In surveying many workplace employees, I have discovered that presentations made to senior management and executives are not only very common, they are also right up there in terms of presentations that people fear the most. This is likely because the stakes are usually higher, not just for the business that the presenter works in, but also personally for their credibility, reputation, performance appraisals, and longer term career prospects.
So because of this, Here is a post to help those preparing their next presentation to senior management.
Lesson #1: Seek the big picture
The first point to understand is that senior management are always seeking to understand the ‘big picture’. You may have lots of detail and examples, but the most important piece of information to your audience is the impact to the bottom line of the business. By bottom line I don’t just mean the financial bottom line, but any key performance indicator that matters most to the management. Ensure that, you have understood what performance indicators matter most to your audience. Quite often managers will have multiple performance indicators but will have one or two that concern them the most at any point in time. Find out what these are and assess how your points might have an angle towards supporting these. Alternatively you might be proposing something that aligns to business values. The values of an organisation are also part of managing the big picture for senior management. For example making things simpler might be an organisation value. If you are presenting an idea that has a benefit of creating simplicity, then ensure this is communicated as part of your big picture.
Lesson #2: Answer the right questions
To make your core message and call to action more compelling to senior management, here is a list of questions that you can use as a checklist to check whether your speech covers what’s important for your audience to hear:
• Is your problem or opportunity clearly stated? Managers spend a lot of time fixing or preventing problems. Leaders spend time looking for opportunities to drive their businesses and teams forward.
• Have you made it clear why the problem or opportunity is important to the business and to your audience? How does it impact the overall business strategy?
• What will happen if nothing is done? This is explaining the consequence of the problem, or failure to take advantage of the opportunity.
• What are the alternatives, and why not take them?
• What are direct and indirect benefits of senior management approving or adopting what you have to say? Fixing or preventing the consequences of the problem is often the direct benefit, but take the time to explore other indirect benefits. What ripple effect could your proposal create?
• What are the risks involved and have you provided recommendations on how these best be mitigated? Speaking about these demonstrates you have fully thought through and prepared your pitch, making you a highly credible and professional presenter
• When does your recommendation need to be taken up? And most importantly when do you need your audience to take action.
• How quickly can your recommendation be implemented? How long will it take? Management are keen to understand when can results be expected to be seen.
• How much will this cost? What financial return can be expected? Management typically have responsibility over costs spent in the business and the return helps put the cost into perspective.
• What resources and actions are needed? The trick here is to be as specific as you can. Management can sometimes be hard to access, so this is your opportunity not only to grab their attention and win their support, but also talk to what is needed to make it all happen
• How will you measure success? All too often this question is neglected. People think of and communicate what they want to achieve, but not how will they know when they have achieved this.
• What are the next steps?
• And what do you need from your audience specifically? It’s amazing how many times staff members present to management but fail to mention specifically what they need from their management. Perhaps this comes from organisation culture where employees are trained to ask for help from their subordinates but perceive asking for help from their superiors as a sign of weakness. It may be that you just need approval and no other action, but regardless state what you need as part of your purpose and call to action.
Lesson #3: Less is More
Ok, so that’s a lot of questions to answer in Lesson #2. But don’t get carried away with verbose descriptions. Senior managers are usually short of time and therefore patience. Hence you also need to write your presentation to be as concise as possible. The best way to ensure this is to do your homework. And this means finding out as much as you can about your audience – each and every individual. In particular what do they know or don’t know about your topic and what might they be thinking. You may even benefit from speaking with each of the individual managers or someone that knows them well beforehand. Don’t waste time proving a problem that they already know exists. Instead you might just open with a startling statistic about the problem, and quickly move through your Introduction to your core message, being clear on the purpose of today’s presentation. Equally important is to address the questions that are likely on their mind.
In reality and from my own experience, senior management will rarely be passive listeners to a presentation. They will interrupt you, throw you questions, and talk amongst themselves. The best way to be prepared for this, is to make sure you are only presenting information that is important, and aim for a summarised view of your entire presentation to be made in the Opening of your presentation. In many cases, this should even include what your call to action is. When stating your agenda if you set the expectation that you will spend just a few minutes presenting your summary, before going into important details, you will stand some chance of not being interrupted through your Opening. Then if the rest of your presentation is hijacked by discussion rather than presentation, at least you will have stated your core message and what you want management to do.
Presenting to senior management takes careful preparation but it can open doors that you could otherwise not open. If you present well here, people with high influence will be strong advocates for your ideas and you’ll soon be a high flyer yourself (or the new boss!).