by Adam Noar
Presenting to executives can be exciting BUT these presentations can also be pretty intimidating.
Let’s face it … senior executives can be a tough crowd:
They are often super impatient because their schedules are jam packed — and they have to make lots of high-stakes decisions, often with little time to weigh options. So, if you think upper management is going to sit still and wade through your lengthy deck with some big reveal at the end … THINK AGAIN! They’ll likely just interrupt you before you finish your deck.
Whatever your presentation is about, you won’t go very far if you haven’t prepared intensely for this moment.
That’s why the kind of slide deck you have at your disposal is just as important as your message.
As Eminem once said, you’ve got one shot, and you might not get another one, so here are nine tips to help you make a top-notch slide deck for your big upcoming executive presentation to the senior team.
Let’s get this executive party started!
1. Make THREE Key Points
When presenting to senior management you need to get to drive home your key message FAST.
While the topic you discuss is certainly nuanced and has many sub-topics meant for discussion, an executive presentation is not really the place to get into all the tiny little details.
Think about it this way:
If you had to summarize the whole meeting in three sentences, what would they be?
We’ve mentioned before that the human brain digests information more rapidly when they’re divided into nice tidy morsels of three.
So, if you can stick to three overarching talking points for your executive presentation you have a better chance of impacting your audience before they get too impatient.
Speaking of impatient senior execs, plan for the likely event that someone will hijack the meeting, talk and ask questions for most of it. Your VP didn’t get that far without being the sort of person who is decisive and inquisitive. While you might be the one at the top of the agenda, you’re not calling the shots.
That’s why having three concise points to plan your slide presentation around is so useful.
It makes it easier to stay calm and focused when you have three main points to talk about, rather than worry about remembering, say, six of them. If you go in with three points, your executive presentation is likelier to succeed because your presentation will be more organized, and also because you will be better able to keep everything on track if and when you are interrupted with questions from the higher-ups.
It’s also important that you start your presentation with a BANG and tell the executive team up front what you will be covering.
Doing this will give the senior leaders confidence that you’re going to use their time wisely. That leads us to our next point.
2. Keep your Presentation Short. Senior Executives Have Tight Schedules
Building off of the first point, you should remember that your 10:30 AM slot with your boss (or possibly the boss’s boss) is not the highlight of the day, or even possibly the week, for your audience. They might have a meeting a few hours later with the president of the company, or have some equally trying and stressful task at hand.
If they walk into your presentation and you’re rambling on a bit too much, they are not so likely to pay attention. In fact, they might start to get annoyed, which is the last thing you want.
That’s why you should keep your presentation – and your slide deck – as short as possible.
While you should expect their undivided attention as you talk to them about an issue that you have spent time and energy researching, this does not mean your slide deck should be any longer than normal.
This does not mean you skip over any important details; what it means is that you cut out everything that isn’t important. Ideally, this should give you three points to talk about. Sound familiar?
Execs are impatient, want to get to the point quickly, and are more interested in the key issues than the details. So aim to keep the deck super-short. 2-3 slides might be a crazy small number to have as a presentation in another situation, but it is not too short for an exec.
3. Be Extra Flexible
It’s common for senior executives to ask you to jump back to a previous slide or fast forward through your slides to a particular section of your presentation.
Also, don’t be surprised when executives interrupt you as you present a painstakingly crafted slide with “Got it. Next”.
An extended discussion on a particular slide may mean you need to fly through other less important slides in order to get back on track in terms of covering all of your slides.
Be ready to stop and change directions on a dime.
Heck, in some senior meetings, you may even forgo covering all of your slides because the discussion on a particular aspect of your presentation is going really well.
The key is to be FLEXIBLE and cover what they want to focus on — not necessarily what you want to. In order to achieve your objectives (e.g., more resources, budget, executive support, etc.), you may not need to go through every slide.
Here are a few tips for staying flexible during your presentation to senior management:
1) Know your PowerPoint presentation hacks so you can easily whiz through your PowerPoint deck and come across like a true presentation pro.
2) If your slide deck is running on the longer side, consider designing your presentation so that it has a “Prezi-like” choose your own adventure format. This will allow you to jump to specific sections of a presentation faster than Harry Potter can waive his magic wand.
3) Keep your supporting backup material on hand in case you need to reference something. That leads us to our next point.
4. Be Prepared to Back Up Your Arguments with Supporting Data When Necessary
So, thick presentation decks are the bane of a busy exec’s existence. How do you get around the fact that certain details, especially if you have a lot of data to share, might be referenced over the course of your presentation?
That’s where the “thunk factor” comes in. The “thunk” is the sound a heavy presentation printout makes when you put it on your boss’s desk.
During your executive presentation, you have to be prepared to answer any of the exec’s follow up questions with appendix material. While you might have a super short slide deck with just a couple of slides, this doesn’t mean you have to come shorthanded.
If you have important data to share with your audience, or maybe you have field or case studies that would prove useful to reference, you can supply everyone with a printout that carries your supporting data.
Don’t make the mistake of not being able to answer a senior exec’s question during your presentation. Executives are gifted at finding holes in your logic or content. They want to be sure you understand the consequences and implications, and that they can trust your analysis and recommendations.
5. WOW the Senior Team with Creative Visuals, Charts, Diagrams, and More
Like everyone else, execs don’t like boring slide decks!
There’s no reason to give someone a page full of numbers when you can just as well conceptualize it beautifully.
Diagrams help execs to speed-read and get a quick picture of what’s going on. Get creative with how you tell the story of your presentation.
Here are a few ideas for diagrams that will help you communicate the sometimes complex story of the numbers to your not-always-savvy boss:
Pie charts are a classic standby for showing what percentage of the market your company might have, but maybe you can try something a bit less routine. Maybe create a diagram with a colored map of your market, with different color saturations representing greater share.
Flow charts are a fun albeit sometimes messy way of showing cause and effect, like what happens between when a potential customer first signs up for your company’s new product through a blog campaign. Make sure that if you do use flow charts to highlight the most important points, you don’t necessarily have to keep things linear, but you might want to avoid getting as crazy as this flow chart.
Timelines are useful if, for example, you are introducing a new sales plan or major software implementation to your directors or other executive team. The timeline should feature the major dates, if applicable, for scheduled rollouts, and should set tangible milestones which can later be used to judge progress. Ultimately, a good timeline can help you set the baseline for whether or not your project will be deemed a success, so that is why it is a very useful diagram to include in your appendix material.
Pie charts, flow charts, timelines, and maps are just a few of the many outstanding methods for diagramming context to quickly educate executives on the entire situation — and they like it that way. Look for ways to convert text and data into diagrams that show how all the parts fit together.
Need some help designing charts, timelines, and other awesome looking slides for an upcoming presentation to senior management? Our professional “Influencer” presentation template has over 200 delicious slides that you can download to your computer instantly.
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6. Keep Your Text Short to Make Your Points Quickly
Of course, sometimes you have to write things down, and diagramming simply will not do. Obviously your tool of choice, if it’s not diagrams, are words. When you do have to write, we’ve said before that you should do everything you can to be as concise as possible.
Here are some really useful executive presentation tips to keep in mind when you are brainstorming the display text to use in your slide deck:
1) Execs think fast, process fast, and hate having their time wasted, so write text to enable speed-reading and quick understanding of the thought at hand.
2) Use short phrases and elaborate on them verbally. You should utilize bullet point lists whenever possible, and place each talking point on a separate line. That way, your ideas naturally organize themselves in a manner which is visually easier to process and comprehend. As communications coach Carmine Gallo says, you need to “think twitter like headlines!”
3) A really good tip for writing concisely is to avoid using passive voice. For example, don’t say “market share will increase by 25% because of our marketing plan.” Instead, say “our marketing plan will increase market share by 25%.” Using active instead of passive voice will cut down on fluffy words, which saves vital space on your slide. It also the wonderful effect of making you sound more confident and certain about yourself.
Lastly, another method for dropping a few words is to eliminate basic articles, including “the,” “on,” “and,” and so on.
One of the cardinal sins of any PowerPoint presentation is writing in complete sentences.
For the love of humanity, don’t put full sentences on slides — it slows the presentation down.
Even worse, you will probably end up reading the sentence aloud, which looks and sounds terrible and certainly won’t win you any points with your audience. Longer, wordier sentences are definitely a no-no and should be avoided at all costs.
Hopefully that’s not news to you, but it never hurts to remind people that they should stay away from writing in full sentences. If you can keep your diction short, punchy, and to the point, your executive presentation stands a great chance of leaving your audience with a positive impact.
7. Pay Extra Attention to Slide Hygiene
Executives have high standards — for themselves and others — and quite often are perfectionists when it comes to their work.
They expect the same from you.
Before you deliver your big executive presentation, make a checklist to verify that your slide comes across as crisp and coordinated.
What are some examples of the presentation design errors that drive senior managers crazy?
Spelling errors are totally unacceptable, and considering that Microsoft Word comes with Spellcheck and browser extensions such as Grammarly point out basic spelling mistakes, you have no excuses for the dreaded red spellcheck underlining any of your text (except for company names and jargon, of course).
Don’t forget that even the best spellchecker will fail to detect homonyms such as they’re/their or where/were. There’s a time and a place for making those sorts of silly spelling switches, but an executive presentation isn’t one of them.
Grammar errors such as inconsistently placing a period at the end of one sentence but omitting it in the next one are to be avoided. Pick one style and follow through the whole way. The same goes for header weight and size; don’t switch from bold size 16 font on one slide to normal size 16 the next. In a similar vein, avoid inconsistent capitalization in slide titles, different bullets points on different slides, or switched fonts.
Lastly, one of the most annoying problems that creep up from time to time when you are creating a PowerPoint presentation are formatting issues. For example, it’s terribly annoying when for some strange reason the margins are not all completely even, or when you press enter to skip a line but the gap between lines of text is mysteriously larger below than above.
Pay attention to these sorts of little details because the exec is. If you are pitching yourself to lead a bold new project that moves the company in a different direction, how confident do you think an exec will feel if your slide has an annoying tendency to have inconsistent spacing? Don’t give them an excuse to say no to you!
8. Craft a Stunning Presentation
Obviously, as a PowerPoint presentation design website, we’re always going on about how when it comes to design, less is usually more.
It’s so important that your audience is able to focus directly on you and your ideas. A slide deck that is too visually interruptive or busy with images, fonts or colors that compete with each other is not a winning executive presentation pitch.
You know a lot, or you wouldn’t be invited to the meeting. But resist the urge to throw it all up on your slides.
Here’s a few pointers for creating simple yet beautiful slides for executives:
1) Use clean visuals that represent your message with a few key points per slide.
2) Carefully craft meaningful headings that could tell the story on its own. A punch box at the bottom to reinforce your point can also be quite useful. If you can’t come up with a punchy summarizing statement, consider if you really need that slide.
3) As mentioned in tip #1, harness the power of three!
4) Create a consistent theme of colors, fonts, and layout
5) Make sure your slides pass the “glance test” – people should understand your slide in less than three seconds
Of course, these are just a few tips. For a complete arsenal of presentation design tips and resources that will turn you into a PowerPoint pro click here.
9. Know Your Audience
When it comes to presenting to the senior team knowing your audience is an absolute MUST:
How much do the senior team members know about your topic? (i.e., how much time should you spend on providing background information?)
What topics are hot buttons or particularly interesting to the executives based on their current business goals?
Which senior execs would be politically threatened by your recommendations?
What can you find out about their pet peeves or preferences?
So, how do you find out the answers to these questions you might ask?
You need to find an insider who can coach you on how to best present your material to the targeted executive or group of executives.
That person could perhaps be:
* Your boss or executive sponsor
* One of the executive’s direct reports
* An executive’s admin assistant
You’re looking for inside information on your audience so that you can avoid derailing your presentation and wasting everyone’s time.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to make the call when it comes to compiling the best possible slide deck for your upcoming presentation to senior management. This is the sort of opportunity that probably does not come around very often, so prep hard, nail down your three main talking points, keep your slides concise, come equipped with a useful printout full of nifty diagrams to accompany your presentation, and keep your slide design about as conservative as your dress code.
Other than that, don’t forget to smile and be yourself. And maybe give ‘em a firm handshake – that always helps!
I’d love to hear your upper management presentation success stories and what valuable lessons you have learned along the way. If you’re a senior executive, I’d love to hear your perspective as well.
Lastly, do you have a friend that could benefit from learning about these tips for presenting to senior executives? If so, email them the link to this post.
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Finally, if you are looking to create a top quality executive presentation, don’t forget to check out our excellent Influencer slide template deck, and check out some of these other great blog posts in our archive to learn more about creating the perfect presentation.
Photo Credits: iphone calendar by idownloadblog.com