8 Ways to Own Your Senior Leadership Presentation

If you are going to present to senior leaders, you need to understand that it is different from doing a presentation to your team or to peers. Senior leaders are focused on high-level decision making.  Consequently, your presentation needs to support them as they make these decisions.

Below are some tips that can be useful when presenting to senior leadership:

1. Over-Prepare.

When presenting to senior leaders, it is really important that you over-prepare.  Make sure you know not only the materials pertaining to the stated topic, but be prepared with any insights you have gained from looking at all the materials.

Make sure you anticipate their questions.  Think in terms of how the material they are presenting will help them make good high-level decisions.

Develop some thought leadership on the topic.  This can come in the form of insights that may not show up in the data you are presenting (personal insights you have gained from being closer to the front lines).   These are insights that they would not otherwise be exposed to.  A key insight would be what you foresee may be coming, based on the data and your connection to those closest to the front line.

2. Have one key message that you want to make sure they walk away with, and start with that message.

This can be the thought leadership point that we discussed above, especially if it answers the central question that senior leaders are asking.

If your presentation is based more on something you want from them, then the key message could be your request, tailored to what they value, so they can see the benefit of saying yes to your request.

Be sure to repeat this key message directly, or in a paraphrased version, during the presentation, and end with it.

3. Assume you have only half the time you were allotted. Oftentimes, presentations run long.  If you can do your presentation in half the time and still leave a lot of room for engagement, you will be seen as a winner.  You will notice senior leaders breathe a sigh of relief as you helped them get back on track.

Higher ups will look forward to your future presentations because they know you will be efficient with your words, and be able to convey a message in a fraction of the time.  This is a skill to be practiced and developed.

Be sure to have supplemental slides that you can access quickly in case they want more details from your shortened presentation.

4. Own the process.

How do the content, engagement format, and your co-presenters help move the discussion to simple, practical actions that won’t add to senior leaders’ workload?

You are responsible for all parts of your presentation.  You are responsible to move engagement towards action.  Just be certain the actions you want are simple and practical.  Senior leaders are highly busy.

You will need to be prepared for senior leaders to interrupt you and ask questions.  At other times, they will patiently hear all the details, and even ask for more.  You may not know ahead of time which way they will lean, so be prepared for either.

5. Start with a summary of the key points you have developed to meet their particular request for help.

This first slide could contain the key message you want them to walk away with, then short phrases to capture the bullet points.

Since I cannot share data about a specific company, I will give you the summary slide that I use when I do a workshop on Greg McKeown’s Essentialism.  You can adjust it for your presentations.

Some senior leaders like pithy or catchy quotes like the above; others will not.  It is really important that you tailor your deck to your audience.

Let the rest of the PowerPoint slides support this first key slide.  If your first slide is good, you may find that most of the time will be spent discussing the key points of this slide.  Take that as a positive sign.

Make sure that you lead with what is most important to senior leaders.  Since many of them will be Sensors on the MBTI, they typically will get heavily into the details of the first item and thus spend a considerably less time with the rest.  (So in the example slide above, senior leaders typically spend 40% of the time on the first quote.)

6. Focus on simple practical actions that don’t add to their already-heavy workload.

If the primary purpose of your presentation is to encourage senior leaders to take the specific actions you want them to take, then please lead with those simple action items. You can then build the rest of the presentation around those actions.

If your presentation is about relaying data and providing thought leadership from your perspective, then facilitate discussion around the simple action items they need to take to achieve the best results.  If you think about how much money is spent in everyone’s compensation package per presentation, the amount is staggering.  Senior leaders are often very busy, so it is hard to have them all in the room at one time. Your presentation time will be their time to brainstorm and make decisions.

7. Include a buffer of time for the unexpected 10%-25%, depending on your history for going over with that audience.  If it is a new audience, then focus on the overall time.

8. Once you complete the PowerPoint deck, prepare for the presentation by going through the slides with objective outsiders, not just with your co-presenters.

Have them not only give you feedback, but also ask you the toughest questions they can think of to help you prepare.

Presenting to senior leaders is different from presenting to peers and your team.  The focus for senior leaders is on high-level decision making.  The key is to orient the presentation so that it is efficient and facilitates brainstorming which will lead to simple action items.

Chew On This:

  • What is the main message you want senior leaders to walk away with from your next presentation to them?

Ryan C. Bailey is an Executive Coach who helps business leaders develop in-demand high performing teams.


*This blog is an amalgamation of a few different clients.  No one single client is being singled out.