Recently, a senior executive for an industry-leading organization lamented that she and her peers frequently found that first-level and mid-level leaders who came to present to the executive team had more credibility when they walked in the door than when they walked out. She went on to share that many speakers did not understand the needs of the executive audience; they were not prepared for probing questions; and they were often not even clear on what it was they wanted the executives to believe, say or do as a result of the presentation.
Based on conversations with other executives from a number of organizations varying in size, geography, industry and sector, it’s clear that she is not alone. All too often, leaders seeking to influence senior executives focus on what they want from those executives without thinking about what the executives need from them. They use their time trying to impress the executives with their expertise and should, instead, demonstrate how the information they’re sharing, the request they’re making or the recommendation they’re offering can make a difference for the organization.
If we want to gain and retain the attention of an audience; if we want them to consider what we have to share; if we want them to think, decide or act upon our recommendations, we need to think about our presentations from their point of view — especially with executive audiences.
Below are 10 requests executives consistently share when it comes to the leaders that present to them. Leaders at all levels who honor these requests are positioned to establish or validate their credibility and the credibility of their information. They are more likely to influence an executive audience.
1. Start with the bottom line. We don’t want to search for your ask, call to action, solution or recommendation.
2. Respect our time. Get to the point quickly. Don’t assume that our invitation to present and our willingness to listen includes an invitation to talk about other topics of importance to you.
3. Be prepared to be interrupted. We will have questions, we will ask them, and we likely won’t wait until you announce that it is time for Q&A. We will want to explore the current and future context, your understanding, and the consequences of your recommendations.
4. Be flexible. We may want to focus more on one point over another. We may need to cut your presentation time, but we still need to understand your message and call to action.
5. Be candid. To make good decisions, we need all the facts. If you know something we don’t, share it — including the realities of our current circumstances, the risk of maintaining the status quo, and the risks associated with your ideas or solutions.
6. Do your homework. Know what we already know. Before you present, understand what we know and believe about the issue, what we value, the criteria we use in making decisions, the pain points we are trying to alleviate, and the strategies we are seeking to advance.
7. Make the connection. Show us clearly and concisely how your ask, call to action, solution or recommendations will support what we value, align with our decision-making criteria, alleviate our pain or advance our strategy.
8. Manage other stakeholders in advance. If you, or we, will need the support or effort of others to execute any decision you are asking us to make, seek commitments for that support or effort before you ask us. Don’t expect us to do your work.
9. Choose meaning over details. Tell us what your numbers mean; don’t leave the interpretation up to us. During your presentation, we will be looking for the big picture and bottom line. Crunch your numbers. Understand your statistics. Some of us may want to look at your full analysis, but some of us will not. We certainly don’t want to look at it or doing math during your presentation.
10. Focus on results, not activity. Tell us what has been, or will be, achieved. We may applaud effort (activity), but we act on results.