Presenting to Senior Management

It Is the Ultimate Visibility, and Is Full of Landmines.

Most of us remember very well our first presentation to a group of senior executives. Before I got into the consulting business, I was a financial analyst for a large aerospace company. My first presentation to senior management also included a number of military officers since my presentation was on the status of the contract we had with the government. It was a short presentation and what I remember most was the bewildered look on the faces of the military officers and a good deal of whispering between the executives of my company and the officers. My boss approached me after my presentation and said that I had used too many acronyms that the officers did not understand. They were whispering to the executives to find out what I was saying. I was completely embarrassed and made sure I never did that again. Following are a few tips for you to keep in mind when you are called upon to present to senior executives:

Forget everything you know. Tell them exactly what they need to know, nothing more. This is not a time to impress the executives with how smart you are. It is a time for you to show that you are so knowledgeable about the subject that you can put it in very concise terms that are important and easy to understand. Your job is to present concise information in a manner that drives them to action. Have all the detail information at hand, as backup, but do not share any of it unless asked.

Reading is a no-no. Do not bring a thick report that you expect the executives to read. Just like you, these people are very busy. You will turn them off immediately if you flip on the projector and start to go through a boring slide deck with tons of graphs and charts that the audience needs to study and decipher. Talk with your audience. After all, they are people too and probably enjoy conversations more than most people, because they get one-way presentations constantly. Do not bury your audience in written reports or slides. If you must use slides, make them concise, impactful and visually powerful.

Executives look for passion. If you want to persuade senior executives to do the things you feel are necessary, through your presentation, you must show commitment, energy and passion. Too many presentations that I see lack passion for the topic. Too many presenters feel like they are only there to present facts and data. Work on making your presentation come alive with energy. The energy that you show will be contagious with your audience.

Present summaries with conversations following. Think of your presentation as a newspaper article. Present the headline first, and then add detail. This allows the reader to decide when they have what they need, or want, to know. Keep the detail slides as backup, only to be put on the screen if the conversation requires it.

Be ready for interruptions and criticism. Senior executives are always on the lookout for people that they can rely on, those who can handle pressure and meet deadlines. When presenting to them, executives are not only listening to what you have to say, they are evaluating your future potential. If you get interrupted or criticized, accept it gracefully and move on. Even if your presentation is perfect, you may still get tested.

Know your audience. Find out what the audience knows about the topic you are presenting. Who on has hot buttons about this topic? Find out what pet peeves they may have about presentations/meetings. If you can, determine if someone in the audience may be threatened by what you have to say. Strategize how you can keep them engaged.

Stay flexible. Executives are notorious for changing the course of conversations spontaneously, without warning. Once they get the gist of what you are saying, they are ready to move on to another topic. You must be able to adapt to the shifting nature of presenting to executives. When you rehearse your presentation, plan on those kinds of shifts.

Not everyone gets the opportunity to present to senior management. When you do, make the most of it. It can be a very rewarding experience that opens new doors for you.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].

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