Let’s start this one off with a question: If you were asked to give an executive presentation, and you know your CEO is going to be in the room, how would you prepare for it?
If you answered, “Well, I’d prepare my slides, rehearse my content, and hope for the best,” then you’re going to get slaughtered.
Executive Presentations Are Different
Some time ago, I was asked to present a new business initiative to a big-shot CEO and his senior executive team. I knew that this presentation was a golden opportunity to make a great impression on the people who matter. Let’s face it; these guys could make or break my career.
I didn’t waste any time and got straight to work. I made sure that everything was as perfect as could be. My slides? Beautiful. My content? On point. My notes? Solid.
Did I practice? Hells yes I practiced! I practiced like a boss. I even rented out a room in the building for three straight days doing nothing but rehearsals during my lunch breaks.
Come game day, I got to the boardroom a few minutes early just to set everything up. The presentation was scheduled for 9:00 AM. I remember this vividly because the CEO and his team walked into the meeting at 9:00 on-the-frigging-dot. I never experienced a group of people take the phrase “making it on time” quite literally.
It was at that time I (stupidly) decided to crack a joke about it.
“My, my! You’re all here at 9:00 on the dot!” I exclaimed, with a massive grin on my face.
The CEO eyed me up and down and said, “Do you know why I’m here at 9:00 “on the dot,” as you so eloquently put it?”
“It’s because I plan my day to the minute. Now, please, can we get going?”
I nodded and rushed to turn the projector on, took a deep breath, and started. In my head, everything was going to go smoothly.
It didn’t. In fact, the executive presentation went so bad that I didn’t even get to finish. The CEO cut me off mid-way and said, “Thank you for your work, but we don’t have the time for any of this.” He called on his senior executives to follow him and left the room.
What the hell went wrong? I practiced, I designed beautiful slides, and I anticipated every question that could have been asked. Didn’t I do everything right?
No, I didn’t do anything right. In fact, I missed out on a key principle that would have saved me face on so many occasions in front of “important” people.
The Cold, Hard Truth
When giving an executive presentation, you’re up against the toughest audience that you will ever face, and that’s because senior executives don’t have time for your crap. Senior executives don’t have time for anything except for what they have to do. Their schedules are typically packed with all sorts of important things like meetings, developing company strategies, mitigating organizational risks, and the like.
To get your presentation through to senior executives, you’re going to have to change your approach, and we’re going to help you do that. Here are four things you NEED to know when presenting to senior executives.
Tip #1: Get to the Damn Point
What do you think is the most valuable asset that people have, but often neglect? Cash? Nope. Inventory? Absolutely not. Cars? You’re way off.
The most valuable asset to you, me, or anybody else in this world is TIME.
In our lives, time is the only parameter that we cannot change, regardless of what we’re doing. Senior executives recognize this, which is why you must instill that concept into your executive presentations. You need to be sure you are only communicating messages that senior executives need to know.
If you are the type of presenter that likes to add fluff to the content just to seem more intelligent or are planning to build things up to get to the big reveal, then you are almost certainly setting yourself up for failure. CEOs don’t have time for that. Hell, I don’t even think you have the time for that.
Make sure your content (inclusive of what you’re going to say, the slides you design, and the handouts you provide) is brief, easy-to-process, and to the point.
Tip #2: Be Clear from the Get-Go
Senior executives don’t like surprises. They want information that they can use to make decisions. For this reason, you need to be clear on what you’re going to talk about at the start of your executive presentation.
A decent technique to apply here is to summarize your entire content from the very beginning. In fact, developing and presenting a summary slide (one slide at the beginning of your presentation containing all the key points) is an excellent way to do this.
When you’re clear from the start, your executive audience will only see what needs to be seen and can start to understand what is to come.
Tip #3: Use Easy-to-Interpret Models and Visuals
You know what’s sad? People still think that the advantages of presenting beautiful and practical slides aren’t worth it.
If you want your executive presentation to stand out, then you need to be sure you’re using illustrations correctly. Visuals help executives interpret information at a much faster rate in comparison to the traditional list of bullet points, tables, and boring Smart Art.
Let’s be real here. Would you want your CEO to see something like this?
Or something like this?
FYI, if you’re eager to hit the ground running with data visualization and have no idea where to start, then I strongly urge you to check out the Slide Cow Toolkit.
Tip #4: Practice, Practice, and Then Practice Some More
Remember, senior executives don’t have time for your crap. Sure, a few errors like a mispronounced word or a little break in your voice is fine. But mistakes like your slides not showing up the way they should, or you going on and on about a point for 10 minutes because you didn’t take the time to rehearse? Yeah. That’s not going to go down so well.
Be prepared. Have someone review your content and give you feedback, time yourself and practice your body language. Keep rehearsing until you know you’re good enough.
The Bottom Line
Nobody said that giving an executive presentation was easy, but remember who you’re presenting to. If you do pull it off, you’ll have the opportunity to reach out to the decision makers, the gate openers, and the people that add the most value to your livelihood.
It does take a little work, but once you get there, you’ll have the CEO, CFO, CTO and COO out of their seats applauding you.
I want you to tell me something that you did, didn’t, would, or wouldn’t do in a presentation given to a high-profile audience. Leave a comment below.