Executives Expect These Three Things when You Present

Executives must master their time and capacity to achieve top levels of performance. Rambling presentations, unclear messages, and indirect answers cost time with little to no return on that investment. By valuing time as a precious commodity and preparing appropriately, you will not only create an effective message, you will set the example. Keep these three things in mind when you prepare and present your pitch.

Respect a tight time frame to get your main point across.

Have you ever gotten to the end of a meeting, not achieved its goal, and wished to yourself, “I wish this was longer”?

Think of your main message. If you had to get it across in 30 seconds, what would that sentence look like? Having a clear and easy to remember message will carry your idea further.

Think of your main point as a direct sentence of what you wish to accomplish.

Examples include:

“We should commit $5m of R&D resources to product A even if it cannibalizes 10% of our existing main product’s sales for next year.”

“Launching a $30m share buyback program will increase shareholder value by 2% more over increasing our dividend by the same amount.”

“Hiring talent directly out of universities maintains a 20% lower rate of attrition over five years versus hiring experienced professionals within our industry.”

Presentations work best when they are modular. From the main point, create an outline of support. Each sub-bullet supporting the main theme. This is the first tier of support.

Then, create a second tier to support each sub bullet. Keep doing this until you feel you have your main message well supported in a tiered structure.

You will have an allotted time to present. By structuring your presentation into tiers, you can alter the amount of information to the time you have to get it across. In a five-minute presentation, you may only have time to have two or three supporting items to your main message. If you are given an hour and a half, you can expand to further tiers.

This outline structure will also help you prepare for questions you may receive on your topic. The tier will allow you to expand competently if you are given extra time to do so.


Precise and concise message.

Your ideas will face competition from many sources. You may compete for the same resources or may be competing against the status quo or biases in your audience.

One way to make your idea stand out is to add more precision. Take the example of relaying performance:

“Sales beat growth targets.”

Add precision to make a stronger statement:

“Sales beat growth targets by five percent.”

Adding precision shows you understand your topics in objective terms.

At the same time, you must also give a concise message. Take another example on sales performance where too much information is given:

“Sales beat growth targets five percent as product category A beat estimates by double, outshining the disappointing performance of product category B.”

While the additional detail may be useful, it is not necessary. By not having more than necessary, you drive a clear message. If you have more time, you may delve into more support and detail. If not, you obscure your point.


Answer questions directly.

Executives have many things on their minds and are acutely aware of six other things they could get done at that moment. One of those things is not listening to a rambling explanation of reasons why a goal was not met or why your company is experiencing a challenge. A clear and direct answer is always preferable to the alternatives.

Take time to anticipate what you could be asked. Prepare direct answers for each of those contingencies. If you receive a question you did not anticipate, take the moment to understand the question. Ask any clarifications you need. You may even want to repeat the question to check you have the appropriate understanding. Then, think of the most direct answer and give it.

Your task is simple. Answer the question.

A critical observer will instantly know when someone attempts to spin an answer. That answer, no matter how eloquent, will fail to meet the needs of the asker. In failing to simply answer a direct question, spin will ultimately waste the time of everyone who hears it. Wasting executives time is not a long-term path to success. Worse so, by attempting to spin an answer, you are insulting their intelligence.

Whereas answering directly provides the information your asker wants. In accomplishing that goal, you have shown them you value their time and their intelligence. Even an uncomfortable or negative answer is better than a nonsense spin.


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