Senior executives are one of the most difficult crowds you will face as a presenter. They are incredibly impatient because their schedules are packed. Furthermore, they have to make many precarious decisions, often with very little time to weigh options. They will not sit around waiting for your big reveal at the end. In fact, they will interrupt you before you have the chance to reach the conclusion of your presentation.
However, when it comes to presenting, learning how to communicate your ideas to senior executives within your organization or another company will have the greatest impact on your career. Having presented to top executives in many fields, I have learned that the key to effective presentations is to keep them short and concise.
I have compiled a series of tips that will help you when you present to a CEO, CMO, Senior VP, VP and other executives.
1. Know Your Audience: Before you begin developing your presentation, it is always important to know your audience, and in the case of senior executives, it is imperative! Conduct your research to answer the questions below:
- How much do the VPs know about your topic? This will determine the amount of time you will need to spend on providing background information.
- Which topics are hot buttons or particularly interesting to the executives based on their current business goals?
- Which executives are likely to be politically threatened by your recommendations?
- What can you find out about their pet peeves or preferences?
2. Summarize First: Starting strong is essential for all presentations, but you may find senior executives slightly less forgiving. When you create your introduction, imagine your presentation slot is cut to 5 minutes. This will force you to begin with all the important information that your audience really cares about:
- Your big idea
- Shocking statistics
- Interesting findings
- Call to action
Start your presentation by introducing these points clearly and succinctly and then move on to supporting data and evidence.
3. Use Time Effectively: Time is of the essence for this audience. They have 50+ other things they can be doing in the 20-60 minutes they have given you. When creating your slide deck, place a short overview of main points at the front, and the rest of your slides can serve as an appendix. Follow the 10% rule: If your appendix is 50 slides, create 5 summary slides. After you have presented the summary, use the appendix slides as the opportunity to address questions and drive conversation between the group. I recently attended a presentation where the presenters delivered a great presentation to senior VPs, but left no time for discussion and questions at the end. Unfortunately, they missed an opportunity for the audience to review the presentation content; buy into the recommendations, and develop a plan of action.
4. Keep It Simple: In a recent study conducted by Fast Company, the overall feedback given by top executives was to make presentations shorter and more candid. Discard extraneous information that will cloud your key points and focus on the bottom-line. This time-pressed group of senior managers have invited you to speak so that you can provide a missing piece of information. Hence, answer that specific request directly and quickly.
5. Rehearse: For many of us, the opportunity to present to top executives does not happen every day. A key to seizing the moment is to be prepared. Rehearse your presentation many times. Run your talk and your slides by a colleague who will serve as an honest coach. Find someone who has been successful at getting ideas adopted at a senior level. Ask for direct feedback:
- Is your message clear and concise?
- Do your summary slides condense relevant information into skimmable insights?
Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? It is.
However, the good news is that presenting to senior executives effectively will serve as the greatest tool in your arsenal. It will open tremendous doors and you will encourage the most influential people to become strong advocates for your ideas.