Presentations: 10 Steps To Winning Executive Presentations: Speaking
Things were not going well on a recent morning of presentations to the executive committee of a large multi-national corporation. “That was a waste of our time,” the president said to the vice president after the first two presentations.
Up stepped the third group and suddenly the mood began to shift. After this trio of company experts laid out their best insights for 30 minutes, the president now said to the VP. “That is precisely what we need. Let’s schedule two presentations a year by this group.” The third team hit the hot buttons, and was a resounding success.
If you make such important presentations to senior managers or to sales prospects, this true story encapsulates your worst nightmares and greatest ambitions. As you certainly know, you must be able to demonstrate your value to your audience. Failure is not an option.
So, in this case, why did one presentation connect with top management and two others misfire? What was the difference? What separated success from failure in the harsh spotlight of the executive suite? Most importantly, how can these three presentations help you deliver your own?
I cannot explain the errors of the first two groups because I did not see them. I can tell you about the third because members invited me to work with them. Here are the 10 steps we followed that I believe made the presentation beneficial to the company.
1. Present only critical content
Bottom-line, you must deliver information that the decision-makers need to get from you. During early preparations we found we were not focused. We discovered we were preparing to convey some facts of little advantage to the executives. While that data demonstrated how knowledgeable we were, they diluted the truly important matters and threatened to bog down the entire performance. We removed the mundane and kept the compelling – stripping the fat and leaving the lean.
2. Write the presentation in detail
Since this was far too important to ad-lib, each presenter wrote out specifically what would be conveyed. We then collectively edited all of it for further precision and clarity. (See step 7 for how this was delivered.)
3. Use visual aids that complement rather than compete with what you say
We prepared slides to accompany the words. However, we found that some slides showed one kind of information while the speakers talked about something slightly different. For example – a slide might give numerical data while the speaker ignored the data and talked about the meaning of it. When confronted with this kind of dissonance, the listeners’ eyes take precedence. The audience watches the slide and stops listening to the speaker. To avoid this, we matched the slides’ points with the presenters’ words.
4. Eliminate unnecessary visual aids
We realized we had too darn many slides. We eliminated about half and kept those that were most important. (This was easy, but it did not please the creative people who had worked so hard to make all of the originals.)
5. Simplify visual aids
We found that some of the slides had too much information. So, we dropped about half of the details on them, and limited the slides to three or four bullet points consisting of a single word or very short phrase.
6. Rehearse, time, and evaluate
We rehearsed one-half day one week early, followed by a full day rehearsal the day before the formal presentation. Myriad e-mail and telephone exchanges among the presenters preceded the final presentation. We felt connected, confident.
7. Talk it, don’t read it
The presenters used their scripts as guides. They talked their information to the executives and did not read it. Rehearsals gave them the content familiarity and comfort to execute this.
8. Present as a team
Instead of parading our three experts one at a time, each presenting his or her information, we rotated them so that there was a give-and-take, a back-and-forth quality to the overall presentation. This gave the unmistakable impression of a team working for the company rather than several solitary individuals. I must admit I resisted this non-linear approach at first, but ultimately found it effective. It worked because we presented our topics in a logical order that flowed naturally from one issue to the next, regardless who was presenting. The repartee was never forced.
9. Highlight critical information
During rehearsals we noticed that it would be difficult for the listening executives to distinguish the most important information from the less important. The content seemed a monochromatic stream of undifferentiated information – a blur. So, the presenters inserted verbal headlines at key intervals, underscoring their critical points. (This worked so well during the presentation that executives began asking questions before we were done – a sign that we were connecting with our audience. More questions followed at the conclusion.)
10. Repeat critical information at the beginning and end
You have heard the saying, 1) Tell them what you will tell them, 2) tell them, and 3) tell them what you told them. In that vein we emphasized the most important points both in the introduction and conclusion as well as the main body of the presentation. Therefore, the executives probably heard the critical issues mentioned at least three times.
Yes, a lot of work went into this presentation. However, it was a success. I hope our approach helps you as well.