What Senior Executives Wish You KnewJanuary 07, 2013 | By Wayne O'Neill
Have you ever prepared a powerful presentation full of energy and your best sales points, only to be interrupted one minute into the presentation by an impatient executive who looks at his cell phone and asks, “So what’s the bottom line?” Presenting to an executive team has the potential to open tremendous doors of opportunity. However, in order to pass the glance test, keep their attention and reduce interruptions, senior executives have shared with us some things they wish you knew. Senior executives are pulled in so many directions. Their time is valuable as their schedules are jam-packed with important meetings requiring high-stakes decisions with little time to weigh options, plus hundreds of urgent phone calls and emails. This is only the tip of the iceberg of what senior executives deal with on a daily basis. Use your time with them effectively as executives have 20+ other things they could be doing in the 10-60 minutes they have given you.
Consider these 9 tips to connect and engage in impactful ways:
1. Study the executives. Find out what the targeted executives care about in order to win their attention. If they like stories that demonstrate a lesson, start there, but keep them short and relevant. Or perhaps they are “bottom line” executives? Then skip the stories and hit them with facts they care about right away. Also, consider how much do they already know about your topic? What do you have to offer that would be interesting based on their current business goals? Who in the room may be politically threatened by your recommendations? You need a navigator from within who can guide you in knowing your targeted executives to avoid wasting everyone’s time.
2. Connect the Dots. Uncover the business and political issues that they are dealing with and how they interrelate. If you are invited to give an update, then make sure you deliver that information directly and quickly before anything else. You want to anticipate potential questions and be ready with supporting data as executives are experts at finding holes in your logic or content. By understanding the consequences and implications, you are better prepared and become more trustworthy in terms of your analysis. Additional supportive data is especially important if you are presenting counterintuitive opinions or practices that could result in significant changes.
3. Keep It Candid, Condensed and Focused. Just because you know a lot about the topic, does not mean that your audience does, nor do they want to be bombarded or overwhelmed with EVERYTHING you may want to tell them. Pretend you only get 5 minutes to talk. Consider what is of optimum value and summarize that for them in plain, simple language.
4. Start Strong. Begin with a strong start to give executives confidence that their time will be used wisely. Tell them what you will say and share your desired outcome. Present a summary first, then spend the rest of the time discussing and answering questions. This approach reminds executives why they are there and why your topic is important.
5. Incite Action. Effective presentations end with action rather than nodding heads and polite applause.
6. Engage Emotional Drivers. Connect key points to emotional drivers. If you use unique visual metaphors, make sure they reinforce your main ideas. The more senses you can engage, the more effective. For example: If you are talking about security issues, it could be more memorable to use a pepper spray analogy or Doberman Pinscher example than just a lock and key.
7. Practice Flexibility. Executives may interrupt with “Got it. Next.” In addition to asking you to fast forward, they may also ask you to jump back to a previous point. If this happens, you have to be flexible and cover what they want to focus on. You may even have to skip some less important points in order to finish in the time given if the discussion on a particular aspect of your presentation goes really well.
8. Set the Framework, then let the Executive Team Drive the Conversation. After presenting a summary of the main points, allow room for comments from the executive team to emerge. Remember: you are not there to give a full discourse of how much you know – your goal is to engage in a impactful conversation and open the door for opportunity.
9. Craft Your First and Last Impressions. The first 30 seconds are most important when presenting to executives because in that short time they will determine if what you have to say is worth their time to listen. The last 15 seconds needs to be impactful and memorable; cut to the chase and tell the truth in a straightforward way. Authenticity trumps everything.
No matter what, Seize the Moment. Since opportunities to present to senior executives, may not be part of your daily life, then the key is to be prepared to make the most of the opportunity. Due diligence on your part ahead of time will lower the intimidation factor and raise the likelihood of engaging in a successful dialogue with key decision makers.
For additional information on what executives want you to know, check out these resources:
“15 Things CEOs Want You To Know” by Peter Corbett, iStrategyLabs 2012 Gigaom.com
“Crafting Your First Impression” by Alene Olson, Wayne O’Neill & Associates 2012 woassociates.com