I still remember the very first time I was invited to make a presentation to my senior management team. I couldn’t sleep for days; my mind was filled with dread, and every nerve, cell and fibre of my entire being felt like they were preparing for a major meltdown. I was only in my early twenties, but I believe that even the cuff on a blood pressure monitor would have been trembling.
It was a long time ago, but I remember it well, just as I do those few days before I prepared for my first kiss.
Fast-forward 30 years and I find myself not only presenting to senior executives all over the world, but teaching professionals to enjoy their first kiss, if you understand my meaning. As the old saying goes, “I only wish I knew then what I know now”.
Sometimes people learn just that little bit quicker and easier by focusing on some of the mistakes they need to avoid, so here are my top seven.
1. More is too much
You’ve been invited to speak because you’re the expert, so it’s incumbent on you to tell them everything you know — at least that’s what most presenters think.
That’s the first big mistake. Just tell them exactly what they need to know that will make a difference to the business. Have all the information, data and supporting evidence ready and available in your back pocket but don’t dump it all on them like a skip, or Dumpster, as the Americans would say, emptying its load.
Your job is to be clear, concise and compelling, and the way to do that is to stay focused on everything they need to know, not what you’d like them to know because you’ve worked so hard on it.
It’s not about how much you know; it’s about what they need to know.
2. Don’t make them read
Just like you, executives are very busy people, and most of them spend far too much time reading reports, emails, business cases, market updates, industry news, stakeholder concerns, etc.
So then you turn up with either a document the size of War and Peace that you’d like to talk through or a slide deck loaded with text that you expect them to read.
Don’t do it.
Have a conversation instead. That’s what they long for: interesting, stimulating human connections that you can’t have when burying them in the written word. If you do show slides, make sure they are highly relevant, creative, simple and powerful.
3. You’re not a comedian
One of the most common and painful mistakes presenters make when presenting to senior management is that they ramble through point after point, slide after slide leaving it down to their audience to work out for themselves when they’ve got to the point. They make it more like a cryptic crossword than a highly focused presentation.
Don’t make your audience work too hard by saving the punchline for the end. Give it to them up front.
4. Energy and enthusiasm are infectious
The majority of business presentations we see at Mindful Presenter lack energy and enthusiasm. A few may be content rich and have beautiful slides, but the presenters come across as detached, listless and indifferent as though they have just arrived to go through the motions and tell you the facts.
It’s not good enough.
For you to be taken seriously, you have to command your audience’s attention and get them to feel your passion and belief in what you are saying. It’s hard to do that without energy and enthusiasm.
5. Playing it safe is boring
If you really want to capture your audience’s attention, the way to do so isn’t by playing it safe. You may as well just send them an email or a document with your recommendations. Safe is boring, and it’s no reason to take up the valuable time of a room full of senior managers. That means you’ve got to take some risks to stand out and make your message stick. Try these tips:
- Tell stories.
- Use props.
- Ask thought-provoking questions.
- Surprise them.
- Use provocative slides.
- Challenge the status quo.
It’s been our experience that most presenters focus largely on using logic and data to make an intellectual connection with their audience.
That’s all well and good, but it’s not enough.
Making sure they understand what you are saying is, of course, vital but it’s pointless them nodding in agreement if they don’t then go away and do something with the ideas and information you’ve presented.
People take action when they feel something, so decide exactly what it is you want them to feel and work to make that connection. Here are a few strategies to consider:
- Evoke their curiosity.
- Challenge their thinking.
- Use metaphors and analogies.
- Use descriptive language.
- Animate your message through movement.
- Use your voice effectively.
Whether you are male or female, it seems to me that all too often when faced with the prospect of presenting to senior management, presenters somehow manage to turn on a major testosterone supply so that they appear invincible.
The truth is you don’t need it.
You are human just like them and rather than trying to erect this stern façade of indomitableness, it often pays to drop your guard and show them a little something of you.
That means a little personal disclosure about who you really are, how you feel and not being afraid to be vulnerable. I’m not talking about group therapy disclosure, just about relaxing a little.
Knowing how to present to senior executives within your own company or another company is undoubtedly one of those things in your career that is likely to have the biggest impact. You can make the mistakes many do as you go along to find out for yourself or you can learn from these.