step.

If you need to prepare a “killer presentation” in one form or another, here are the first two of Anderson’s five recommendations:

Frame Your Story: “When I think about compelling presentations, I think about taking an audience on a journey. A successful talk is a little miracle — people see the world differently afterward. If you frame the talk as a journey, the biggest decisions are figuring out where to start and where to end. To find the right place to start, consider what people in your audience already know about your subject — and how much they care about it…The most engaging speakers do a superb job of very quickly introducing the topic, explaining why they care so deeply about it, and convincing the audience members that they should, too.”

Plan Your Delivery: Once you’ve get the framing down, it’s time to focus on your delivery. There are three main ways to deliver a talk. You can read it directly off a script or teleprompter. You can develop a set of bullet points that map out what you’re going to say in each section rather than scripting the whole thing word for word. Or you can memorize your talk, which entails rehearsing ton the point where you internalize every word — verbatim…My advice: Don’t read it, and don’t use a teleprompter. It’s usually just too distancing — people will know your reading [rather than personally sharing what you really care about].”

Anderson also explains how to Develop Stage Presence, Plan the Multimedia, and Putting It All Together

*     *     *

Those who need to formulate a business case — such as CEO preparing a “dog and pony show” for an IPO road show, a brand manager unveiling a new product, a team seeking additional resources for a project team, or a start-up putting to VCs — will find an abundance of information, insights, and counsel in the HBR Guide to Building Your Business Case.

Be sure to keep in mind, meanwhile, that the presentation must take into full account a question that is in the mind of every member of the given audience: “Why should I care?”

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