It can be nerve wracking the first time you have to present to the Board or a group of senior executives. You want to be able to walk out of the room with more credibility than you came in with.
It’s an opportunity to demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about your subject, and that you understand the impact that your recommendations have on the organisation and to the bottom line.
You need to remember that senior executives are time poor, impatient and used to making difficult decisions by quickly weighing up the pros and cons of any situation.
They absolutely do not want to be presented with all your data (but they want to know that you have it and are totally across it).
They will be looking for a summary or your solution within the first few minutes, otherwise they’ll dive in with difficult, very pointed questions that might well put you off your stride and impact your confidence.
The way you research, prepare and structure your presentation beforehand is key to success.
Here are our top tips for anyone presenting to senior executives, the C-Suite or a Board of Directors.
Tip 1: Know your audience.
You should already know the executive team or Board by reputation if not directly. If you don’t, find out about their preferences in terms of presentation style, use of visual aids, graphics and pet hates from the people who know them best.
Preparing to present to senior management and executives should include an assessment of:
- How much each of them knows about the subject matter you’re presenting on
- Whether there are differing views within the group
- What their expectations are of the presentation and the potential decisions they will have to make as a result.
Talk to people who have presented to them before, you might pick up some valuable tips.
Tip 2: What else is on the agenda of the meeting?
This is important so that you understand the context of your presentation and where your presentation fits within the meeting. Are you presenting after a break or following a ‘numbers heavy’ agenda item? This might influence your presentation style or use of visual aids.
Tip 3: Answer the brief.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But you’d be surprised how many senior executives complain that they have to sit through a whole lot of ‘useless information’ before getting to the key point. It’s their agenda, not yours, so be succinct and make sure your recommendations are upfront and clear.
Tip 4: Rehearse.
Get honest feedback from trusted colleagues who have experience of presenting to senior executives. Are your findings and recommendations clear? Is anything missing? For specific tips on how to pitch a new idea to senior leaders check out our recent blog.
Tip 5: Don’t use jargon.
The Board is typically made up of senior executives with a broad range of skill sets and experiences; finance, sales, technical, organisational etc. So don’t expect them all to have the same knowledge base on the subject that you are addressing. You’ll lose their attention if they aren’t familiar with the language.
Tip 6: Structure your presentation to reflect their needs.
It’s unlikely that your presentation slot will be more than 30 minutes and you should expect this to get cut short if the agenda is running late. So, be prepared and make sure you get the key points across; top line findings, conclusions, recommendations and actions, in the first few minutes.
Create summary slides using the 10% rule (if you have 30 slides, usually as a pre-read, try to summarise your key points in 3 slides), the rest of your presentation can focus on supporting material and more detailed discussion points.
Tip 7: Start with the bottom line.
It’s how senior executives make decisions and it’s the language of communication between them. It may not be what you are used to but it’s what they will need. How does your idea impact the bottom line?
Tip 8: Manage their expectations.
When presenting to the Board, explain that you will spend the first five minutes summarising the key points, detailing your recommendation/s and outlining what you need from them (remember they are there to make decisions, not just listen to information). The rest of your allotted time can then be allocated to presenting and discussing your supporting material. This approach will help ensure you’re less likely to get interrupted before getting the main points across.
Tip 9: Be flexible.
Make sure you can navigate easily between slides in case the audience wants to focus on one particular point or deal with the supporting material in a different order to the one you have created.
Tip 10: Expect to be interrupted.
Senior executives are unlikely to wait for you to announce that you are ready for a Q&A. They will likely interrupt frequently and ask questions or may need clarification. Be prepared and don’t let it put you off. If you feel you need to refocus, just take a breath, adjust your position and move on. No one will notice.
Tip 11: Anticipate questions in advance.
When presenting to senior management, make sure you think about ‘big picture’ questions as well as routine, data-based questions, with the company goals top of mind.
Your presentation to senior executives may only address one specific area of the organisation but the impact of any board decision is always felt company wide. So, make sure you understand how your role fits within the big picture and practise your answers in advance.
Questions to consider when presenting to senior executives, the Board or the C-Suite are:
- What happens if we do nothing? This is a common question and will test your understanding of the bottom-line impact of your recommendations. If you’ve over exaggerated the benefits this will become clear.
- What do you need from us? Have a clear understanding of what needs to happen next if your recommendations are approved. The end of the presentation is potentially the start of a new project so you need to be clear about every aspect going forward.
- Who else do you need on board? Success should be a team effort, it’s not about you looking good by trying to drive an idea forward alone, it’s about the entire company. If there are vital stakeholders that need to be convinced make sure you get them on side in advance. It’s not the role of the board to do the selling for you.
- How do you think this will impact the company as a whole? This will test your understanding of how your role and recommendations will help to drive the organisation forward.
- How would you prioritise your recommendation in relation to projects x, y and z? Budgets are tight. Is your recommendation more important than other projects within the organisation. If so, why?
- What is your suggestion/answer? Make sure you have one! You’re not there to present the facts and let them decide. Don’t worry about your opinion being the wrong one. If you can back up your recommendation with clear facts then your view will be listened to and respected. It also shows you have the ability to make decisions and are confident in your understanding of the project.
Presenting to senior executives or the Board needn’t be stressful, but there is more to a great presentation than just ‘knowing your stuff’. Check out our recent blog and discover 16 ways to improve your presentation skills.
Presenting to senior management/executives as well as to Boards and the C-Suite is a career-critical skill.
If you want to take your presenting skills (or your people’s) to the next level, we can help. We take people furtherTM because our programs are 100% tailored for your business and fully personalised for you/your people.
For nearly 20 years we have been the Business Presentation Skills Experts, training & coaching thousands of people in an A-Z of global blue-chip organisations – check out what they say about our programs.
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Written By Belinda Huckle
Founder and Managing DirectorRead Bio
Founder and Managing Director