Presenting to Senior Managers

Friday, March 14, 2014

In the second in my series of articles on enhancing Presentation Skills, I focus on presenting to senior managers, an audience that can strike terror into the hearts of even the most competent presenters. Here are my six golden rules.

1. Short and to the point 
Rule number one when delivering to a management team is to remember they are very busy people and they tend to have short attention spans. Senior managers care about high-level findings, conclusions, recommendations and calls to action. They don’t have the time or energy to waste on trying to determine the salient points you are attempting to communicate. Whilst your instinct may be to include as much information as you can, (just in case you are asked a difficult question,) when presenting to senior managers you have to pare back your presentation to the bare essentials. (Back up data or ‘nice’ to share information, can be contained in an appendix to your presentation – see rule 5 below.) 

2. Open strongly – what you are doing & what you want from them 
Whilst no audience will forgive you if you are boring, senior managers will never even give you the chance. If they sense you are beginning to ramble, or skirt the issues, they will interrupt you, either by way of a refocusing question (the polite way) or something more abrupt. Your window of opportunity for making a good impression and getting their attention is short. It is vital to start strongly. Senior managers need the pertinent information straight away, no gentle introduction, and minimum context setting. You need to be very clear up front as to what you are taking them through and what you need from them. Here’s an example of impactful way of opening a presentation to senior managers which affirms the time commitment and the purpose of your presentation. “Over the next (timeslot) I’m taking you through…… I will outline the findings of…. I will detail the recommendations of …….and after dealing with any questions or queries you may have hopefully get the go ahead to…..” Stating the duration of your presentation lets the audience know they only have to focus for a specific period of time and it also shows them you have prepared well. 

3. Know your strategy for handling questions 
It is usually preferable to deal with questions as they come up and with senior executives they will probably interrupt you anyway. If there is a likelihood that too many questions could sidetrack your presentation, say up front that there will be plenty of time for questions after you have shared your content. 

4. Put yourself in their chairs The basic rule for preparing for all presentations is to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. If you were sitting in their chairs what information do you need to see and hear? If you know the different characters in the room, for a senior team I would recommend doing this at an individual level. What is the MD’s priority? Where is the finance director coming from? What will be at the forefront of the HR manager’s mind? If you were the IT Director what issues might you have? You can only create a win/win when you know what their ‘win’ is. 

5. Simple Slides 
Without sounding patronising your slides for a senior manager group should be simple and visual. Use graphs and diagrams where you can. Have an appendix that you can hand out to the group which contains all the additional detail they may need. The appendix could be a word document or a spreadsheet. Don’t try to pack everything into your overheads. Really competent presenters will have slides that contain some of the information that is covered in the appendix or handouts, but they will only bring up these slides when answering a specific question, or if more detail is required on an issue. 

6. Practice practice practice 
For important presentations, you need to rehearse them out loud and in full to ensure your delivery flows and that your timing is right. Perhaps ask a colleague or two to serve as a sounding board or to play the role of devil’s advocate. You want feedback in advance to ensure your message is clear, that you are addressing all the relevant issues and that you have responses for any questions that might arise. I read many years ago about a senior executive with a major airplane manufacturer who presented to governments around the world as parts of his role in securing new contracts with national airlines. Millions of dollars rested on his sales presentations. His general rule of thumb was that if he was in front of a group of government ministers or airline executives, his preparation would be sixty times the length of time he was scheduled to be in front of the audience. For example, if his presentation was 50 minutes in duration, he would spend 50 hours preparing and rehearsing for it! 

Presenting to an executive team can be intimidating but it is also an opportunity for you to raise your profile and aid your career development. Remember too that the higher you climb on the career ladder, the more important effective communication and presentation skills become.

James Sweetman is a Business and Personal Coach, specialising in assisting individuals and firms to be more effective at what they do. He works both on a one-2-one basis with individual clients as well as delivering tailored training workshops on a range of topics including confidence-building and presentation skills. For more information visit his website.