Presenting to executive audiences
With so much at stake, delivering an executive presentation can be both terrifying and exciting in equal measure. The best way to confidence and success is to be prepared.
In a survey of senior executive buyers, Forrester Research asked if sales people are frequently prepared for their meetings.
What do you think the answer was?
If you said “NO” then you were right.
In fact between 70 to 80 percent feel vendors are not prepared for their meetings with senior level executives.
Imagine you're at the front of a boardroom about to make a presentation. All eyes are on you - including your boss and a handful of your client's senior executives.
Every last one of them looking at you and daring you to waste their time.
How do you feel? Confident or terrified?
90% of how well the talk will go is determined before the speaker steps on the platform.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression
The goal of any executive level presentation is to make sure everyone immediately feels this will be time well spent.
Let me tell you a quick story.
Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX CEO, sent a memo to all his employees encouraging them to walk out of meetings if they're not valuable! He says it's ruder to waste people's time than to walk out.
No pressure, but it's something I always have in the back of my mind when I present to senior executives.
However, there's nothing to worry about.
The good news is senior executives want to meet with you. You're the expert and you know better than they do how to get the most from your solution.
All you have to do is show them how to get results in a way that matters to them and you'll have them eating out of the palm of your hand.
And to do that, you need to prepare.
Let's discover how.
If you don’t know what you want to achieve in your presentation your audience never will.
Why are you presenting?
Ask yourself, "Why am I here?"
Be crystal clear on the purpose of your presentation, why you want to get in front of the senior level executive and above all, why should they care?
Not every presentation is to sell something. There's lots of reasons why some face-time at a senior level is helpful:
- relationship building;
- confirmation of strategy or tactics;
- seeking clarity to help deal with uncertainty;
- advice on decisions;
- get a decision changed;
- get action.
What's your why?
It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.
Start at the very beginning
Research is the foundation of any executive presentation. Get that right, and the rest will fall into place.
At a minimum, this is what you need to know by the time you get in front of any senior exec.
- Your company and your products.
- Their industry and yours.
- Your client's specific business.
- The executives' roles and responsibilities in their organisation.
- Your client's problems and some ideas on how to solve them.
- Your client's successes and how you can improve them.
- Examples that reassure them you can deliver on what you say you can do.
There's no short cuts here, however it won't take too long. Those few hours you invest in research now, will pay dividends later when you deliver your actual presentation.
You're about to learn exactly what to look for.
Executive presentation preparation process
There are five steps when preparing an executive presentation:
- The KPI. Research the metrics that matter to the executive and pick a relevant KPI to build your presentation around.
- The Challenge. Why aren't they achieving their KPIs or what's in their way of getting even better results?
- The Solution. How can you help them solve their problems or exploit opportunities?
- The Measurement. Quantify where they are today, where can get them and how you'll measure progress.
- The Value Proposition. Bundle the previous steps into a short pitch and call to action.
1. Choose a KPI
Here's my secret to crushing an executive presentation. It hasn't failed me yet.
Speak your clients' language.
Measure and communicate value in a way that means something to them.
Show what you will help them achieve ... based on how the executive is measured. In other words, what are the key performance indicators (KPIs) that get them excited?
It'll vary by function. For instance, compare marketing to human resources.
- Marketing KPIs
- Brand awareness.
- Lifetime value of customer.
- Customer acquisition cost.
- Customer retention.
- Human Resources KPIs
- Open job requisitions.
- Cost per hire.
- Time to hire.
Everyone wants to save money or be efficient, however they'll want to do it (and measure it) in different ways.
In addition, check out these resources to learn more about key performance indicators and to find the ones that are just right for your executive presentation.
- KPI Library. Crowdsourced library of 6,500+ KPIs searchable by industry or work related process.
- Klipfolio. KPIs by business function with calculations, chart ideas and templates. Sign up for a free 5 day KPI lesson email.
- Bernard Marr. KPIs curated and organised by function. In addition, they're cross referenced with related KPIs which is useful when looking to appeal to multiple stakeholders.
B2B elements of value
Now I know KPIs aren't for everyone. For an alternative approach, check out the B2B Elements of Value Pyramid.
Bain has organised 40 distinct kinds of value that B2B solutions provide customers into a pyramid with five levels.
The most objective kinds of value are found at the base, and the higher a level is, the more subjective and personal the types of value it contains.
- Table stakes (the basics).
- Functional value.
- Ease of doing business value.
- Individual value.
- Inspirational value.
I like it because it recognises the personal motivations in decision making. That's why even in the face of insurmountable evidence that tells us what we should do, we still choose to do the exact opposite.
So think about whether your presentation could appeal to the senior executives individual value. For instance, could it help advance their career, improve professional development or boost industry visibility?
Which B2B elements of value do you think your audience cares about and where your solution is the perfect fit?
See if you can find at least five elements that matter to your client.
Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.
2. Understand the challenge
Marketers have known for a long time to sell the cure, not the prevention. People lack attention and motivation when there's no pain.
Therefore, the best advice is to build your presentation around an existing problem instead of a future one.
Here's some common pain points:
- Productivity. What's prohibiting them from being more efficient and effective?
- Finance. Do they need to reduce spending? Are there products and services they no longer need or can be found more cheaply?
- Process. Are there issues with their internal systems and processes?
Describe the senior executive’s challenge around your chosen KPIs or elements of value.
- Who has the problems?
- What are the reasons for them?
- How does this impact them?
- How have they dealt with this problem until now?
What if there are no challenges?
Then look at what they're doing well and ask how you could help them do it better.
- Why are they doing well?
- Could they do better with your help?
- Are there opportunities they've overlooked?
- How can you help your client help their customers?
Always position your presentation around opportunities.
Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.
3. Find a solution
To find the right answers you need to ask the right questions.
Lots of them.
Here's some to ask yourself as you prepare your presentation. They should get your creative juices - and the ideas - flowing.
- Questions to consider when preparing your presentation
- What does your audience already know?
- Is there anything they don't need to know?
- What do they need to know?
- How can we help them get there faster?
- How can you make them more efficient?
- Are people using workarounds?
- How is your solution better than what they do today?
- What happens if they do nothing?
- Are there any deadlines?
- What are their competitors doing?
- What problems or issues do you help them solve or avoid?
- Is anyone in their organisation trying to fix this as we speak?
- Will it take too long?
- Will it cost too much?
- What do you need from them?
- Is it disruptive?
- Does it require too much effort?
- Why should your client trust you?
- What makes you the expert in this situation?
- Why do you charge more than the competition?
- Why shouldn't they choose the competition instead?
- Do you have the right contacts and influence to make your ideas work?
- What alternatives are there?
- How will you decide which is the best one?
- What's in it for you? What rewards or value will you gain?
- Whose support do you need?
- Why haven't they done this before?
Write down your answers so you don't forget any of the good stuff you come up with.
These questions are to help you prepare, not to ask during your presentation. By then the senior executives will expect you to already know the answers.
What's the big idea?
After that, you want to decide which of the ideas you came up with are best on which to base your presentation.
Here's what Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO & Founder looks for in ideas:
- Is it original? "We have to have a differentiated idea. It can't be a 'me too' offering."
- Will it scale? "We can't afford to put our energies into something that if it works, it's still going to be small."
- Is there ROI? "It has to have good returns on capital."
Innovation can't happen without experimentation... and failure. So, Bezos also encourages ideas based on "incremental improvements that can be reversed if they prove unwise."
If there's nothing to lose and everything to gain, why not go for it?
Follow Amazon's lead as you decide which ideas you'll keep and which you'll throw away.
Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors — and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation . . . But most decisions aren’t like that — they are changeable, reversible — they’re two-way doors.
4. Choose a measurement
In God we trust, all others bring data.
Executives love data. That's how they make decisions. When you're presenting at an executive level - all your assumptions must be backed by numbers.
Use metrics that matter to them, not you - that's why we focused on the KPIs right at the beginning - so you know which numbers to crunch.
Know the source of your data, the return on return on investment and how you've calculated your targets. They're going to ask you for sure.
The point of all this is to make your audience completely trust your analysis so they listen to your recommendations.
However, just in case they don't, have some supporting data ready so you can say "I told you so".
5. Reveal the value proposition
In other words – the hook.
How will you get those jaded senior executives - who've seen it all and done it all - excited about your presentation?
Share your vision for the future and package up everything you've learned into a few sentences that defines your irresistible value. You want to convince your audience that life will be so much better than before if they’ll only act on your advice.
Here's how you do it.
Brant Cooper, Patrick Vlaskovits, authors of The Entrepreneur's Guide to Customer Development created the C-P-S hypotheses. It's a simple framework to help create your value proposition.
- Customer. What's the current situation your client is in? Include some intrigue that hints at the enormity of the problem.
- Problem. Why is this challenge happening and why should it matter to them? For instance: time, money, market share, risk, customer satisfaction?
- Solution. What specific benefits can your client expect from your solution?
Based on what you've prepared, write your own value proposition that follows the same structure. You'll refine this in the lead up to the presentation and it'll become your closing pitch.
Value proposition example
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Presenting to senior executives is exciting.
You're in front of the people who make the decisions and can fast-track any of the opportunities you're passionate about.
Follow these steps, invest the time in preparation and you will knock your presentation out of the park, I promise you.