You’ve been giving presentations for a long time, but knowing how to step up your game when it comes to a high stakes presentation, like to your company’s C-suite, is key. While you might go into most meetings with only a vague idea of what you’re going to say and how long it’s going to take to say it, that type of prep work isn’t going to fly with a high stakes presentation. You will need to take time out of your week to prepare for the big day. This means writing down what you’re going to say and timing it to see how long it takes.
Here are some other key things to know about presenting in front of the C-suite:
1. They probably don’t want to hear you talk the whole time. You might have been given a time frame of 30 minutes for your presentation, but your executives probably don’t actually want to (or expect to) sit and listen to you for that length of time. They’ll want to have time to ask questions and challenge what you’ve said. To that end, plan on speaking for only a few minutes (like 5-10 minutes) and leaving the rest open for discussion. Make sure to state this at the beginning of your presentation, so your audience knows that you expect them to have questions and that there will be plenty of time for a Q&A.
2. Get questions from your practice audience. Have someone listen to you, and then let them ask questions about things that were unclear. Better yet, ask them to interrupt you the first time something isn’t clear. This will give you a great indication of just how well you’re saying what you want to say. Getting interrupted and thrown off is also a good thing to practice. You’ll probably be thrown off and flustered the first few times, but by the third or fourth time you’ll know what to do to get back on track.
If you can’t say more than a few sentences without your audience interrupting you to clarify an idea, you need to go back to your notes and rethink what you’re saying. If the problem is that you’re hard for them to understand, you can spend some time working on your performance.
3. Keep the most important information up front. Executives are very busy, and they often go into a presentation with an agenda in their mind of what, exactly, they want to hear you say. This means you likely won’t get through your entire presentation, which means you need to keep the most important information at the very beginning of your presentation. Open up with your main argument or point. This will make sure the thing you want to discuss or present the most is out there, instead of at the end of your presentation, which you might not even get to.
4. Come up with an action plan if your presentation gets cut short. Say you have a half hour to present on a particular topic, with another half hour for discussion afterward. Come up with a presentation that fits within that time frame, and go through the first three steps here. Then, pretend that your presentation suddenly got cut to 5 minutes (which is something that can feasibly happen at the very beginning of your presentation). Start the process over, keeping only a few main points, so that you can succinctly make your argument or tell your story without leaving out any essential details. Then go through the first 3 steps again, to make sure your shortened version is clear and articulate.
5. Summarize succinctly on a separate slide. A concluding slide that summarizes your main points is a great way to end your presentation and lead into a discussion. This will keep your main points in front of everyone and can lead to thoughtful and meaningful discussions, making sure nothing gets left out. (Make sure to share your slide deck with your audience after you are done presenting so they can have it for reference.)
Presenting for an executive audience can be nerve-wracking, so take the time to thoughtfully plan it out and prepare for the worst case scenario. These steps can help you take the stress out of your presentation so you can focus on delivering the information your executive team needs.