Before the era of PowerPoint, presentations were given with flip charts. A vice president of a prominent fortune 100 company was providing a quarterly sales update presentation to the CEO, the senior executives, and the Board. Unfortunately, this VP was reading the flip charts. After a few moments, the CEO leaned forward and declared, "I can read! When I say 'flip,' flip to the next chart. Ready? Flip [pause] Flip [pause] Flip …."
Notice how some things have stayed the same? Don't be like that vice president. Here are five tips to improve your executive presentations.
- Less is more. Everyone can read. Rather than fill your slides with words, fill them with ideas, charts, and graphs. Your speech will fill in the context. In general, for a 30-60 minute presentation, there shouldn't be more than 8-12 slides. For example, I drafted slides for the school superintendent of a large district to give to the Board and had only ten slides. The speech with a Q&A period lasted 45-60 minutes, and he received compliments on the result.
- Emphasize the importance of your information. Early in the presentation, and after you've explained your primary purpose for the talk, give it context by emphasizing the matter to the organization. For example, provide a summary of data with charts and graphs to show how it connects to organizational strategy and how the goals of any recommendations will be met.
- Be flexible with your presentation flow. If sidebar conversations start, let them go for a reasonable time. Be prepared to take the discussion in a new direction if needed. Also, be sure to watch the room for signs of body language. You may see some indicators that you need to change the path forward. For example, I quickly spotted an executive (the project sponsor) nervously twisting her beads during a presentation. On the fly, I transitioned to another topic to find out later that I was talking about things the rest of the executive team wasn't expecting.
- Have supporting data in your back pocket. Some of the audience may ask for more detail. While my executive presentations summarize high-level data, I have detailed slides hidden at the end of the deck, exposing all the relevant data. You may also anticipate some questions and include answers to them there.
- Be flexible with your presentation time. It's always possible you will have less time than expected. Know your presentation sufficiently so that you can home in quickly on the primary goals and the bottom line. You can always ask for another opportunity to present at another meeting.
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