Presenting to senior leaders can be nerve-racking at best. You’ve got a short window of time to articulate your passionate point of view or showcase the outcome of your team’s good work.
Most of us have a story about a time we blew it, and our well-rehearsed intentions spiraled downward in a frenzied fiasco.
Executives are naturally a tough audience. They’ve got limited time, competing priorities, information overload, demanding bosses, and pressure to make great decisions quickly.
As an ambassador for your team, your job is to give them all the information they need in a way they can easily digest it.
10 Tips For Presenting to Senior Leaders
Follow these ten tips to be sure your message is heard:
- Keep Your Cool – The execs will only buy your message if they believe you know what you’re doing. It’s vital to show up confident and strong. One exec I know stayed up late every night the week before her presentation to the senior team, doing deep research and getting the presentation just right. No one in the room knew a tenth as much as she did on the subject. But when one exec made a snarky remark, she lost it and burst into tears – tragic credibility buster. Exhaustion and too much caffeine prevented her from responding calmly and redirecting the conversation. Other credibility-busters include weak phrases such as: “I guess,” “This is above my pay grade,” and “You all are a lot smarter than me.” You are the expert. Show up strong.,/li>
- Have a Clear Structure – A good presentation sets the table so listeners have a sense of what’s coming next. When working to gain executive buy-in to an idea, a simple structure like this works well: Set the stage, describe the problem, offer a solution, and describe the impact.
- Anticipate Tough Questions – Do your homework so you can answer the tough questions well. Is there a month where the results dipped or improved? Understand why. Are there others who have skin in the game? Ask them in advance for their advice. Answer their questions with confidence. Be comfortable challenging faulty thinking in a professional and respectful manner. Don’t waffle just because the inquirer has more power.
- Stay Humble – It’s likely these execs have perspective you may not have. Listen carefully to really understand their concerns. Write down their suggestions. Be sure they feel heard. Know that as much as you know, you don’t know it all.
- Have A Clear Objective – When I’m working with leaders on honing their executive presentations, I’m often surprised how few can articulate their primary objective. Be sure you can complete this statement in one sentence: “As a result of my presentation she/he/they will ____________.”
- Know Your Audience – Executives can often be hard to read, but there’s a lot going in their quick-thinking brains. Do everything you can to learn about the executive’s goals, competing priorities, decision-making styles, and political dynamics. This isn’t easy, but it’s a worthwhile investment. Talk to those who’ve presented in the past. Talking to key members of their team is another great option.
- Stakeholder In Advance – If the topic is complex and/or controversial, it’s going to be tough to get traction in a room of opinionated execs. Seek out a few key players to ask for their opinion in advance. Incorporate and acknowledge their thinking. It will show you’ve done your homework and also have a few friendlies in the room supporting your argument.
- Be Memorable – It’s likely yours is the fifth or sixth PowerPoint deck they’ve seen that day. Spice up your data with a strategic story, metaphors, or illuminating statistics with powerful comparisons. Classic research by Hermann Ebbinghaus shows that most people forget 40% of what was said within the first 30-minutes. Be sure your message is memorable. A great, easy read to inspire better presentations is Get To The Point.
- Keep Your Slides Simple – You know a lot, or you wouldn’t be in the room. Resist the urge to throw it all up on your slides. Use clean visuals (not cute clip art) that represent your message with a few key points per slide. Always include a meaningful heading that could tell the story on its own. A punch box at the bottom to reinforce your point can also be quite useful. If you can’t come up with a punchy summarizing statement, consider if you really need that slide.
- Ask For What You Need – It sounds so obvious, but it’s one of the biggest mistakes I see. Be very clear on your proposed next steps and what you need specifically from whom. Funding? Support from above? Their support in communicating the message deeper in the organization? Resources? Sure, some details may need to be worked out later, but be sure you can answer the question, “What do you need from us?”
Your message is important. Your team is counting on you to get it right. With a little extra preparation, you can remove any distraction, and ensure your voice is heard.