9. Get Funded – The Magic of the Executive Deck

There is a magical document. Nobody tells you how to find it or make one. But it is the secret key to get security programs – or any program – funded.

It's a good Executive Deck.

The Skill That Nobody Teaches

Let's be honest. Many people in security are not the most social to begin with. We chose security as a career path for a reason, and putting ourselves in the position of the business or a senior executive is hard. Even in business functions, though, this seems a skill you only pick up by witnessing the process. I had the opportunity to do so many times, and had a couple of good mentors, fortunately, but that is rare.

The larger organization, and the more senior the executive you are presenting to, the more layers in between will control the process. Executive decks have a format, and these gatekeepers will force you into that – even if you aren't aware what that format is and what the rules are.

There can be so many layers in the organization that your content gets edited outside of your control or even the control of the people you work with to get the content. As your program or team's funding depends on it, the more you can get your slides into the expected shape, the more likely it is you can still control the message. If you are presenting yourself, you will still need to meet the prep team's expectations to get the content approved. After all, you can always be struck off the agenda if they consider the content not worthwhile. You can't make your case if you didn't even get the opportunity.

The Critical First Slide

It is often a challenge to get any time from executives at all. They go through multiple short meetings throughout the day, expected to express an opinion or make a decision. For you, this may be the once-a-year or once-a-career opportunity. For them it's just Tuesday afternoon and after you probably someone else will be making a pitch or present a fire to be put out.

I mentioned these key points in post #5:

You may get 15-20-30 minutes, but that doesn't mean you're going to get it all. Nothing is easier for an exec than saying 5 minutes before the scheduled end that they have to get ready for the next call. Something can always come up midway. A reschedule may take months. Moreover, you need to leave time for questions and decision making. If you can't make your point within minutes, it is difficult to get a conclusion in the same meeting. That might lead to another reschedule, with the associated delays.

That makes your first slide critical. The second slide is for supporting background information and metrics. The third slide is a detailed breakdown of your request. Everything you need to communicate, however complex, must be in one slide. This is a good structure:

What is the (size of the) problem? How will you solve it?
Why do I care? How much does it cost?

Divide your slide in quadrants. In each, in about 3 bullets describe the core message, ideally in sentences of six words or less. If you're like me, and think in paragraphs, rather than words, and have a tendency to add a lot of nuance, this is probably the most difficult part. Nuance is for the verbal presentation (including speaker notes) and appendix.

Grab Their Attention

Describe what the problem is that you want to address. It is important to give a sense of size. If the problem seems minor and not of the magnitude to warrant their attention, they will be inclined to ship it off to someone else.

The “why do I care?” part that follows is really about how much trouble am I/are we in for not doing it. The “we” is the organization or business unit as a whole. The “I” here is the executive, personally. We will care a lot about our particular problem. Executives deal with big problems all the time. You have to register on their scale to get attention. Their perspective is completely different from yours. If you don't get them to see your problem as their problem, you will lose their attention at this point instantly.

One exec that I battled a lot with told me once he appreciated the passion I brought to my topic. I returned the compliment by saying I appreciated that he dealt with a 100 priorities other than mine, so completely understood that at times we would come to different conclusions.

Do You Have a Plan?

Now that you have the executive's attention, you present your plan. You have a plan, right?! Nothing is worse than bringing a problem to an executive, making it clear it is their problem, and not have a plan to fix it. That's why you're here: to show that you have a solution. The fourth quadrant is to show the timeline and cost to put it in place.

It is important to understand here what the executive is looking for. They are looking for the existence of a (realistic) plan. They may ask for details, not so much for those details themselves, but for evidence that you have thought things through, can get started quickly, and that you are competent enough to gamble investment on.

Your cost should be, ideally, within or below expectations of what the executive expects, and of course be significantly less than the financial risk if the problem is not dealt with.

Follow-up questions is also what your slide 2 and 3 are for. Slide 2 is good for supporting documentation, slide 3 is for a more detailed cost breakdown structure, any headcount required, and how you will measure your progress. Any further information can be in appendix slides, or even a project plan, roadmap or other materials that can be shared upon request.

Visuals and Spokesperson

A good-looking deck helps good content, but it isn't a substitute for it. Good visuals and esthetically appealing slides that enhance the message will give a good professional impression, and again will raise the confidence that you can be competent enough with investment that could easily go somewhere else.

It is also important to pick the best possible spokesperson. Don't switch presenters, unless during Q&A when pertinent. The best spokesperson is the one that can deliver the message the best, not (necessarily) the one who owns the project, had the main idea, or did the slides. This is not the time for recognition and ego, it is the time to get the program funded.

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

An executive presentation can be intimidating. But hiding problems doesn't get you funded. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, whether we like it or not. The art is to squeak without being too annoying and making it clear you have an affordable approach to make the squeaking stop.

Good luck!

cloud security posts without corporate approval @jaythvv@infosec.exchange