Ten Tips for Presenting to Senior Executives

Senior executives are busy people. Not only are they doing work like everybody else, but they’re managing teams and being held to performance targets. When it comes to presenting to a group of senior executives, here are some tips for an effective presentation that will use their time valuably.

1. Avoid generalizations and add perspective. If you’re presenting on Cyber-Security, let’s hope to god that that’s not the title of your presentation. Make it urgent and exciting by putting it in a context. For example, “Why the top 3 companies in our industry lost $1 billion in revenue by hackers” or “After a cyber-attack, companies in our industry have lost 12% of their customers on average in the immediate aftermath. 12% of our customers translates to $200 million. Are you willing to lose this?”

2. Share your agenda at the beginning to set up expectations. If you dive right into your presentation, you are not preparing them for length and level of depth to expect. It’s like watching a movie and thinking it’s over and then a new scene starts up, and you’re thinking, how much longer is this movie.

For example:

  1. Call to action
  2. High level points
  3. Conclusion
  4. Open discussion to provide details / Q&A

3. Let your audience know ahead of time that you will send them the deck after the presentation if presenting a data heavy presentation with lots of insights. This way they can concentrate on listening rather than taking notes.

4. Better yet, send them the deck ahead of time that way they can come prepared with questions. Letting them absorb the information when they’re ready allows your audience to maximize not only your time, but their time. It will also give you the opportunity to tailor you’re presentation if you solicit feedback on the agenda to see the level of detail you may need to spend on different items. Having a more tailored presentation makes it more relevant to your audience and therefore they will be more engaged.

5. Find common ground. This will help create an emotional connection right away to draw in your audience to the context you desire. One of the easiest ways to find common ground is to find a mutual interest and the most obvious being the mission of the company and why you both decided to work there. Other starting points could be a common goal, historical event, hobby, common memories, etc.

6. Put an executive summary slide front and center. This slide will set the context for how you want them to absorb the information. Additionally, if you run out of time in your presentation, at least you will have gotten through the most important slide and all the slides after that should just be able to act as appendices that you or the executives can refer back to. Use the 10% rule. If your deck has 20 slides, use no more than 2 slides for your executive summary.

7. Get to your main point as quickly as possible. Then back it up with supporting information. Don’t use an approach where you string them along until the very end for a big reveal.

8. Walk your executives through your thought process by diagramming out your main points, instead of presenting with Powerpoint slides. This will allow them to make logical connections with you and show that you really thought through your idea. It also shows that your idea is not final, and you are still willing to accept input as you draw it out. Asking for their input and asking them leading questions that will logically lead to your next point will make them feel more connected to your idea. If an an executive comes up with a new connection point you hadn’t thought of that is not part of your presentation, don’t dismiss it, draw it out as an alternative path, and continue to ask for the idea you are looking for until you get it and then continue on your path. This shows that you are listening to them and considering their ideas, but also contrasting why your idea is better visually. Hopefully you have done your homework and thought of these alternatives and have formulated a rebuttal.

9. Add emotional texture. Use juxtapositions of imagery of the old way versus the new way (your idea), relatable metaphors, personal stories and strong, emotional words.

Instead of saying, “This will improve performance” say “This will catapult us toward the benchmarks we have been struggling to achieve.”

If you have executives that are foodies, you could use a metaphor such as “The approach I suggest for this product launch is to start testing the waters with a few appetizers, get a sense of what’s out there, then take the best sample and expand on that as our main course. I suggest we go to market with the most basic product and then serve up a continuous array of product improvements for dessert to satisfy our customer’s sweet tooth.

10. Connect your executives emotionally by using the “5 Whys” method to get their buy-in to your call to action. Keep asking why (doesn’t have to be 5 per say) until you reach to the heart of the issue. This is particularly effective if your presentation is about dry data and very analytical, such as budgets, inventory, outdated machines or software

For example, inventory turn-over of our perishable food items is low compared to our competition. As a result, milk is already partially spoiled once it get’s into the customer’s cart. Why should we be concerned? Not only will customers notice the short shelf life of our items, but showing out inventory is costly and wasteful. Why does this matter? Currently hunger is effecting the 4 billion people in the world who earn less than $2 a day. If our customers knew how much milk we were disposing in the midst of our attempts to expand internationally they would see us as careless. Why don’t we test lower inventory levels and when we improve our disposal numbers we share our social impact with our customers, who will then want to buy more from us and then we can begin to increase inventory levels again.

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