Presenting effectively to senior level audiences

Dear Joan:
I have recently been promoted to a general manager position in a financial firm. I am leading a regional office and, as a part of my job, I will be expected to make regular presentations to senior management. Do you have any tips for making presentations that are designed to update the audience on results? I heard that the group wants quick and efficient presentations. They can be judgmental about your credibility and abilities, so I want to make a good impression, since I will not be interacting with them often. Also, any tips on handling tough questions would be helpful.
Here are some tips that will help you look like a speaking pro:
  • Start with an "elevator speech" outline
  • What you're going to present
  • Why it's important
  • What you want from the audience
Think of your opening as a road map that tells them where you are going.
Most presentations start with, “I want to talk to you today about our quarterly results. As you can see from chart A…” (Yawn!) They will be grateful if you start with the end and work backwards. If you tell them what you want from them first, or at least give them the heads up on what is most important, you will stand out as a skilled presenter.
Ask yourself, “What are the two or three key points I want to get across?”
Build your presentation around only those few things. Throw out all extraneous material, or have it in a handout you can give them at the end. Know your details but don’t force them to walk through your process or your logic (unless it is essential to understanding the point you want to make  Plodding chronologically through background material that isn’t essential will cause them to become impatient and interrupt you. It will also take too much time.
Keep it short (have a fallback strategy if your time is cut even shorter).
For example, if you have 30 minutes and three key points, prepare your presentation in three, five-minute “chunks,” for a total of 15 to 20 minutes. ). Get reaction and dialogue as you go, so you can monitor reactions. If time is suddenly cut to 15 minutes, you may want to cut out a few examples, or a whole chunk . Do not talk faster to get it all in.
Use simple slides/graphs without clutter and excessive detail.
When I coach executives on presentation skills, they invariably have too many slides. If there are any questions from the audience, they don’t have enough time to finish their presentation. Senior managers want to discuss results—not just see a boiler-plate presentation. Cut your slides in half and encourage dialogue.
Describe what each technical chart is before diving into a number.
I call it the “3 S’s”: Set up, Story, So What. In other words, tell them what they are looking at. Then tell them the key story, example, or point. Then wrap up with why it’s important. Then use a transition comment to the next slide. Use graphics, pictures, examples, stories to bring your point home, especially if the executives are removed from the day-to-day issues
Speak to key audience members before the meeting to get understanding and buy-in on key decisions, or controversial issues.
Give credit to others, take responsibility for problems and point no fingers.
Be prepared (and practice) answering potentially tough, challenging questions. If you don’t have an answer say, “I don’t have that answer but I'll get it for you.“
Be specific about what you want. Articulate the risks, anticipated problems, what's been done so far and especially the "whys."

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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