Use Pictures to Get Your Point Across & Improve Communications

Share Complex Subjects via Pictures

Ever wonder why executive management glazes over when you present your reports?

Why you don’t get quick buy-in from your management or end users? Could it be the way you present the info? Are you using pictures?

You know you spend hours working on your report before you present it. Or you struggle to thoroughly document the requirements, the features, the functionality, the interfaces before presenting the documentation to your end users. Or you work with your staff to thoroughly document the costs, gap analysis, needs, the gains in support or operational savings – all that effort in order to have as thorough a business justification document as possible.

Yet you don’t get the immediate buy-in you expect. It all seems very clear to you – the needs, the reasons, the costs. And nobody says that they don’t understand. So why are they glazing over – or giving you subtle pushback?

It’s the way you present the information.

And realize this: It’s rare that somebody is going to tell you that they don’t understand what you’ve so comprehensively detailed. Especially at the executive level – or, even more so, in a group of executives. What you’ll probably get are glazed-over expressions and “thank you” and “we’ll consider this and get back to you – later.”

So why are you having this problem? Is it you?

Truth is, it IS you: You’re being too detailed – before your audience was ready for that level of detail.  Realize that most IT professionals live in the details. Details are HUGE in information technology: We ignore the details at our own peril. So none of us do. We know that the interfaces, the code, the machine configuration, the bandwidth capacity, the load balancing… for all of it, details count for US.

But those details are not for the business stakeholders – and, especially, NOT for the executives. Details are not where you start with them. And depending on their roles within the organization, they each have their own frameworks of details that are relevant. But they’re not your details.  Believe it.

Don’t load up a lot of words in the front of your presentation.

Use pictures – start with the highest level concepts possible – and put it into business terms to get business stakeholders – and executives – buy-in.

Here’s an example of trying to get buy-in regarding a very complex problem with technologies, costs, and IT issues with a non-technical, very senior level executive.

A global firm’s CFO didn’t grasp why migrating to a common ERP platform should be one of the very top priorities in his organization, given the large number of other major issues clamoring for his attention within his domain. The CFO’s IT leadership had presented lots of documentation and reams of financial data, but to no avail. Even when I proposed the issue to him for consideration, briefly explaining the problems and complexities inherent with costs from software, labor, contracts, infrastructure, no headway was made.

Realizing that we needed to develop an executive level view of the problem, I worked with the IT leadership to develop a quick picture, with a few small spreadsheets for details. But all that was really needed to get the concept across to the CFO was this first picture showing an ERP “ecosphere” with a comment that there was a similar replica of this one ERP’s ecosphere for each and every ERP the firm ran around the globe. (For those of you unfamiliar with ERPs, they’re at the foundation of most manufacturing companies, crossing finance/accounting, manufacturing, supply chain, HR, and more.)

SCM & ERP Software Design for SDLC Top Level


This simplistic diagram illustrates the number of ancillary systems feeding into and out of a large ERP system. No large enterprise running an ERP set of systems is without interfaces: The question is how many and how complex. Interestingly, this type of diagram works well throughout SDLC processes and can even support top level introductions for SCM. Each interface represents some custom coding between two systems and when either system has to be upgraded, that code has to be analyzed for possible updating, then updated, then tested. Results on either system from each interface has to be tested.  Got all that? 🙂

The Simple Diagram Worked

The ERP System Diagram, simple as it is, conveyed the complexities of upgrading just one ERP, based on the customizations and interfaces to other systems within the enterprise.  This diagram did the trick. The CFO looked at the interfaces – we could see the number-crunching going on – and stated “got it.”  His IT leadership was gleeful that the issue was recognized – and the mentoring worked: They grasped the essential of presenting the highest level concept possible.

And when you need to get into costs? Start with the top concept then, too: Provide an easy snapshot of costs for executives. If you’re asked, be prepared to have the details to back your snapshot up, but don’t start with them.

Here’s an excerpt from how the ERP diagram was backed up with some costs.

Associated Costs for ERP Support


This cost estimate is broken down by region, with some confidential information removed. (There was more provided to the client executive team, but there’s enough here to convey the intent.)  Yes, it’s high level – it’s just to convey the bare essential information needed to get the concept across. If I had immediately dived into the minutiae, the details, regarding the number of server rooms, hardware, database management systems, database backups and locations, and code skillsets required for different systems, I’d have lost my audience: My client executive would have glazed over and I’d have lost my opportunity to make my case.  And we don’t get too many opportunities to make a case. Sometimes, you blow it and don’t get a second chance.


So, start your presentation with putting out a visual framework by which the following information will be able to be understood more easily. Here’s the thing – a little psych for you: Most people process information from symbols – pictures – more easily than words. And much of the population is visually-oriented. Besides that, the higher-level the person is in the organization, the less time and attention he/she has for what you’re presenting: You need to provide the framework and only the relevant details to make your case. Fast.And don’t expect them to say they don’t understand.

Make it easy!  If they want more information, more details, you should have those ready and available. But don’t begin with the mountains of detail you’ve gathered.

So as you struggle to document the rationale for a large purchase, users’ requirements, or system configuration details, try starting with the top level concepts. And use pictures.

About Jessica

Change Agent. Transformation Leader. Starbucks Addict. Builder. Driver. Web.
Love great design, working with smart teams, changing the world, missions impossible.

+Jessica Obermayer

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