Using a Compelling Narrative to Influence Leaders and Investors
VP of Product at Samuel Odio
Throughout my career, I've often had to influence senior product leadership, angel investors (like Y Combinator), and VCs. I have not always done that successfully in terms of my style of presentation over the past 10 years.
"I have not always done that successfully in terms of my style of presentation over the past 10 years."
Early in my career, I presented facts when describing the Facebook photos strategy to Mark Zuckerberg. Today, I wish I had told a strategic narrative rooted in first-principles thinking as to have better influenced his thought around the photos product.
"Today, I wish I had told a strategic narrative rooted in first-principles thinking as to have better influenced his thought around the photos product."
In what I think was a pretty worthless presentation, I did not end the conversation with a clear ask, nor did I set up that ask with a clear narrative around the problem. I also didn't think about the opportunity and I certainly didn't think to do what was probably the most important, which is to tie the problem and opportunity back to the larger, strategic narrative of the company.
"I did not end the conversation with a clear ask, nor did I set up that ask with a clear narrative around the problem."
I believe that many product and engineering managers are put in positions where they need to influence the leadership of an organization for the first time and there is not a lot of clarity around the conversation. I'd like to open up the topic so that others do not have to learn the hard way as I did.
When advocating for a new initiative or new team use a kick off deck or product kickoff. I put together a presentation using a certain format that I have found works well in influencing strategic thinkers. Below is a template of that document by way of an 8 slide presentation. I have recently used it and found it to be very successful.
Slide 1- Executive summary
- You want to be able to give the executives the ability to quickly understand the context of the product, the state of the product, and the goal of the meeting. -Context recap: -Product (name) -State of product (Example: has not been built yet) -The goal of this meeting ..., in order to achieve..., by (date) -Executive summary: -Opportunity -Success criteria -Ask
Slide 2: Strategic alignment
- Frame the conversation within the broader company-wide initiative, including a quick refresher on the key metric and its current state. This acts as a grounding agent for the leadership team and gets them engaged in the conversation. Why? Because all of a sudden they understand why they should care.
- This is the second slide after the refresher and summary because if you are misaligned with the broader strategy of the company than there is not need to continue on with the presentation.
Slide 3- Problem
- What is the need that you are solving with the product.
Slide 4- Opportunity
- The opportunity should further the initiative (previous slides).
- These slides may also cover the "current state of the world" with the product.
Slide 5- Solution
- Describe the solution with rough wireframes.
- Annotated with requirements will communicate the solution.
- Interactive prototype is even better.
Slide 6- Goals
- You've illustrated the opportunity, you've described the problem, now describe how a potential solution might address the problem and make progress towards opportunity.
Slide 7: Potential project blockers
- Highlight your awareness of the riskiest assumptions and that you have a plan to address them.
Slide 8- Asks
- The most important slide where you ask for anything you need to successfully ship the product. For example: funding, engineers, time, and each of their individual impacts.
- If your ask is an engineering ask, it would be helpful to include a rough backlog.
Developing your ability to communicate clearly from shared first principles will improve your ability to think clearly. A misunderstanding about root assumptions will often lead to an inability to convince your intended audience of your point. The goal of the meeting however, is to get a clear answer on something. When communicating with CEOs, board members, and investors, I am almost always discussing a strategic narrative. A clear strategic narrative has at least two parts:
- a description of an opportunity that is aligned with the needs of the organization
- a hypothesis about how to meet that opportunity and have it be believable (i.e. rooted in first principles thinking) Creating a template of a compelling narrative (you're welcome to review mine) helps communicate what one looks like to a team that is struggling with influencing leadership. This has really changed the trajectory of my career. In my opinion, this is one of maybe three important skill sets that are required for someone to level up from a product or senior product manager to director of product. A director of product really needs to be able to influence a leadership team in order to get the assets that they need to execute correctly. I have found this conversation has been the most impactful way to influence leadership teams and advocate for assets. For me, this change in presentation was a gradual evolution over time. I didn't have an awareness at the beginning that there was an opportunity to be more impactful in the way that I was communicating with leaders. With this type of presentation, I am able to influence the thinking of the leadership team on quality issues at Fivestars and the importance of resourcing them. Now, I am able to get the resourcing I need to address issues and then proceed to be impactful with them at Fivestars.
Be notified about next articles from Samuel Odio
VP of Product at Samuel Odio
Connect and Learn with the Best Eng Leaders
We will send you a weekly newsletter with new mentors, circles, peer groups, content, webinars,bounties and free events.