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The Do’s and Don’ts of Presenting to Executives


The Do’s and Don’ts of Presenting to Executives

Talk about a tough crowd: Senior executives are some of the hardest people you can face in a presentation. Often strapped for time, they can be challenging to engage and difficult to impress. Here’s how to deliver and design a presentation that captures the attention—and earns the respect—of the toughest critics on your executive board.


Do your homework

Find out who sits on your executive board and learn what you can about their roles and backgrounds. Having this level of understanding will help you tailor the content of your presentation. It will also help you know what things you need to explain (and what things you can skim over) during your presentation. In addition, before the meeting, find out how much time you have to present, whether others will be presenting and what topics will be covered.


Don’t use industry jargon

Every industry, from medicine to marketing, has its own lingo or terminology that insiders understand—and outsiders don’t. To avoid confusing your audience, check your script for any industry-specific language and remove or reword any parts that feel too technical. You might want to ask someone outside your space—say, a coworker from a different department or friend from a different industry—to review your PowerPoint content for clarity.


Do anticipate tough questions

Make educated guesses about the questions you might get from the board, and then prepare your answers. Generally speaking, most boards will be concerned with issues related to profitability, stability and growth. They might ask: How can we reach our goal faster? What do you need from me to make that happen? How will our competitors react? What assumptions have you made in this process? Remember: If you’re asked a question that you can’t answer, don’t panic or try to make something up. Instead, admit that you don’t know the answer and promise to follow up.


Don’t stir up debate

Microsoft founder Bill Gates once said, “You have a meeting to make a decision, not to decide on the question.” Begin your presentation by sharing your solution to a problem, and then spend your time making the case for that solution. Focus on persuading your audience rather than stirring up debate.


Do edit yourself

Start by writing down all your ideas, and then cut your list in half—and then in half again. Why? For busy people, time is money. Respect your audience’s time by focusing on four key areas: high-level findings, conclusions, recommendations and calls to action. Provide concise, direct information that supports these four areas and helps your board make decisions on the spot.


Don’t just read

Presenting to a demanding audience is as much about credibility as it is about information. If you want to come across as authentic and in command of your information, you need to keep the focus on you rather than your slides. And the best way to do that is to speak to your audience rather than read from the slides.


If you are just reading off the slides, not only will they read ahead and stop listening to you when they get to the end (which will be faster than you can talk through the slide), but they will be ready to cut you off with questions before you are done. 


You want to use your slides as part legend (to keep them grounded) and part supplement (to add to your story). But ultimately, you want the attention focused on what you are saying, and not what’s on the screen.


Do rehearse, and rehearse again, and again

No single tip will give you as great a return as rehearsing. The more you practice, the stronger your delivery will be, the more confident you will be, and the more successful your presentation will be.


But the great thing about rehearsing is that it has benefits beyond delivery. As you practice, you’ll notice holes in your story, places where you are repeating yourself, even spot moments where you can anticipate questions. 


Don’t just leave it until the last minute, either. You should start rehearsing early, and you should reserve some time specifically for rehearsal at the end of your presentation planning process.


Update (02/24): we’ve revised this article to add some new strategies for presenting to executives


Looking for more information about presentation visuals and beyond? Check out our resources for expert advice and tested strategies.



About the author

Kyle Kartz is the Creative Director of Storytelling at VerdanaBold. He is an expert copywriter and strategist, with experience driving major campaigns for global brands in multiple industries. He is passionate about communications, the outdoors, and cooking.

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