Senior executives are a tough segment to reach. They usually have very little time in their schedules to give you. Though that’s true of many audiences, what sets this crowd apart is that they need to make huge decisions based on accurate information delivered quickly. Long presentations with a big reveal at the end do not work for them. They’ll want you to get to the bottom line right away—and they often won’t let you finish your shtick without interrupting. (Never mind that you would have answered their questions if they’d just let you get through the next three slides.)
When presenting to an audience of senior executives, do everything you can to make their decision making easier and more efficient:
Take less time than you were allocated. If you were given 30 minutes, create your talk within that timeframe but then pretend that your slot got cut to 5 minutes. That’ll force you to be succinct and lead with the things they care about—high-level findings, conclusions, recommendations, your call to action. Hit those points clearly and simply before you venture into supporting data or tangential areas of importance to you.
Stay on topic. If you were invited to give an update about the flooding of the manufacturing plant in Indonesia, do that before covering anything else. They’ve invited you because they felt you could supply a missing piece of information, so answer that specific request quickly.
At the beginning, let the audience know you will spend the first 5 of your 30 minutes presenting your summary and the remaining time on discussion. Most executives will be patient for 5 minutes and let you present your main points well if they know they’ll be able to ask questions fairly soon.
Develop a clear, short overview of your key points, and place it in a set of executive summary slides at the front of the deck; have the rest of your slides serve as an appendix. Follow a 10% rule of thumb: If your appendix is 50 slides, devote about 5 slides to your summary at the beginning. After you present the summary, let the group drive the conversation. Often, executives will want to go deeper on the points that will aid their decision making. You can quickly pull up any slides in the appendix that speak to those points.
Before presenting, run your slides by someone who has success getting ideas adopted at the executive level and who will serve as an honest coach. Is your message coming through clearly and quickly? Do your summary slides boil everything down into skimmable key insights? Are you missing anything your audience is likely to expect?
Sounds like a lot of work, right? It is, but presenting to an executive team is a great honor and can open tremendous doors. If you nail this, people with a lot of influence will become strong advocates for your ideas.