5 Tips for Presenting to Executives

August 14, 2012

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.

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