How many times have you been in a presentation and drifted into a daydream? Thinking about what you'll do when you get back to your desk or what you'll have for lunch?
We've all been there.
Because we got bored listening to someone drone on about a topic we already know (or didn't care) about.
Don't let that happen to your presentations. Especially when your audience is a room full of executives
Executive level presentation framework in 22 minutes
- Introduction (2 minutes). Keep it simple - who you are and why you're there.
- The hook (2 minutes). Introduce your value proposition and start with your conclusion. In other words, put the last slide first.
- Current situation (3 minutes). Explain where your client is today.
- New opportunity (3 minutes). Explain your vision.
- Evidence (2 minutes). Be selective and choose one data set that gets their attention and they will remember.
- More evidence (2 minutes). Again choose a single data set that reflects the objectives of your presentation.
- Alternatives (2 minutes). Discuss alternative solutions.
- Recommendations (2 minutes). Which option is the best course of action and why?
- Next steps (2 minutes). Describe when and how you'll make your recommendation happen and immediate next steps.
- The grand finale (2 minutes). Revisit the hook from your introduction to close the story and leave them inspired and compelled to act.
Transformation not information
FACT: At some point in your career, you'll need to present to senior executives.
Either to someone inside or outside your organisation. The reasons are many:
- relationship building;
- confirmation of strategy or tactics;
- seeking clarity to help deal with uncertainty;
- advice on decisions;
- get a decision changed;
- get action.
A compelling presentation needs to answer the question, "so what?"
Transformation, not information.
Dan Roam, in his outstanding book Show and Tell, describes the story lines of three different presentations – each delivers some sort of transformation.
- The report. Changes the audiences information and brings data to life by making the facts insightful and memorable.
- The explanation. Shows the audience how and changes their knowledge and ability effortlessly.
- The pitch. Changes the audiences actions. It provides not only a solution to a problem, but makes that solution undeniable.
How can your presentation inspire some sort of transformation? In one or two sentences describe the change your presentation will bring to the audience. It will help you stay focused on what's important as you write it.
I am presenting to my audience because ____________________ so that by the end they will ___________________.
When you're clear on the "why" and the "so what" you're ready to create your executive level presentation.
Executive level presentation framework
This 10 step framework is designed to help you present anything and based on what executives want to know in the shortest amount of time.
Each step introduces a new element of your story to maintain interest and intrigue right up until the end.
It only runs 22 minutes. Which means for a 30 minute meeting you have plenty of time to answer questions, or get things back on track if you run overtime on a slide or end up in a detour.
It's also format neutral. You don't need to use slides. In fact I encourage you not to. But I've created this executive level presentation PowerPoint template you can download.
- 2 minutes. Keep it simple - who you are and why you're there. Spend the briefest amount of time possible on introducing yourself, your organisation, the topic you're there to discuss and any other relevant background information that adds some context.
2. The hook
- 2 minutes. Introduce your value proposition and start with your conclusion. In other words, put the last slide first. Let them know the return on investment (ROI) and the impact to the bottom line right up front, so they sit up and take notice.
- Brain research shows we don't pay attention to boring things and you've only got 30 seconds to grab their attention. So make the opening memorable:
- Surprise them with interesting statistics.
- Use humour. It lightens the mood and make your audience (and you) more comfortable.
- Ask rhetorical questions. It gets the audience thinking without actually needing to answer.
- Use an inspiring quote.
3. Current situation
- 3 minutes. Explain where your client is today. Introduce the challenge they're facing, why it occurs and the impact it has. Talk their language and frame this around metrics and key performance indicators that matter to your audience.
4. New opportunity
- 3 minutes. Share your vision. How can you solve the problem or help them do even better? Discuss the opportunities you've identified, including potential upside.
- Consider potential risk and any strategies you have to mitigate them.
- 2 minutes. Be selective and choose one data set that gets their attention and they will remember. What have you discovered they need to know? It's not enough to share information. Share insights, in other words, what does the data mean?
- The more specific, the easier your insights can be acted on. Look for something new or unusual that sparks curiosity and be clear on why it's important to your audience.
- Be prepared for questions on these slides. What data did you use? How did you calculate it? How will you measure it? Have you got any case studies or testimonials to demonstrate previous success?
6. More evidence
- 2 minutes. Focus on what you believe things could look like in the future. Again choose a single data set that reflects the objectives of your presentation. For this slide think about how you can promote the good news like cost avoidance, cost reduction, efficiency, quality or satisfaction.
- Executives love data but bombarding them will overwhelm them. Your goal is to highlight the most important numbers and to reassure them whatever your recommending has sound analysis behind it.
- 2 minutes. Let them know you've considered other options, what they were and why they aren't the right choice. Try to keep it to two - one you considered and one you chose (which you will reveal in the next slide)
- Or this could be a good place to talk about what happens if they do nothing?
- 2 minutes. Which of your options do you suggest is the best course of action and why. Be definitive and have a point of view. This is not the time to sit on the fence.
- Bring them back to the ROI you shared at the beginning of the presentation. Be clear on time frames for which they will see a return.
9. Next steps
- 2 minutes. Give a high level explanation of the when and how you will make this happen and the next steps, including anything you need from your audience. Save the details for the project plan.
10. The grand finale
- 2 minutes. Finish big. Revisit the hook from your introduction to close the story and leave them inspired and compelled to act.
- Have a very clear ask that makes it easy for them to say yes. Ideally it's a simple one they can make on the spot rather than one they have to go away and think about.
The best way to conquer stage fright is to know what you're talking about—Michael H. Mescon
How to avoid death by PowerPoint
Use PowerPoint sparingly for your presentation. Senior executives want a discussion not a lecture.
In fact, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has gone so far as to ban PowerPoint presentations at Amazon HQ and replaced them with six-page structured memos.
However if the subject matter demands it, or you feel you'll be more effective with slides, here's some great advice to avoid "death by PowerPoint."
David Phillips is a leading authority on the art of making presentations and author of the book How to Avoid Death by PowerPoint. In his entertaining and informative TED Talk, he shares his five presentation design principles:
- One message per slide.
- Use an image and short phrases. Avoid sentences and you shouldn't read the slide out loud.
- The most important parts of your slide should be the biggest. Try making the headline smaller so it isn't distracting.
- Use contrast to make your point stand out. Use a dark background instead of white and highlight the text related to your current topic so that it stands out from other text on the screen.
- No more than 6 objects per slide (for instance, one image and 5 bullet points). Your brain has to use 500% more energy and cognitive resources to understand what's in your PowerPoint.
The glance test
It should be skimmable and still have your message come through loud and clear. Presentation guru, Nancy Duarte calls this the "Glance Test".
Duarte says to focus on your high level findings, conclusions, recommendations and next steps. Keep supporting data and other materials in the appendix so you can quickly pull up the slides and go deeper if you need to.
- Can you audience understand the meaning of your slides in 3 seconds or less?
- Do you have a single, clear message for each slide?
- Are you using contrast and white space effectively to emphasis important information
- Is there a logical structure and flow to your presentation?
- Do diagrams, images and other visuals add clarity and highlight your main point?
Powerful executive level presentations begin with a good headline. Try writing slide titles like a newspaper and tell a story that conveys exactly what it's about.
For example instead of a boring title like "Q1 2023 Results", write a title that says "Record Growth" - can you see the difference it makes?
- 5 to 10 words
- Accurate and specific
- Don't use articles like a, an, the
- Don't use conjunctions, like and use a comma instead.
- Don't repeat what's on the slide. Titles summarise. For example say Record Growth, not Record Growth of 30% Year on Year
Don't load up your slides with too much detail. Structure your presentation around high level concepts but be ready with the facts. Keep copies of the data and reports nearby just in case.
Tell your data story with charts and infographics instead of reports. Only include the best most compelling data that directly supports your conclusions and keep it simple.
According to one CEO, "Eighty percent of your success at the top is your facilitation skills. Only 20 percent is your content."
Things may not go according to plan. Anticipate some of the more common challenges you may face and decide how you'll respond to them.
Rick Gilbert, founder and chairman of PowerSpeaking says to expect these challenges when presenting to an executive audience and and how to solve them.
- Time cut. Be prepared with a shorter, five-minute version of your presentation. Use slides 2, 4, 5 & 10.
- Disengaged executives. When people start checking their email, reconfirm that the topic is still important.
- Decision maker leaves. Before this person gets out the door, ask her what to do next, such as wait until she returns or move forward with the decision.
- Topic change. Be prepared to improvise the agenda and change directions.
- Side talk. Refocus the audience on the agenda. Request help from your sponsor or the most senior person.
- Energetic discussion. When executives are fully engaged and throwing out new ideas, capture what is said and then reconfirm after the meeting.
If companies would have as little respect for business as they have for presentations, the majority would go bankrupt—Dr. John Medina
Bring your executive presentation to life with facts, figures and imagery that adds credibility to your recommendations. Here are a few of my favourite resources.
Presentation and diagram templates
Slide libraries with some exciting done-for-you presentations and a very executive, data-centric focus. They also have lots of diagram slides to help you visually explain your ideas.
There are many places to get statistics from: Government agencies, trade organisations, Chambers of Commerce and all the big consulting firms like PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and so many others. Or try these. Just make sure you quote your sources on your slides.
- Google public data. Great place to find hot topics and trending data and also links up with Google Dataset Search.
- Knoema. The world's largest integrated global data base with 2.8b time series from thousands of sources and topics.
- Gallup. They practically invented the poll and have a vast number of research reports on business, politics, world, education, social and economics.
- Statista. Online access to over 1 million statistics and facts within 600 industries and 50+ countries.
Free stock photos
Images can make or break your executive level presentation. Add a few relevant photos that represent the message of each slide.
Don’t be too literal. If your presentation is about saving money, don’t use a picture of piles of cash. Think about what saving money means to your client and choose that picture instead. Something that triggers an emotional reaction.
For example, if it means happy shareholders, you could use a picture of people applauding at an annual general meeting. If it means they’ll be in a better position to invest in new technology next year, use a picture of a sprinter at the starting blocks.
Go to these resources for stunning, royalty free, high quality stock photos:
Ditch the bullet points and use icons to illustrate your message. They're very effective and creative. Here are the libraries I use.
- Flaticon. Check out their free set of 380 essential icons.
- The Noun Project. 2m+ diverse icons and they even have a plugin for PowerPoint.
Sometimes a stock photo just doesn't convey the message you want to share. A useful alternative is illustration. They add a modern twist to your presentations. Try these:
- unDraw. Completely free. Browse to find the images that fit your needs and click to download. Use the on-the-fly color image generation to match your brand identity.
- Freepik. I use Freepik every day. They have hundreds of thousands of vectors available for free. You just need to provide attribution in your slides to the artist. The choice can be overwhelming so be sure to use the search features and filters. Power tip is to follow any artists you like and then you can search within their portfolio for illustrations.
Executive level audiences are no different to you and me. They want to be engaged and interested and learn something new. If you keep that front of mind, your next executive level presentation will be something special.