Remember the last time you presented to an executive? How did it go? Did you get what you wanted? Did the exec? Did you nail it or just stumble through? When the meeting ended, did the exec think more highly of you, or less?
Presenting to executives is different than presenting to your colleagues. Executives are more impatient, they feel more pressure but less control to deliver results, they are always on the lookout for people they can trust with more responsibility. You are more likely to get your idea approved, and leave a favorable impression, if you approach an executive presentation differently than a peer presentation.
So, before you go into your next executive presentation, consider these nine tips inspired in part by the book The Simplicity Survival Handbook:
1. Organize your content to tell a story that addresses the exec’s concerns, which are usually about two things: 1) are things going according to plan, and 2) how do I minimize my own personal risk. Executive presentations are about helping the exec feel confident things are under control, or can be under control if your plan is approved.
2. Assume you’ll present for 1/3 the allotted time and the exec will talk/ask questions the other 2/3 of the time.
3. Make your main point in the first five minutes, before the presentation can get derailed by questions and pet side topics. Presentations can seem unfocused when they lead with data and don’t get to the conclusion until the end. Peers may tolerate this, but executives will get impatient and take control if the presentation lacks focus.
4. Use the words and phrases the exec uses. Execs feel confident in people who “get” their vision. Using their words shows you are in tune with their vision and onboard to help them be successful. Even if you don’t agree with the vision, using their pet words will build trust necessary to start suggesting modifications to the vision.
5. Don’t be intimidated. It’s natural to feel nervous presenting but those who sell to executives, or work closely with executives, say the secret is to treat them as a person, not a title. How do you do that? First, remember that no matter how much the exec knows, you know more about your specific topic area and you were hired because you are qualified to be the expert. Second, don’t be afraid OF executives; be afraid FOR them. Execs are under a lot of pressure to deliver, so focus on what is scaring them and how you can relieve those worries.
6. Socialize your presentation with the exec’s lieutenants ahead of time. Let them fine-tune the wording, order the slides, re-use existing slides they’ve created. You want the lieutenants’ fingerprints to be all over your PowerPoint slides. You want them on your side during the presentation, not poking holes in front of the exec.
7. Invite the exec’s questions within the first 5 minutes. Execs will interrupt early to ask questions, so invite questions proactively and it looks like you’re controlling the floor (eg. “Have I captured your idea of success correctly?”, “Would you prioritize the target countries differently?”, etc)
8. Be very specific about what you’ve already done and what you need from the exec. Don’t come in expecting the exec to solve your problems. Say “We need you to do a 30-minute presentation to the operations team about our three-year vision” and not “The operations team won’t support our requests for faster fulfillment. What should we do?”. Do 90% of the work and ask the exec for a few very specific things you need to get over the goal line.
9. Always come prepared to ask the exec a few questions. Most exec directives are filtered through the ranks, so you don’t get the exec’s wishes firsthand. This is your chance to hear the exec’s wishes in their own words. How do they see the competitive challenge? What’s their measure of success? You get the idea.
Nailing the executive presentation is always good for your career. Pick up a copy of The Simplicity Survival Handbook for more tips about approaching the executive presentation.
About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.