The Opportunity You've Been Waiting For
They're the meetings you prepare the longest for with the shortest air time. High pressure, with potentially big results waiting on the other side. You're all set with your rehearsed remarks and the CEO asks "What would happen if we do nothing?". Hold up, you're not prepared for "nothing".. just all the "somethings" in your presentation!
A common chorus from professionals looking to move on and up in their careers and in business is how to raise their visibility within their company or their standing with clients.
Whilst it is fairly easy to gain experience in presenting your ideas, progress reports, even short training sessions if you look for opportunities within your business, there is little opportunity to practice presenting to a group that is used to making high stakes decisions on a regular basis.
What do we already know about an executive audience?
The high-level observations are fairly obvious; they need to make huge decisions, based on accurate information that is normally delivered in short-burst meetings and presentations. You're presenting because you have the knowledge they need, or have gathered information from subject matter experts.
C-Suite executives could have a completely different perspective to you. However when you're the person at the front of the boardroom, you're suddenly the storyteller, the problem solver, and ultimately have to think quickly if the conversation goes in a direction you have not prepared for.
The great news is, most people in this position will improve over time, given the opportunity. The not-so-great news.. if you don't do a passable job the first time around, you might not get another chance with this particular audience.
To accelerate your learning curve and proactively anticipate common senior level questions, follow this simple structure to prepare your next executive presentation and always feel ready when presenting at the highest levels of business.
Let's think about the agenda of the executive team in real terms, these folks are pretty heavily scheduled. If you've been asked to present, it is likely that you are one of multiple people presenting to this group today. And you may be last on the agenda.
In the short amount of time you have, you have to be confident, credible, memorable and competent. Easy, right? The reality is, the shorter the time you have to present, the more you need to prepare.
Set expectations and let the group know how you'll spend your time and what you'll be covering. They will be more likely to let you continue your presentation and not interrupt your flow if they know what's coming up in a couple of minutes.
We are not magicians working up to a big reveal at the end of the show. Summarize your 3 main points (or less) at the beginning of the presentation and come back to supporting detail as the conversation progresses. Your slides should reflect this with a lean presentation, with supporting detail in the appendix so you can flip to details and supporting visuals as you need.
You can take the "bright" to represent 2 main ideas in this context; being a bit clever, and also knowing how to best communicate your ideas to this group by presenting what they will be looking for.
Be clever by providing a new take on data that the group may have seen before, a (hopefully) new perspective, alternative solutions with clear benefits and risks and a recommendation, if you are asked to provide.
It's important, though whilst you may be presenting information the group hasn't considered before, you stay entirely on topic by providing the information requested of you before moving onto other topics.
Do sweat the details. Many an executive presentation has been derailed by an "off" detail being mentioned in the opening minutes. This detail has distracted an audience member and either caused them to disengage from the following information or prompted side discussions. Meanwhile, you're standing patiently waiting to get to the next slide.. and then time runs out. They've got to move on to the next agenda item, and your amazing ideas are trapped in Powerpoint forever.
It pays to rehearse multiple times in advance of the presentation to ensure that you can present all the information you have in the time you've been given, factoring in Q&A time. If there are any words that you tend to stumble on, either eliminate them by replacing with another word or take a minor pause before you say the word and really concentrate on pronouncing correctly (the words quantitative and qualitative come to mind for me, you will have your own tricky words!). Run your presentation past someone who has had ideas adopted at an executive level who will provide honest and constructive feedback.
If you can't save them money, save them time. You may be a subject matter expert in your sector or industry, which is perhaps why you have been asked to present on this topic. No-one will be looking to gain in-depth knowledge from your presentation, you need to remember to "level up" and not go into intricate detail unless requested. Long-winded and overly detailed presentations will not likely cover the details that this group is looking for, and you may find yourself interrupted if you don't focus on highlighting the problem or topic, high-level findings, a recommendation, the conclusion and a call to action.
These presentations provide decision points to move a company forward. Although you are the messenger, the purpose of the presentation is to consider initiatives that will make the company more successful, and success usually requires getting others involved and on-board to make it work. Be curious and open to the discussion that ensues rather than anxious and defensive about protecting your work.
Building Visibility Beyond the Boardroom
If you're not getting the call up to present to the board, there are still plenty of ways that you can build visibility and be known within your organization when the opportunity to advance comes around.
Visibility is about your character as well as being the first person to mind for new opportunities and advancement. If you're the most qualified person for the job, you do great work AND people like working with you, that's a pretty winning combination.