4 Tips to Open an Executive Presentation

Presenting to executives is different than most presentations. That’s because executives live in a different time zone – the future.

Here’s a great video clip from the movie The Dilemma, demonstrating an effective opening for an executive presentation. Watch the video then see my comments below and then watch the video again to make sure the learning sticks.

1. Get their attention – fast!
Execs value brevity. They RESPECT speakers who get to the point in the first 60 seconds. Don’t waste time with lengthy openings, thanking them for the opportunity to speak, backing into your presentation gradually. In this video, the speaker gets to the point in 10 seconds, uses pictures to compare electric cars to cute little bunnies and kittens. Now the execs are paying attention!

2. Be casual and entertaining, Hoss.
Most speakers are a bit nervous talking to execs. Nervous speakers leads to uncomfortable audiences. But execs NEED to see confidence before they’ll make big investment decisions. Also, they are so used to people cowering and giving plain vanilla presentations that they CRAVE a bit of entertainment. In this video, look at how the speaker uses humor and swagger to gain the audience’s trust.

3. Talk about opportunities, not pains.
Most importantly, realize that execs live in the future, thinking about how they’ll launch new products and defend premium margins. Execs are less interested in just solving today’s pain points. So speak their language – opportunity! In this video, the speaker introduces the revolutionary idea of adding the throbbing, growling sound of a muscle car to an electric car – a game changer!

4. Don’t talk features/benefits until AFTER you’ve sold the vision.
Salespeople often start talking about their product’s features and benefits too soon. If the exec isn’t bought into the strategic vision, then they’ll be focused on costs and how you’re different than the competitors. So DO NOT talk features/benefits until they are nodding at the vision. In this video, notice that the engineer doesn’t start talking about the product until after the first speaker has everyone in the room nodding at the vision. Go to 1:28 in the video; you DON’T want to start your executive presentation this way.

Even though this scene was written by a Hollywood screenwriter, I was impressed how it contains all the elements of an effective opening, compacted into under 2 minutes.

Watch the video again to see all these principles in action. Then plan your next executive presentation to grab the audience’s attention fast, put them at ease and paint a vision for how you’ll help their company succeed in the future. Leave the features and benefits discussion for last.

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.

5 thoughts on “4 Tips to Open an Executive Presentation

  1. Love how this brief clip brings the points home and makes it real. “Telling the Story” has always been the advise on creating connection – but these points give useful tips on “how”.

  2. Nice article Bruce with solid advice. We have found that doing your homework before an initial meeting is beneficial. Brevity as you point out is key (this comment not withstanding 😉 – Use active listening while presenting ideas with best potential for generating dialogue. Understanding executive buying criteria going into a meeting helps, but positioning a product/features/benefits too soon can be dangerous because if they don’t like the product/features/benefits it is hard to get a second meeting, whereas if they don’t like your idea, they will tell you why and you can learn more above their business while leaving the door open to come back. Getting a customer involved in the discussion is key to position the solution and those that are the best at this will convince the customer that it was their idea!

    1. Rick – Thanks for the comment and I’m really glad you brought these points up. You are obviously speaking from experience here. 🙂

      In a sales presentation to a small group, it’s important to NOT start talking features/benefits too soon. That is sure to raise price objections and feature comparisons with competitors.

      Instead, spend the time discussing and understanding their needs deeply. Get them talking about what they are trying to achieve and they will sell themselves on the vision. Only when you’ve established with them where they are trying to get to should you start discussing your offering.

      Selling to executives is typically a multi-step process and you don’t get to present to a room full of decision makers until you’ve gone through some preliminary meetings first to learn about their goals and concerns. If you’re an internal presenter, you probably know what those issues are.

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