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Nothing frays nerves like an executive presentation. It's a combination of performance and job-related anxiety that can be paralyzing. Do it right and your star rises within the company. Blow it and it might be time to update your LinkedIn profile.
C-level executives are a tough audience. Their day is often planned from start to finish with no room for error -- or lateness -- and, certainly, no time for what they consider a waste of time. You need to give executives a reason to stay and pay attention.
So, there's the first rule: Make your time worth their time. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
What is an executive presentation?
An executive presentation is a brief proposal or update that someone -- an employee or consultant -- delivers to a group of executives in an organization. It's usually a proposal for some new initiative or an update to something in the works.
Executive presentations are sometimes called executive briefs, because they are meant to be short and to the point. If they aren't, the executives will make it so. The goal of a general executive briefing is to provide a compelling update to help execs form business conclusions.
Executive presentations are most often presented in the form of a slideshow -- often, using Microsoft PowerPoint -- but video and audio updates are also possible.
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What are the types of executive presentations?
Because the purpose of an executive summary is to pique curiosity, the style of presentation will vary based on the objectives. Therefore, there are multiple types of presentations.
1. Visual presentation style
The visual style is one of the most popular -- both in PowerPoint and other styles of presentation. They tend to be very dependent on images and video, often, with complementary audio. The tech industry does this all the time, with Apple among the most notable users of the style.
2. Coach presentation style
The coach presentation style is more suited to charismatic and energetic speakers who can effectively tell a story. Presenters will sell the story better than any slideshow through sheer force of will.
3. Instructor presentation style
This method is ideal for complex subject matters that need a lot of visuals to help get the point across to the audience. These are often used at trade shows during instructional seminars for developer or engineering types.
4. Freeform presentation style
By default, presentations are very structured, detailed, planned and rehearsed. But the freeform presentation method is the opposite of that. It doesn't use slides and the speaker wings it. This is ideal for someone who knows the subject well, has a short presentation and may not have had sufficient time to prepare.
5. Connector presentation style
For most presentations, the presenter does most of the talking with occasional comment from the audience. But in a connector style, audience interaction is encouraged. It could be to flesh out ideas or simply go in depth, but the speaker and audience interact a lot more than is typical.
6. Persuasive presentation style
The persuasive presentation happens when the presenter tries to convince the audience of their conclusions, ideas or points of view. In a persuasive speech, the speaker makes an extra effort to connect with the audience.
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What questions should an executive presentation answer?
As said earlier, C-levels are very busy and have no time to waste, so give them a good reason to be there. Here are several.
Why are you there?
You have demanded the time of a CEO, CFO, CMO, etc., so there better be a good reason for it. Be upfront, direct and to the point about your purpose. This is no time to be wishy-washy.
Example: I am here today to give you an update on the X project, which is in danger of going off the rails.
What is the significance of what you're saying?
Executives want to make a decision based on information and data. Give it to them with authority. Who are you to present this information to them? Let them know.
Example: I've seen about two dozen projects like this go down in flames because of X, Y and Z.
What is the update or what is the proposal?
This is where you get to the meat of the topic. Up to now, you provided context -- the why of the issue. Now, it's time to provide the what. Here is the news, now what do we do about it?
Example: The X project is hemorrhaging money. If we don't act now, this project will cost us Y amount of dollars by the end of the year.
How to go forward
This is where you tell the executives the next steps to take, within reason. They must make a decision and may have a different perspective and priorities than you. What you might consider urgent they may find immaterial.
Example: Here are some options we have to get this project back on track.
What information should be included in an executive presentation?
Time is short in a presentation, and there is no room for idle chatter. Here is what must be done from the start of the presentation:
- Set expectations. Let the audience know what the plan is, such as five minutes dedicated to the presentation and the next 25 to questions.
- Summarize upfront. Use the inverted pyramid method and lead with all the information the audience cares about from the start. Then move onto the supporting details and background information.
- Provide background. C-level executives absorb incredible amounts of data per day. If the presentation is about a project update they were last briefed on a month ago, don't expect them to remember. Give them a good, succinct reminder.
- Give answers. Executives want actionable information -- never forget that. Don't just outline a problem; instead, present solutions and answers.
- Have a hook. After reminding the executives of what the presentation is about, introduce the proposition and lead with the conclusion. Tell them they will see massive return on investment (ROI) or double the size of the business if they do X, and tell them why.
How to design a PowerPoint for an executive presentation
The primary mission is to keep a presentation short and to the point. That doesn't mean dumbing it down and using simplistic English, but, rather, using fewer words so it is quick and easy to read.
If you think your presentation might be too wordy, click here for help to make it easier to understand.
As stated earlier, introduce your proposition and lead with your conclusion from slide two, if you can. Let executives know the ROI right away.
Never put information on a slide that requires a reference to a later slide. If you are going to reference anything, make sure it has already been shown.
Be prepared for questions on these slides. Have the answer to every statement or data point in your head, at least, as you write them.
Executives love data, but don't overwhelm them. Your goal is to highlight the most important numbers and provide recommendations with sound analysis.