5 Tips for Presenting to Executives

Presenting to your peers is (relatively) easy. The stakes aren’t high. If you screw up, they’ll usually let it slip.

But executives are different. Executives get things done through delegating to other people. So, they are always looking for who they can trust – and who they can’t. Make a good impression and the exec is likely to give you more responsibility in the future. Make a bad impression and you earn a place on their “do-not-trust” list. Either way, it affects your career.

Executives are a special audience for presentations. And the stakes are high. Here are FIVE TIPS to keep in mind to ace your next executive presentation.

1. Get to the point in one minute
Executives exist in high-pressure environments. With 80 hour weeks, emergencies cropping up, high stress loads and demanding bosses and shareholders. TIME is one of their most precious commodities.

So don’t waste it by arriving late, fumbling with the projector (“why won’t it connect?”), making long rambling introductions and so on. Get to the point as quickly as you can. Within the first minute, if at all possible. There’s a good chance the exec is itching to interrupt you and barrage you with questions so get to your main point before the presentation is derailed.

2. Talk about problems winning in the marketplace
Executives don’t care about today’s problems. That’s someone else’s job. Executives have their minds focused on the next three years and what it will take to beat competitors, reach new customers, hold onto existing customers and increase margins. So, talk to them about the problems they will have winning in the marketplace, and how your ideas will help them. If you can’t talk to them about that, you’ll get bumped down to some department head – and well you should.

3. Sell a vision before discussing the details
This is especially true for sales people. Don’t walk into a meeting with an executive and start talking about your super-wonderful fully-guaranteed remote-controlled electronic bobbin. Execs will immediately focus on cost and product features, often ending the meeting with “We’ll get back to you” so they can have someone research prices.

Instead, focus on painting a vision of a better future – hopefully one that maps onto their three-year goals. Once they’re nodding at the vision – and ONLY after they’re nodding at the vision – should you talk about your product’s details. Cost is likely to be less of a concern now.

4. Lead with stories, not data
Executives respect data and making data-driven decisions. But they are also realistic about what data can – and cannot – tell you. They’ve seen many projects fail despite the glowing research results. And they’ve seen boot-strap projects succeed despite the lack of any data to back it up.

Executives often trust their guts more than they trust data. They consider customer stories, quotes from their largest channel partners and competitor moves just as valid as data. So use that. Come to executive presentations armed with lots of stories and introduce stories first, then the data to back it up.

5. Don’t be afraid of executives; be afraid FOR them
Because the stakes are high, and executives often shoot presenters for sport, people are naturally nervous presenting to executives. But this fear will only work against you and broadcast your lack of confidence. So, adopt a different mindset: be afraid FOR executives.

Remember that executives have more power, but also more responsibility and more things that can go wrong: an employee leaks confidential information, a critical project misses a milestone, an indiscriminate comment derails their career. So, don’t be afraid of executives. Be afraid for them and think about how your proposal could help to allay their biggest fears.

There’s a lot more to presenting to executives but these five things will get you grounded. Now go nail your next executive presentation.

Bruce GabrielleAbout the author: Bruce Gabrielle author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business. He teaches PowerPoint presentation workshops for Fortune 500 companies, technology firms, consulting firms and business schools. You can contact him at www.speakingppt.com or @speakingppt.

69 Responses to “5 Tips for Presenting to Executives”

  1. Brad Corbet

    Awesome article and every point is spot on. I especially like the Simon Cowell analogy. It’s simple, clear and presenters know what to expect….the devil with a brain.

    Thanks for these tips.

  2. S.S Hotchandani

    Cool article, it helped me in my Dentistry seminars in my college.

  3. Gary Soltoff

    Excellent approach. Bruce Gabrielle sets the case for less is more. You may feel as if you need to present reams of data to prove your point/objective, but unless you keep is simple and engaging, your cause will be lost. Park the data in the appendix.

  4. Lola P Gaston

    The point number 4 “Lead with stories, not data” is the one to ponder. I have seen in many presentaions that people do not mix the numbers with interesting stories. It is just data data data and boring.

    Lola P Gaston
    BYU Football

  5. Jeff

    Hi there and thanks for your very timely article.
    I have in the past always been a big believer in the Data approach, however I do see your point of view with regards to point 4. Leading with stories may just be the way to go, well it’s certainly an approach not tried by me in the past. So here goes …
    many thanks

  6. Amalachukwu Okeke

    I appreciate the Tips cz itz a Morale booster. Tanx!

  7. Cochran Auto Sales

    These tips can be useful in many applications, from dating to car sales. By targeting business executives, you have narrowed down the sales process into a concise and effective presentation, which makes sense and is supported by data. Like anything, the sales process is not an exact science and there are countless other variable, which can determine success, but I think you covered the main topics.

  8. Axel

    While I can well relate to the points, it is always important to understand the style of the Executives you present, too. I could also point out Board Members of very large corporations, who will want to go into significant amount of detail. Be always prepared not to use documents/power point, but to talk to executives and share your insights.

  9. paola

    Thank you! great suggestions.. I’m planning a career change and hunting for tips for polishing skills I have. Yr Tips are most valuable..

  10. Tom Furlong

    Gee- this presentation came a day too late! Yesterday I met with the CEO & COO at a major “Big Oil” firm; the meeting went well but now I see it could have been much better. I will hit these points next time! Also- great presentation format as well, very informative while keeping my interest.

  11. ram menon

    An excellent summary of important points for presentation in the corporate world

  12. Rick S. Pulito

    I love this article!! You are spot-on with every one of these points… And I not only applaud you for being so on-target, but also being so concise. These five simple pointers will not only make someone better on their feet, but they will also drastically increase the odds of being invited back.
    Thank you, Bruce.

    PS… If it is okay with you, I am going to put a link up to this post and your website on my blog (www.ideationz.me) as well !!

  13. Dan

    Slide 8 – “And they judge you by how you present” – Yes, and some of them will judge you if you misspell a word like “authoritative” :-)

  14. Mthunzi

    The advice is priceless, I mean to break new ground and I think I have just been enlightened on which direction to go..

  15. Irina Kozlova

    Excellent! Extremely valuable tips and importwnt topic to address!

  16. Wayne Rawcliffe

    This is one of the best articles that I have read in a long time. It is practical and to the point and provides an understanding of the world executives live in. Thank you.

  17. Farman Ali

    wonderful tips. These are not only 5 tips but also a deep insight for Company/project Managers.

  18. Louis Nauges

    Sorry to disagree with most of the comments.

    – Some of the tips are good, but…
    – The visual are … terrible.
    – Nobody use capital letters anymore; they are very difficult to read.
    – Too much text.
    – No images and graphics.

  19. Imran Mussarat

    amazing feeling to read this article, infact while reading i have seriously figured out my dark areas in presentation to chief executive’s. i know it’s quite hard to control the words, gestures, data and emotional intelligence to work for me. i am sure i will keep this article and will read before i jump to next workshop!

    Thanks for sharing!

  20. Toula Toulinakis

    This article and slide show provides great service. God bless you Bruce!

  21. Antoine

    Got it. Wonderful tips every corporate must know. This is my new found secret. Next time they will not know what hit them.

  22. Lyndon

    Great advice, Bruce. Clarity and simplicity are immensely powerful.

  23. Jacques de Villiers

    Let’s face it, for many of us it is scary to present to executives. Their been there, done that cynical attitude is enough to make the most seasoned sales person baulk. Luckily for us, most executives have problems that need to be solved. If we come in as an expert (and have the knowledge and experience to back it up) and position ourselves as the #1 go-to resource and use the guidelines from Tips for Presenting to Executives, then we have a more than even chance of securing the business. Check out why it is important to be #1 in your market on this Slideshare presentation http://www.slideshare.net/jacquesdevilliers/zipfs-law-and-a-case-for-being-1


    Very useful tips,I am an MBA student and must appreciate this type of information with this ,we can develop our confidence.Keep it up and try to give more articles .

  25. Adolph Kaestner

    Great article and true
    I once in my past life presented the executive group with a 34 page proposal – the MD just gave it back to me and said – Give me one page with the absolute necessary information to make the decision – the detail is there for those who will make it happen

  26. mactin

    Very important points for a feasible business. entrepreneurs need such key points while marketing their products.thanks

  27. Rhoda Kitila

    Thanks for the tips they are very realistic and useful!!! I will definately use them to develop my team of Excom Members especially the Sales Team.

  28. Emran Mohamad

    I like it too, especially the intro and the conclusion… It will surely enhance my confidence in meeting execs…

  29. Palu Karuppannan

    It is a very good summary of the presentation alive for the corporate world especially presentation to busy executives. It is well structured. Thanks a lot for sharing your idea.

  30. steven Kapoloma

    I find the article very inspiring. i will put into practice these ideas. i am certain it will put me into the next gear as much as boardroom presentions are concerned. Thanks.

  31. Shehzad

    I find presentation scary, well, these tips are realistic and practical. Thanks for sharing.

  32. Bruce Gabrielle

    Thanks for the kind feedback. One more tip: when you’re looking for stories, talk to the sales team. They talk to customers and partners all the time and can tell you some great stories you can use in your next exec presentation.


    Great tips for the new guys!
    It took me almost 4 years as a rookie to learn from mistakes what you selflessly shared. I could have been more effective in less time. I’ve been around for 35 years now and I have seen too many presentation where the new comer tries (and fails) to impress with lots of data, false suspense and meaningless babble.
    Your presentation should be a mandatory lesson in every Train The Trainer course; I’m putting it right there.
    Thanks, Bruce

  34. Gioia

    Ok. I’m at slide 24. I have to stop and rejoice. :-)
    This presentation is absolutely boosting for one project I have in mind.
    Thank you with all my heart.

  35. ibeh stanley

    u guys are doing great work with information. keep it up.

  36. Emmanuel

    Tips are timely, just when I’am about constructing a power point presentation for a project defence.Guess I will chuck the data pages overboard and do more talk!

  37. Ida Bayuni

    It’s so true, and making sense! Most of them are like Simon Cowell. Thank you for your Tips, I will definitely apply your suggestions to my presentations to clients and prospective clients who to me are like Simon too. I will share this to my colleagues. Thank you once again 😀

  38. Augustin Dao-anis

    I love this article! So simple and practical a novice like me. Thank you for posting this must-read article.

  39. pradeep

    Awesome insider info ..makes a lot of difference and changed the way I used to think..

  40. Jun

    OMG… I was totally mistook this is just send to my e-mail. :)

    I think this article is Great tips for everyone and also good tips for interview with executives. Thank you

  41. Janet P

    Excellent advice and good remind for new AND seasoned presenters. We are sometimes so into the detail of our mandate that we do not always consider them in the context of what matters to the decision makers and end up including detail they are not interested in and forget to address the “WHY”. To avoid having your executive meetings derailed, heed this advice!

  42. Jason

    Project the “Next three years” this is it! Bang on target in a minute, sailing with them in their very own boat but pointing out the ship to be reached for them through us, how and fast. Victory ‘s waiting to garland you ahead, just cross the fear frontier. But gotta be thorough with the homework and have a plan B too, before you hit the deck. Yeah, I love this!!

  43. Jeff

    Hi there, Thanks heaps for this article. I think all 5 tips are excellent and certainly will try to incorporate them into my business.

    regards Jeff

  44. Neil Benson

    Halfway through this article I thought “and so they should” was going to be it’s finest phrase, but then I read “executives often shoot presenters for sport” and that one clinched it for me.

    I remember a nice anecdote about a senior manager presenting to the board of directors at GlaxoSmithKline. After 2 minutes the chief executive, JP Garnier, dismissed the manager from the board room bellowing, “I can read those slides faster than you can speak them. Next!”. If you have to, use slides only to illustrate your c0ncept.

  45. Craig Hadden - Remote Possibilities

    Great points. I particularly like the idea of asking a question after a few minutes – that’ll surprise the execs (in a good way), engage them, and differentiate your talk from all the others they’ve heard!

    Here’s a neat tip when presenting to execs: When your laptop starts, your slideshow starts automatically, waiting for you on slide 1:

    (You might also like this tip that shows how to link straight to a specific slide in a SlideShare deck – great for sharing a slide you like:
    http://remotepossibilities.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/how-to-link-to-any-slide-on-slideshare/ )