Public Speaking: Presenting to Executives – Top Five Tips

December 13th, 2008 by Frank Damelio

While basic public speaking skills are usually relevant, there are some special circumstances that apply when presenting to executives, especially if you are not a fellow executive.

The circumstances:  Executives typically have less time for “filler”.  They will appreciate a direct approach.  Executives are much more likely to interrupt you with questions, instead of listening until you’ve completed your presentation.  Stakes: If you are not typically before a group of executives, they will tend to make a quick judgement about your ability to do your job based on your ability to present before them.  Unfair, but true.  Pressure: Understandably, most people battle the nerves a bit more when presenting to executives.

Five Great Tips:

1) Work on your PACE:  NO DEAD TIME. This is a magicians trick.  As a sleight-of-hand expert, I can tell you that amateur magicians almost always get caught because of pacing.  Why? A pro presents at a natural pace where there is NO DEAD TIME.  Thus, it is rare to get an interruption such as “let me see the other hand” or “can I check what’s in the card box before we start?”.  An amateur’s pace has moments of dead time where the heckler will jump right in and through the presenter off kilter.  This is exactly the cause and effect when you present to executives.  If you are confident and brisk (not rushing, but owning every moment) you are likely to face much less interruptions that through you off track.  The only way to do this is to prepare and have everything you need at your fingertips.

2) Simplify: This may sound counterintuitive, but most executives don’t care about the details; they want the bottom line.  However, bring supporting data that you can refer to should they ask for the details.  This will make you shine when they question, “where did you get the $2.9mm figure?” and you have a handout showing its breakdown.  Even if you don’t use this extra information, you’ll feel confident that you have all bases covered.  Some use the strategy of a question hook, where you present a fact that will naturally lead to a question; and when questioned you have the supporting information at hand.

3) Time:  If they give you a time allocation, tell them after your power opener: “You’ve given me 15 minutes to cover . . . and I’ll keep it to that.  I’ve budgeted a little time at the end for discussion as well”.  In some cases I advocate telling the audience, “I’ll answer many of your questions in the presentation; so please note yours for the end.”  However when speaking to executives, a good tip is to avoid that strategy because of the power structure.  By saying you’ve budgeted a little time at the end for discussion, you provide a subtle suggestion that they wait until the end to ask questions.  Also, they will be grateful that you are aware of your time frame and intend to stay within it.  Few things annoy executives more than a protracted presentation that goes well beyond allocated time.

4) Eye contact: Okay, nothing new here, BUT . . . you will set yourself head and shoulders above your peers when you have a conversation directly with the executives.  This is to say, look directly at the CEO, make a point to her, then move on to the next person and act as if you were telling him something directly.  In this way, you are having a bunch of mini conversations.  It is likely that your peers will never do this.  They’ll make eye contact with everybody at the same time by scanning, yet they will connect with nobody.  This is your chance to distinguish yourself.

5) Visualize and Rehearse: Rehearsing comes after practicing.  Rehearsing means you give your presentation with your eyes closed, visualizing the room and audience.  If you make a mistake, you keep going, there is no second chance, just do what you would do were you public speaking for real.  Once you’ve done this a number of times, when the big day comes, you will have the “been there done that” feeling.  The executives will certainly notice your preparedness.

There you have it – Top Five Tips for Public Speaking to Executives.  But we know there are many more.  If you are an executive, would you please share the qualities you look for?  If you are not an executive but present to them, please share your stories and tips.  Your participation will be greatly appreciated.

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