5 Tips to Prepare a Presentation to the C-Suite

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.

Valuable Tips for High Stakes Presentations

High stakes presentations are a necessary part of a successful business whether you are pitching to a group of investors, selling to the CEO, presenting your company to a large crowd, etc. Failure to remain calm, composed, charismatic, and confident can lead to loss of investment or loss of good business opportunities. The most successful public speakers are able to get their audience aligned with their emotional state. This is why they are successful at what they do. Let’s explore some tips that will help you give a stellar presentation when the stakes are at their highest.

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

Rehearsal is a big factor in success. Practice makes perfect, right? In order to get ready for a high stakes presentation you need to practice your presentation under similar pressures. In order to do this you will need to practice your presentation in front of a group of people who know not only your topic, but your audience and best practices too.

Practicing your presentation has benefits for your brain activity too. By presenting your topic in front of a group of knowledgeable people your brain is transferring the data, your words, and ideas from your pre-frontal cortex to your cerebellum. Your cerebellum is the part of your brain that is responsible for coordinating mental and physical tasks, like giving a presentation or playing the piano.

Have a Game Plan

This is part of the rehearsal process, but you need to know how you are going to open, where you will be in the middle, and how you will end your presentation. Knowing where you are going and where you need to be in your presentation will give you security and confidence. It also works so that if questions pull you off the direction of your topic you can always get back on the points you want to discuss.

Exercise

Getting exercise or physical activity before you give a big presentation can be very useful in helping you relax and focus. Exercise and physical activity release endorphins in your brain that make you feel calm and relaxed. Famously, George Bush Sr. exercised and got a massage before giving what many historians consider to be his best speech ever at the 1988 Republican National Convention.

How to Deal With Nervousness

Being nervous or anxious is natural in high-pressure situations, don’t try to clam yourself down. Instead re-label your nervousness as energy or excitement. When talking about the way you are feeling before a big presentation, say you are energetic or excited instead of nervous. Studies have shown that the more you say things like this out loud the more your mind frames it to be true.

Another great way to deal with the nerves that you might be feeling is to remind yourself that you want to be there. No matter what you’re talking about or who you are talking to it is probably an honor that you were the one chosen to speak.

Own The Space

Moving around the space you have during a presentation as you speak demonstrates ease and confidence, if you move with destination and purpose. One thing you do not want to do is to pace back and forth on stage, or wherever, like a caged animal. To avoid this, move to a certain spot, in the room, on the stage, etc, and stop there. Make a point or two to the people closest to the spot you stopped at and then move to a new spot. In some cases free-range movement may not work or be an option if you are at a podium or in a board room, but you can still command a room from a fixed point at a podium if you remember that the whole space is your stage.