A skill I have noticed that many people need mastering is presenting to senior leaders. You may be quite an expert at pitching to people, but there are a few things to keep in mind when facing very senior level key decision-makers. What makes it difficult is that executives have limited time, are experienced to see through the fluff, and are very clear about what they are looking for. They are usually dealing with incredibly packed schedules. They have a lot of critical and time-sensitive decisions to make, impacting at scale. What makes it even more challenging is that you may get rare, infrequent, and limited face time with them. You want to use that to upsell yourself, showcase your work, and highlight your talents. All this can be unnerving, scary, exciting, and frustrating at the same time.
I have learned the hard way from my own experiences of presenting to senior leaders and later of grooming others in presentation skills and developing executive presence. Rambling in front of them and not going with a robust approach can have an adverse effect, no matter how smart you are. The best approach is to present knowledge relevant to them quickly and clearly. Put forth what is important to them, not to you, ask for questions, and wrap up. If your presentation is short, crisp, and insightful, you will make an impression, and they will want to hear from you again.
The following are some ways you can achieve this.
Start with the summary
Crystallise your information in 3-4 key points. Lead with what your audience cares about—high-level discoveries, theories, recommendations, including a call to action if possible. Present it succinctly in the beginning, and then move on to supporting data, minutiae, and material that is peripherally relevant. Detach from your content. Just because you spent hours preparing, it does not mean you have to deliver it. This is one mistake people make often. As they say, it is much easier to write a whole page than a single sentence to convey the same point.
Inform them of how you will unfold your spiel. It demonstrates your clarity and preparedness. Inform them that you will spend only a short time presenting the key points and will leave the rest of the time on the discussion so they can drive the conversation. Even the most restless of leaders will let you finish uninterrupted if they know it is short, and they will get a chance to speak soon.
Organise your slides well
Make sure your slides represent the above two points. Your deck should start with the essential information you want them to have. After you present the summary, the following slides can have all the supporting data that you may need to pull up during discussions and if they ask. Let the audience take charge of the conversation and refer to the following slides when relevant questions and comments come up. Often, executives will want to delve deeper only on specific points that will aid in their decision making. When they do that, quickly display those slides that speak to those points.
Be in service to their need
If you were asked to explain why one product failed miserably in your region while another did very well, get to that first before covering anything else. After all, you are there to speak because the seniors with little time to waste felt your contribution would give them the missing pieces of information they need. Address their needs and answer their specific requests directly and quickly.
Practice makes perfect
Try practicing on your own and with a colleague who will serve as a sounding board. Make sure this person understands what it takes to get ideas adopted at the senior level. Ask them for feedback through questions like:
“Is my message clear and quick?”
” Is my summary concise yet comprehensive?”
“Am I missing something my audience is expecting?”
Not only is it an honour and great learning, but your career can also significantly benefit if you get good at this skill. People with tremendous influence will become strong promotors for your ideas.
Views are personal.
The author is the founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners a global Leadership Development company based in Bangalore. She is a Leadership Development Specialist, an ICF Certified Executive Coach [PCC] and author of the book - Team Decision Making.