How to Present to Senior Executives

Learn how to present to executives

If you're like most people, presenting to executives has probably been a bit intimidating. The thought of walking into a room full of busy and important senior executives can be daunting. However, if you follow these tips, it's possible to make an effective presentation — even when you're nervous!

Define your objective.

The first step in presenting your ideas to senior executives is defining your objective. Before you start, you need to know what you want to achieve. 

The second step is to be sure that the person presenting their ideas and the people who are hearing them understand each other's needs. Because if we don't know what our audiences want or need from us, how can we provide them with a solution? This will also help ensure that when you ask for something, it's relevant and appropriate for the situation.

How do you present information to senior management?

Because senior executives' decisions are so critical, it's important to understand what is expected from your presentation. Depending on their role and experience, each executive may be interested in different things. However, it's common for them to have questions such as:

  • How you'll measure success
  • How much time and money will be required to complete the project
  • What resources will be needed (e.g., people, equipment)
  • What problems might arise along the way 

It's also important that you're prepared for questions stemming from the actual presentation, especially if it's a pitch for funding. For example, how will you know if your project is on track? How do you plan to spend any excess funds? What are some obstacles that could get in your way?

What are good questions to ask about your audience?

The next step is to figure out what you need to learn about your audience. This will help you guide your presentation and allow you to make sure they understand the information that you present.

Here are some good questions to consider:

  • Who is the audience? 
  • Are they more interested in how things work or why things happen? 
  • What level of knowledge do they have about this topic?
  • What do they know about your topic?
  • What do they not know about your topic?
  • What are they interested in?
  • What are they not interested in?
  • What questions do I want my audience to ask? What do I need to do to be able to answer them?
  • How much time does each attendee have available for a presentation? 

What should be included in an executive presentation?

You'll want to include:

  • Executive summary. This is the first thing you should include in a presentation.  It's a sumSix elements for an executive summarymary of what you're presenting and why it's important — a 2-3 sentence overview that provides context for the rest of your presentation. It's also typically written in paragraph form, not bullet points (more on that later).
  • Problem statement. This is where you explain why there's a problem or issue to solve and its impact on your audience or organization (if applicable).
  • Solution statement/recommendation(s). This is where you outline your proposed solution or recommendation for solving the problem based on your research and findings, including any data and/or metrics that support this conclusion. You should include any risks associated with implementing this new solution as well — this helps mitigate any concerns executives might have about changing their strategy or plans to implement your recommendations.

Be prepared to answer the question "So what?"

"Why should we care about this? How does it relate to our business goals?" These are the most important questions you need to keep in mind when developing a presentation. Be prepared to respond to these questions at any time while giving your presentation. Make sure that you differentiate between issues that may seem important but aren't immediately relevant. 

Clarify in advance the role you want them to play.

Before you begin to write your presentation, you must ask yourself what role you want the audience members to play. For example, if your objective is simply to inform your audience about a new product line, their role is to listen and absorb the information. However, if you want them to make a decision or take action (e.g., approve funding), they will need some time for deliberation before doing so. This is where having a specific agenda can help ensure that discussions stay on track.

You should also determine how much structure is appropriate for your meeting: Will time be set aside for questions at the end of the presentation? Will there be an opportunity for feedback or questions after each segment? These decisions will dictate how much direction you give during each presentation section.

Answer their questions. 

When presenting to senior executives, if they ask questions during your presentation, don't give quick answers. Focus on giving thoughtful responses to be sure you're addressing their specific question. It is best to be prepared by thinking about what questions they may ask and preparing succinct answers. If you don't know the answer, don't make one up. It is fine to let them know you will get back to them. Make sure you provide a time certain for when you will get back.

Don't assume they all have the same level of knowledge.

When presenting to senior executives, it's important to remember that they all have different levels of knowledge and experience. Some may be experts in the subject you're discussing, while others may not be familiar with it at all. 

To keep things interesting for everyone, you should use creativity in your presentation style. Here are some tips:

  • Understand what your audience knows about your topic — and also what they don't know. The more informed they are on the topic before you start speaking, the better off everyone will be. Suppose there are any topics or points that everyone should understand before moving forward with your presentation (e.g., "Here's how our product works"). In that case, it might make sense for someone else on your team to cover these before giving a presentation yourself so that everyone has an equal understanding of what is being discussed during this meeting/session/etc.
  • Know who exactly is in attendance at each meeting (and where). When possible, ensure every attendee has access (to what, the meeting?) beforehand, so there aren't any surprises during the delivery time!

Give them an opportunity to contribute.

When presenting to senior executives, there's a good chance they may have more experience than you. That means they might also have some great ideas worth sharing. Ask for their questions, suggestions, and other forms of insight that may be helpful to you in the future as well as during the presentation itself. Encourage them to share their opinions by asking questions like "What do you think?" or "How can we make this better?" If you're looking for specific answers, try saying something like: "I'd love to hear your thoughts on this." This will help get everyone involved in your presentation.

Watch your time.

Time management is essential. At the beginning of your presentation, set a timer and stick to it. You can use the timer on your phone or computer, but make sure you reset it for each section of your talk so you know how much time is left in that section as well as for the full presentation.

It's important to know how much time you have in advance and plan accordingly. If you're presenting on a topic that has many different parts and subtopics, give yourself enough time to talk about them all without rushing through any one section too quickly. Be sure not to spend too much time on one particular point.

If you're presenting to a group of executives who are used to being in control and having access to all the information when they feel like they've heard enough, they may cut off your presentation before it's completed. When this happens, ask them if they'll give you a few more minutes so that everyone has an opportunity to ask questions.

Stick to the point, don't ramble.

When presenting to senior executives it's important to remember that they are busy people. You need to use every second of your time wisely. They don't have time for rambling or digressions. If you find yourself going off track, consider whether the point you are making could be better focused on what they need to know rather than what you want them to know. If a certain piece of information is interesting but not vital, cut it out entirely or save it for later.

How can I impress senior executives?

What can you do to impress senior executives?

  • Be prepared for any response.
  • Be prepared for any situation.
  • Be prepared for any outcome, no matter what it is (good or bad).

Everyone needs to make an executive presentation at some point, be ready!

Whether you have been presenting for decades or just starting out, a presentation to the executive team is a big deal and you need to be prepared for anything.

To hit it out of the park (or perhaps land safely on solid ground), you need to be confident. If you don't know enough about what you're talking about, or if you think you may not be able to answer questions confidently, it will show. Beyond the actual content, your body language and tone of voice will also show your lack of confidence. 

I've found the best way to be confident is by being well prepared and practicing with friends or colleagues beforehand. Practice until every minute detail feels natural and easy to present and discuss. Confidence is critical for any speaker. You may also want to get coaching or training. Click here for more information.

Conclusion

It's important to remember that executive presentations are a two-way street. If you're going to ask senior executives to listen to your ideas and seek buy-in, then you also have to be willing to listen. If they have something valuable to add, don't be afraid; instead, let it fuel your presentation.

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Presentation Skills Training in Michigan and Beyond | Ferndale, Michigan

© Laurie Brown. All rights reserved.

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Presentation Skills Training in Michigan and Beyond | Ferndale, Michigan

© Laurie Brown. All rights reserved.