5 tips on how to smash presentations to senior leaders

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Have you ever pitched an idea to senior leaders at work? Or presented a report or any other work you have done? How did that make you feel? Did you feel confident and competent, or did you wish you didn’t have to do that and go back to your Excel/ERP/other work computer program?

What is more – how did they react to your presentation? Were they interested, interactive, asking insightful questions? Or were they quiet, checking their phones, and just said ‘no’ at the end? (or ‘we will get back to you on that’, which is even worse…)

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What if presenting could be easy? What if you could stand in front of the leaders and be confident, knowing that you have the key to what they want, knowing that they are listening to you, are interested and inspired by what you are sharing?#

You might want to start your journey here – I have recently written an article about stakeholder engagement, which lays down some basics for understanding the people you are presenting to.

A little thank you

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This article is dedicated to one amazing female professional, who has been a massive supporter of my work. As she is my first supporter on Patreon, I wanted to give something back and asked her what topic would help her the most at work. So presentation skills it is!

If you would like to have an article written on a topic that is interesting for you, you can do this by supporting me on Patreon and sending me a message with the topic you would like to learn about.

But back to the topic at hand!

Is presenting to senior leaders really that different?

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Some of the advice you will find in this article, like starting with the framework, is just a piece of good generic presentation advice, however as you progress in the company and present to more and more senior people you might discover that they actually need less information than you are used to presenting.

Usually, when presenting to a wider audience with various levels, you might find yourself required to dive deeper into a specific topic or explain in more detail. The audience might be also more interested in the journey that you were on and the details you have discovered.

So how would you present to senior leaders?

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Presenting to senior leaders tip no 1: Start with a framework

Your framework for the presentation can be a summary of the main points that you are going to address, stating whether you would like the audience to ask questions during the presentation or after or just sharing the structure of the presentation and time.

Having a framework sets expectations for the audience. They know what will happen and what is expected from them. This is a good generic presentation tip, but I thought that highlighting it here is important. Having a clear framework communicated at the beginning of your presentation will make it sound way more professional and highlighting the main points might make your audience more focused, especially if you are going to talk about solutions to problems they have been having.

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Presenting to senior leaders tip no 2: Keep it simple

Simplicity is the key. People often try to make their presentations sound smarter by adding big words or having lots of analyzed data on the screen. This doesn’t help absorb information!

Senior leader are usually faced with dozens of topics every day. They need to absorb complex information quickly and make decisions. If your presentation is complicated, the best that can happen is that the person you are presenting to will take time to analyze it themselves (which will take time) and draw conclusions. The worst-case scenario is that they will decide it is not important enough and therefore not worth their time.

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I like to do what I call a ‘Mum test’. Would my Mum understand the presentation if I gave it to her? My Mum is a very smart woman, but she doesn’t know anything about my job.I revise the presentation, keeping in mind that the person might not be familiar with some aspects of my job, but also that I don’t want to overload them with details and still keep it light.

Keeping it simple means also having your data consolidated. Don’t show what you have done, but what conclusions have you drawn. Make sure though to show the link.

Let me give you an example from my line of work (I am in sourcing). Recently my colleague helped me run a benchmarking exercise between two print providers. They have looked through every single item to identify the differences in cost of materials, transport, labor, and finished products. When they presented the data back to me, they have included all their calculations and the final conclusion: the pricing varies by x% (low), therefore we can stay with the current provider.

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Simple right? Well, no. Their final analysis didn’t include any information about how they had drawn this conclusion, only a massive spreadsheet with hundreds of lines to analyze. Once I started looking into this data, digging in, and asking questions, I have realized that the whole exercise was not thorough enough.

The cost of materials varied around the year – was it considered that we were comparing cost from Jan 2020 to cost in June 2021? What would help me understand the conclusion – and trust it more – is showing me that considerations like this were included. I didn’t need to see the whole calculations but being given the considerations like:

  • cost of materials changed by x across the year
  • company Z assumes X people working on the projects, whereas company Y assumes X people
  • seeing a price comparison analysed in detail for one product

These simple points would give me more trust that the analysis was done correctly, I would trust the final conclusion and I wouldn’t require to look into the work again by myself.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about this point.

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Presenting to senior leaders tip no 3: Have additional data

Very often if you miss any considerations mentioned above, the audience might ask you questions about the data behind. It is a good practice to always have available additional information.

If we continue on the above example of print suppliers, if I would present, I would look into the current print market, see who are the key leaders and why we do/or why we do not engage with them. Are there any trends that we are not taking advantage of?

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Additionally, I would also have a cleaned-up spreadsheet with all the calculations. What do I mean by cleaned-up? Make sure you remove anything that you might have added during the analysis process (I sometimes write my thoughts on the side to remember to check or analyze something), structure the data so it’s easily readable, and make sure that you are showing your thoughts process (formulas rater than final numbers).

Having these things at hand, you will make sure you have the answers when the questions are asked. However, if you are faced with a question you don’t have the answer to – don’t try to make it up on the spot. It is normal to say ‘Let me get back to you on that after the meeting’ as nobody has the answer to everything. Make sure that your answer is well researched, as this will give you more credibility than answering on the spot with incomplete data.

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Presenting to senior leaders tip no 4: Evaluate risks and anticipate potential questions

When preparing your presentation, think about what the leaders you are presenting to are caring about. What is important to them?

If you are talking to a marketing executive about the print vendor, what in this process is relevant to them? I have noticed in many companies that marketing is usually well funded and might have less consideration around the cost. They might care more about the image of the company or simplicity or processes. If that’s the case, you can talk about environmentally friendly materials and consolidating ordering rather than focusing on the cost.

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If I were to recommend a switch of the supplier, I would think about the risks associated with the move, setting up accounts, processes, the supplier understanding our internal processes, collaborating well with the team, and delivery times. Have a think about what is relevant and consider it before the presentation. Maybe check some additional information. You don’t have to raise the risks during your presentation (this might be useful when dealing with a specific type of leaders) but having prepared for this type of question will support your professionalism and credibility when asked.

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Presenting to senior leaders tip no 5: Know your audience

This last point ties in nicely with all the four before – knowing your audience will make the whole process easier!

Understanding what challenges they have, what are their current objectives and where their teams might need support, can help you develop any presentation and tailor it to the person you are presenting to.

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If you are not sure where to start with knowing your audience, I have created a Stakeholder Questionnaire (click here), which will help you analyze your stakeholders, including senior leaders, that you may be presenting to. Make sure you go through all the prompts and consider how your project or data that you are presenting is impacting them.

Let me know below if this was useful and what other topics would you like to hear about!

2 Comments

  1. Sarah says:

    These are excellent tips to smash presentations to senior leaders. Even though I don’t work and thus wouldn’t be doing any presentations, I can appreciate the information here. Being prepared for additional questions is certainly important, as I can see leaders asking non-typical questions based upon what is presented.

    Like

  2. nortoncharity says:

    These are such great tips and tricks on rocking presentations. I’m never really good at them. Thanks so much for sharing all this info!

    Like

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