Senior executives are among the toughest crowds you’ll face as a presenter.
They’re often impatient, distracted and abrupt because of busy schedules and high-stakes decisions occupying their minds. So, you must grab their attention right away, or you’ll squander your big opportunity.
Here’s how to earn their attention, interest and support.
1. Summarize your salient points right away.
Say you’re given 30 minutes to present. When creating your intro, pretend your allotted slot got cut to five minutes. This forces you to lead with the key information your audience really cares about—high-level findings, conclusions, recommendations and a call to action.
State those points clearly and succinctly right at the start, and then move on to supporting data and material that enhance your key points.
2. Set expectations.
Let the audience know you’ll spend the first few minutes presenting your summary and the rest of the time on discussion. Even the most impatient executives will be more likely to sit through your main points—without interrupting—if they know they’ll soon get to ask questions.
3. Create summary slides.
When making your slide deck, place a short overview of key points at the front. The rest of your slides should serve as an appendix.
Follow the 10% rule: If your appendix is 50 slides, create five summary slides, and so on. After you present the summary, let the group drive the conversation, and refer to appendix slides as relevant questions and comments come up. Often, executives will want to go deeper into certain points that will facilitate their decision making. If they do, quickly pull up the slides that cover those points.
4. Give them what they asked for.
If you were invited to give an update about the flooding of your company’s manufacturing plant in Indonesia, do so before covering anything else. This time-pressed group of execs invited you to speak because they felt you could supply a missing piece of information. So, answer that specific request directly—and quickly.
5. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
Before your big presentation, run your talk (and your slides) by a colleague who can serve as an honest coach and critic. Try to find someone who’s had success getting ideas adopted at the executive level.
Ask for pointed feedback: Is your message coming through clearly and quickly? Do your summary slides crystallize key points into concise insights? Are you missing anything your audience is likely to expect?
Presenting to an executive team takes guts, but it’s one of the best ways to advance your ideas—and career. Be bold, practice your speech until your confidence soars, and make the most of your big opportunity.
Nancy Duarte is an author, speaker and CEO of Duarte Inc., the largest design firm in Silicon Valley. She has written six best-selling books, and her new book, DataStory: Explain Data and Inspire Action Through Story, is available now. Follow Duarte on Twitter and LinkedIn.
A version of this post first appeared on Duarte’s blog.