I recently conducted a survey on how technical experts – like finance executives – can better present themselves to senior management. Here are some of the insights from the survey, the common problems faced by presenters and some solutions on making sure your next presentation to senior executives is received in a positive light.
Common problems faced by technical presenters
Technical presenters have a strong tendency to focus on the ‘how’ of the content rather than the outcome. Technical presenters tend to either over explain the technical aspects of their presentation, even though they are facing a savvy audience who have a good grasp of the technicalities. Or they get too bogged down in the numbers and miss the overarching purpose of the presentation, meeting or conference call which is often to help the senior executive to make a decision.
I would like to share four tips that you can apply to improve your presentation skills when communicating up to a senior executive audience.
Tip 1 : Understand your audience’s motivations so you know why are in this meeting
In The One Minute Presenter, a key step is Treasure your Audience. The main purpose of understanding your audience in detail is to go deeper into their motivations and hot buttons. This understanding helps the technical presenter prepare for meetings. Ask key questions like, “Why is the senior executive joining this meeting?” Is it to gain a brief overview on a topic, an update, a summary or to receive your input on a critical time-sensitive business issue which needs a decision?
Tip 2: Technical literacy quick check
When thinking about your content and how deep to go into the technicalities, think about the literacy of the senior executive on this issue. Are they familiar in depth with the issue? If they are, don’t start from the beginning when introducing the topic. Is the senior manager highly literate but not as familiar with the local differences on which you are an expert? Then skip explaining broad concepts and get into the specifics. Don’t worry if you skip too far ahead, the senior executive will ask you a question.
Tip 3: Think through your presentation’s timing
When you are preparing your content or your slide presentation, ask yourself how much time you have to deliver. If you have twenty minutes and twenty slides of packed data charts, are you allowing yourself enough time for the audience to digest them? Is there a better way to extract your message from each slide and highlight it in a clear slide? Consider using handouts when you need to pass on a record of the data to your audience. Build in some time for questions into your presentation time in case you are asked a series of questions or time is cut from your delivery time. If you have twenty minutes to present, then arrange fifteen minutes of content.
Tip 4: Produce your message for every presentation
Even if you are delivering a frequent update for a weekly management meeting, think about what your message in a nutshell is for every meeting. Press yourself to find a link between your message and the motivations and interests of the senior executives. The more relevant you can make your message to their driving issues, the more likely you are get their attention and receive positive comments. You have to speak to the issues that are important to senior management. They often look at the same topics in a different light. They are more likely to take a broader look or apply a wider scope to the topic. Remember that they are likely to have shifting priorities based on the current state of the business. Are you able to link your topics to the major issues like total revenue, profit margins, share price, market share, and others. Can you fit your topic into those issues?
While you are a technical expert and are valued for the insights you bring, when facing senior management you may need to adjust your content and dig out a message that is in line with the senior executives current reality.
About the Author
Warwick J Fahy
“I work with high-potential senior finance executives who need to be more confident and influential with their key stakeholders. I help the executive quickly and powerfully express their opinions into message based presentations – even when under pressure.” Learn more about who I help here.
Warwick is the author of “The One Minute Presenter: 8 steps to successful business presentations in a short attention span world”.
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