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6 Things to keep in Mind while Presentating Information to Executives

-Sanjivani Iyer

Visualize this scene in the quarterly business unit review of a software house. Over 50 people across time zones are on a call. The first speaker - the R&D Director - begins to present his slides. Within the first 30 seconds, the Senior Vice President (SVP) interrupts him and asks some key questions. The Director answers some of them well but fumbles on some others. What the SVP wants to know is covered in bits in later slides.

Then the next speaker starts with a data loaded presentation. She is unable to go past her first slide. The SVP asks numerous questions that completely derail her flow.

By now, the other presenters start getting jittery. They know what is in store for them – a similar fate or even worse. The marathon review ends after two hours. Every speaker comes out with mixed feelings. Some people are embarrassed, while some others are puzzled.

What went wrong? There was obviously a huge disconnect between what people were presenting and what the executive wanted to know.

Does this sound familiar? At some point in time, we all would have witnessed such a scene. What does it take to make a successful presentation to the Executives? Let us call it the PEx (Presentation to Executives) quotient - PExQ. Here are some building blocks of the PExQ.

What's in it for the Executive

Time is precious. Executive time is even more precious. You, as a presenter, must consider why an Executive sits through the session. Put the important information first. The first few sentences should cover the gist of your presentation. This will set the context and enable the Executives to decide what's in it for them.

Gauge the Executive-level expectations

You have to figure out what is expected from the presentation. Are you presenting an overview of a new initiative, or a detailed analysis of a past event, or an evaluation of the release quality of a product? The expectations differ for each of these scenarios. For example, during an overview of a new initiative, the Executive may want to know what drives this initiative, why is it needed, what is the investment required, what is the expected return on investment or the break-even point, etc.

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While reviewing a detailed analysis of a past event, the Executive may want to know what were the causes of a certain outcome, what could have been done better, what corrective actions can be taken in future, are the learnings documented so that the same errors do not recur.

While evaluating the release quality of a product, the Executive may want to know about the product quality, scalability, open issues that may impact customers, risks to meeting deadlines or commitments, risk mitigation plans, and so on.

Unless you align your data with the Executive's expectations, even the best of your presentations will fail to create the desired impact.

Provide information that helps make decisions

Executive meetings invariably have a theme or agenda. The theme/agenda should drive the presentation content. Everything that you present to an Executive should enable decision-making. Gather all the relevant data and distil the most important facts to help the executive make a decision.

For a consulting or professional services organization, utilization, productivity and billability will be the top most metric. For every resource, they would look at the utilization versus the fully-burdened cost. For an R&D organization, the same metric may be construed as capacity versus load. It may also be measured as investment per resource versus the business value generated per release. You, as a presenter, should align your data based on your organization's overall goals. Keep your executive's priorities in mind while creating the slides and the talking points.

Sometimes, despite knowing the agenda/theme, you may not know the expectations of the executive audience. In such cases, you can get the context right from the organizers or senior level leaders from the executive's staff.

Present data to create an impact

Some Executives may be data-driven. Some others may prefer live demonstrations. You should identify the preference and tailor your presentation accordingly. Apply the 5/5/5 rule when creating slide decks. No slide should have more than 5 points. No point should have more than 5 words. Finally, no more than 5 text-heavy slides should be shown in a row.

For a data-driven executive, you may show slides with readable graphs. You also need to keep the background numbers and supporting data handy to answer queries, if any. If the executive prefers demonstrations, you may pre-record the workflow and play it during the meeting. At all times, you should ensure that the data of executive interest is covered well.

Articulate well

Many a times, what you want to say is quite different from what you actually say. Executives appreciate clarity of thought and good articulation. Write down your talking points for every slide and get them reviewed. Some important points to consider are:

Is your slide complementing your talking points?

Are there any contradictions or errors?

Can another person understand your presentation in the same way as you intend?

Speak clearly and at a moderate pace

Pace can be a major hindrance in communication especially when the Executive meetings happen over a call or Skype. In a Skype meetings, there may be attendees from multiple locations, cultures and time zones. You have to sustain the attention of your Executive audience using your voice alone. You can make the maximum impact if you understand good voice techniques. Some key techniques are given below:

Speak at a pitch that is slightly lower than your normal one.

Speak slightly slower than usual.

Modulate your voice and pause at the right time.

Rehearse your presentation in front of a mirror. You can also record yourself (audio or video) to evaluate your own performance.

Presentation skills only get better with practice. Lap up every opportunity to present to Executives and see your PExQ grow.

Happy presenting!

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