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5 tips for presenting to senior executives

The task of presenting to senior leadership can be both exciting and daunting. The chance to get in front of higher-ranking leadership can be an opportunity to really show your value and impress those who may have a hand in your career advancement.

Done correctly, this is your chance to speak up and shine; done poorly, and you might disappoint or annoy.

Luckily, there are some key tenets you can stick to in order to make your presentation solid and designed to impress. Here are some best practices for successfully presenting to senior executives in your organization.

1. Message

Nothing is more critical to the success of your presentation than clearly conveying your key message. Every slide, every bullet point, and every talking point must be examined carefully to ensure that it fits with your presentation’s agenda. When you begin compiling your notes, start by distilling your key point or desired outcome down to one or two short sentences, just for yourself. The exact words you write may never actually make it into your presentation, but they can act as your guiding light when editing your ideas to make sure they are fully on point.

Do

  • Have an agenda clearly in mind
  • Make sure every discussion point furthers that objective

Don’t

  • Try to deliver multiple messages
  • Simply share information – have a conclusion

2. Simplicity

It can be tempting to delve into all of the complex reasons why you are making a recommendation, or to detail all the circumstances that bring you to the issue or problem at hand. Whether you’re motivated by the desire to impress by “showing your work” or by demonstrating your understanding of the situation, it’s important to resist the urge.

Senior leaders want a clear, concise and confident presentation. Keep the details tight and the recommendations certain. Always stay on message. Be prepared with similarly succinct answers on any background information in case there are questions, but maintain a simple, clear approach in your presentation.

Do

  • Keep your notes and talking points crisp
  • Be minimalist in your slides and visuals 

Don’t

  • Over-explain
  • Give an exhaustive history of the current situation

3. Discipline

When you’re deciding what data to share in your presentation, look at everything with a critical eye. The right data can really help you deliver your message, but there can definitely be too much of a good thing.

Focus only on what matters most. The information you’re presenting needs to be just as clear and on message as the words you plan to say – and when in doubt, leave it out. If you’re asked for additional information, you can offer to share it post-presentation via email. Too much information on your slides will only be a distraction.

Do

  • Use relevant, easy-to-read data
  • Be ruthless in your decisions on the most important information to show

Don't

  • Show complex or multi-step data
  • Display graphs that require a lot of thought

4. Structure

The structure of your presentation is key. Every single component should be on message and on point and flow together in a strong, linear order that leads your audience to your desired conclusion.

Avoid tangents and extraneous ideas. It can be tempting to put in your favorite side notes or interesting tidbits, but when you’re presenting to senior leaders, follow the path straight to your goal without deviating.

Do

  • Follow a clear, linear order while presenting

Don't

  • Jump around
  • Go off on tangents or side notes

5. Feedback

When all is said and done and you’ve completed your presentation, be sure to check-in with your stakeholders gather feedback from your audience. Find out what worked, what didn’t and how you could improve. It’s important to know if your key message was clear, and how you were perceived.

Did you seem confident? Nervous? Frustrated? Positive? Did the audience learn what they hoped to learn? Were they swayed to your perspective on the issue? Be sure to be open and gracious in learning from those you consult. Keep in mind that people in your audience may be hoping to see their own ideas reflected in your presentation, so know your audience and adjust your talking points to communicate accordingly.

Do

  • Solicit feedback soon after your presentation
  • Politely accept feedback and suggestions on how to improve
  • Make a plan on how you will do better next time
  • Consider coaching to improve your presentation skills

Don't

  • Make excuses or argue with feedback
  • Wait too long to ask for ideas
  • Give up! Keep improving!

Presenting to senior leaders can be unnerving, but with preparation and a solid presentation, you will be in a key position to show your value and demonstrate your knowledge.

 

Joel Garfinkle is recognized as one of the top 50 executive coaches in America. Global Gurus named Joel #14 on its list of top 30 global coaching experts. He has 19 years of first-hand experience working closely with many of the world’s leading companies, including Oracle, Google, Amazon, Deloitte, The Ritz-Carlton, Gap and Starbucks. He has written seven books, including "Getting Ahead." More than 10,000 people subscribe to his FulfillmentATWork newsletter. Subscribe and you’ll receive the free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!” If you are looking for practical advice for advancing up the executive career ladder, view his Career Advancement Blog.

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The team sales pitch: How to prep for success

When your company is pitching for a really big piece of new business, the stakes are as high as they get for your sales team. Yet many organizations squander those opportunities by failing to properly prepare for the pitch “team” presentation.

Each speaker tends to develop his or her own part in a silo. Members of the sales team might not even have the chance to hear one another before the big day. As a result, you lack a cohesive message, you repeat yourselves, and you might even contradict one another. The prospect can’t help but think you don’t have your act together.

Sound familiar? Is it any wonder your prospect chooses someone else?

Here’s how you should be getting ready for a team sales pitch to give your company the best chance for success.

Develop your core message

When I coach clients through this process, I begin by speaking with the team leader and every member of the pitch team individually. We talk through their messaging strategies and make sure everyone is tied to the vision. Whether it’s an external consultant or a member of your own business-development leadership, it’s essential that someone act as point person on alignment.

Before your team members go off to develop their own piece of the sales pitch, they need to understand what you’re collectively trying to achieve (and no, it’s not just winning the business). Ask yourself:

What differentiates us from our competition? This should be the basis for the core message you communicate in your sales pitch. It needs to be the common thread running through every aspect of the presentation. As I work with each member of the sales team, I make sure every segment of the pitch addresses this essential message.

Are we speaking the prospect’s language? Even if you’re selling a technical product or service, always communicate what you do in terms the prospect understands, because people tend to agree with what’s familiar to them. I’m a big fan of keeping it human. One of my clients did this in a creative way when pitching a major airline. When their team flew in for the meeting on that airline, they made a point of meeting the flight crew.

In their presentation, they began by introducing their flight crew, complete with photos and a quick story. They followed that with an introduction to their own crew (the sales team). The whole thing took just a couple of minutes, but it served as a warm handshake that established rapport and ultimately helped them make a multi-million-dollar deal.

What do we want the prospect to know about our organization’s culture or values? You’ll need to find a way to get that across in the presentation. One of my clients wanted to communicate their strong ability to work like a team. To present as anything less than a strong, cohesive team would have completely undermined their stated strength.

Here’s how you must prepare to become a cohesive team and boost your chances for winning the business.

Practice individually

You won’t often have much lead time before a big presentation, so plan for your team to meet in the prospect’s city for one or two days prior to the big day.

I begin by working with each team member individually to refine their message, polish their delivery, and refine their slides. This is referred to as a “table read” and is typically the first time they are practicing out loud, so there’s always work to be done.

Following this first round of rehearsals, each speaker uses feedback to rework and refine their presentation. That is followed by a second table read before coming together as a group.

Rehearse as a team

Once your team members feel more prepared individually, it’s time to make sure you’re presenting as a united front. Now everyone gathers to hear one another’s presentations. It quickly becomes obvious where you’re being repetitive, not supporting each other or lacking continuity of message. Your leadership can also step in and make positioning corrections at this point in the development process.

Tips for getting prepared

I always ask sales teams who go through this process to report their key takeaways. Here are some additional tips my clients have shared:

Keep visuals relevant and succinct. One common mistake is using a canned slide deck. Always develop your visuals with the prospect in mind. And keep them pithy! Learn more from this article: "Using Glance & Grab to Perk Up Your PowerPoint."

Have critical resources on hand. You know you’ll need to work on your slides, so it can be a big time-saver to have a graphic artist or PowerPoint developer available during your rehearsals.

Don’t forget essential equipment! You’d be amazed at how many times I’ve had clients borrow my speakers or clicker because they forgot to bring them. Use our Speaker Preparation Checklist.

How to know when you’re ready

My clients say they know they’re ready for the meeting when their story just rolls off their tongue and they know everyone has each other’s back. When you reach that point, you’re not so nervous about making a misstep or getting an unexpected question, because as a group you’re prepared to handle whatever happens.

When you have a contiguous storyline that resonates across the team, each person will feel confident and able to connect with the audience. This connection, reinforced from presenter to presenter, is ultimately what will win the client. Make it the goal for your next big sales pitch and chances are you’ll come away a winner!

 

Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at ProfessionallySpeaking.net and ProfessionallySpeakingBlog.com.

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What you need to know about giving women better feedback

A distinct positive correlation exists between more women in executive positions and a company’s ability to outperform competitors. Studies in recent years by DDI and MSCI have revealed that higher percentages of women in strong leadership positions correlate to better financial performance and greater returns on equity.

At Sapper Consulting, 49% of our employees are women, our management team is 40% female, and our company has grown quarter over quarter for the past three years. This is not an anomaly. A global survey of nearly 22,000 firms in 91 countries revealed that when a profitable firm moved from no female leaders to 30% representation, its net revenue margin also increased by 15%.

Unfortunately, women often aren’t given the productive feedback that’s necessary for workers to reach leadership positions. Provided that women in leadership help companies beat the competition, how can business leaders improve their constructive criticism of female employees in order to help them and their companies grow?

Consider these techniques for providing better feedback:

1. Keep your language constructive. Labeling a woman as “bossy,” for example, isn’t constructive, and studies suggest women are penalized more harshly than men for behaviors labeled “aggressive,” such as negotiating for a raise. Instead of labeling, try saying, “During our last meeting, I noticed that you interrupted others while they were speaking, which is something we could work on.”

Growing your employees and providing the feedback they need for success means making the criticism empowering. An employee needs a clear understanding of her opportunities for growth and action items to achieve it.

At Sapper, we require all employees to answer three questions when reviewing their peers: “What is something I should start doing? Continue doing? Stop doing?”

When managers review their employees, they should give clear, concrete answers to those questions, such as “She should start getting more input from her team on key decisions,” “She should continue meeting with individual team members weekly,” or “She should stop arriving late to meetings.”

We also encourage all of our team members to follow up with their reviewers if their feedback is unclear or if examples of a behavior would be helpful.

2. Don’t shame women for emotion. Crying isn’t a sign of weakness; women are simply biologically predisposed to cry four times as often as men. When women cry at work, they often feel they’ll be alienated by male colleagues or bosses. If an employee gets upset during your next feedback session, hand her a tissue, ask whether she needs a minute to regroup, and try to understand the root stressor.

Start with a statement like, “I understand that this is a difficult conversation and can imagine that you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. I’m giving you this feedback because we believe in you and want to see you reach your highest potential.”

When I ask these questions, I often hear, “I don’t know why, but I’ve always cried when I get feedback.” Sometimes an employee will say the conversation had triggered a completely different stressor. Either way, I’ve started a valuable dialogue around the response rather than dismissing it altogether.

3. Don’t be ruinously empathetic. Ruinous empathy, a term coined by feedback professional and author Kim Scott, occurs when you care about your employee but you don’t challenge her. This often results in sugar-coated criticism or unhelpful feedback. By giving this vague feedback to save your employee’s feelings, you’re holding her back from improvement.

If an employee just finished a presentation and asks for feedback, I don’t simply say, “You did a pretty good job.” Instead, I elaborate: “I liked the content of your presentation, but you spoke too quickly through some of the key points. I can practice with you before your next presentation if you’d like.”

When providing proper, useful feedback, start by taking the employee aside as quickly as possible. Tell her you’re about to give some blunt feedback, but remind her it isn’t personal. Make your feedback as actionable and specific as possible, and thank her for speaking with you. Feedback is necessary for growth — don’t be afraid to tell employees what they need to hear.

 

Emily Muhoberac is chief operating officer at Sapper Consulting, which replaces cold calling for its clients. It’s cooler than it sounds. You can also follow her on Twitter @muhobs.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader and communicator. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.