Presentations to senior management can be a vital part of moving ahead in your career, a true make-or-break moment.
These nerve-wracking opportunities remind me of one of my favorite quotes from former President John F. Kennedy:
“When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” ~John F. Kennedy
Indeed, presenting to senior management presents both danger and opportunity. I suspect you are already well aware of the danger, so let’s talk instead about how to make the most of this potentially career-building opportunity.
Presenting to senior management is different than presenting to your team, your department, or your local PTA or other community organization.
Here are six important things to remember when presenting to senior management:
- Consider their perspective. You may be presenting from your position as a manager, but they are listening from their perspective as leaders. For instance, managers are tactics-oriented while senior leaders are more strategically and “big-picture” oriented. Integrate the strategic, big-picture considerations into your material.
- Get to the point. You might find senior-management audiences impatient, distracted, or continually interrupting to ask for information you are about to give them. Avoid detailing every step of complex plans, and cut to the chase.
- Stay flexible. It’s not uncommon for senior managers to request a presenter’s slides in advance so they can get up to speed and engage the presenter faster. You might then be asked to jump to a later slide that a senior executive became concerned about when previewing the deck. Handle interruptions from senior-level audience members by ...
- Gathering and organizing any back-up information you may need.
- Planning for quick access to this data with a separate slide appendix containing all supportive information.
- Anticipating any “detours” and plotting the way back. Ask yourself, “If this comes up, how will I tie it back to my main point?”
- Print out your slide list and be ready to jump around as ordered.
- Remember ... Your objective is not to get through all the material.
- Create two slide decks. If meetings are running over and your time gets cut short, you’ll be prepared if you create what I call an “executive deck” -- a subset of your main deck consisting of only your most critical slides. This way, when you're told to "keep it short" you can just click on your executive deck and wow senior management.
- Participate in the discussion. If senior managers start talking among themselves, leaving you standing awkwardly at the front of the room, think about being proactive. Join the discussion if you can add value. Be politically sensitive, but, you might add something to their discussion that clarifies it (allowing you to continue your presentation.)
- Project confidence. If you are frequently interrupted or knocked off course by senior-management audiences, it might be because you begin tentatively. Build a strong introduction and move quickly into your main material. Act and sound like you expect to be heard; it will increase the likelihood that you are heard. Where do you get that confidence? Thorough preparation and methodical practice, practice, practice!