Presentations

Do Senior Executives Think Differently During Presentations?

Go ahead, tell me a story

The short answer is mostly yes, and if you’re using average presentations techniques with executive audiences, it’s like bringing a BB gun to hunt elephants. Senior level executives are not average; they think about different things, and they even think differently from the average audience member.

Sophisticated audience: They have heard thousands of sales pitches, whether from salespeople or from their own subordinates. They’ve heard all the clichés and standard phrases, and have evolved highly sensitive BS detectors. Avoid fluff: all those suggestions that you rely on stories and flashy visuals, or appeal to their “lizard brains” may just make them more suspicious. I’m not telling you to leave out some of those compelling elements, but if you plan to sell the sizzle instead of the steak, you’d better be sure there’s prime beef underneath it all.

They also have learned how to get to the heart of the matter very quickly, but they will respect and appreciate someone who does it for them by simplifying and clarifying their message, so they don’t have to. Make the package easy to open.

Broader vision: If you’re presenting a pet project internally, it’s easy to get passionate about it and get so wrapped up in it that you ignore the big picture. Executives appreciate presenters who think above their pay grade and know how their proposal fits into the big picture. The catch is that you don’t have the same high-level view they have, so you have to pay close attention to their questions during and after your presentation for clues and make adjustments accordingly. They also have a broader set of stakeholders to keep happy than you have, so make sure you’ve thought about how your proposal affects them as well.

Time misers: The higher you are in an organization, the less your time is your own, so you resent anything that wastes it. Studies have shown that powerful people actually perceive time differently, so the old saying, “be bright, be brief, be seated” especially applies when presenting at this level. And it’s not just about being concise; make sure you give them the bottom line up front. When they know what you’re proposing and why, it helps them organize their thoughts around your message, and can often lead to quick decisions. When they’ve heard enough, they will let you know. Pay attention to them and don’t talk past the close.

Always plan for your presentation to be shorter than the time allotted to it; you’ll probably get interrupted many times (that’s a good thing), and no one ever complains about a presentation being too short.

They are interested in different things: Another old saying in sales is, “You get sent to who you sound like.” They want to hear about how you are going to help them increase profits, solve problems, or improve processes. If you spend your time during the presentation talking too much about product specifications, they’ll tune out. If you’re a salesperson, they don’t want to sit through seventeen slides that tell your corporate story—they want to hear their story and how you will help them have a happy ending. Be flexible: if you’re using slides, keep the text to a  minimum on the main ones, but have detailed ones as backup to address specific expected questions.

Having said this, it’s also possible to go too far, though, because in some ways, they are the same as anyone else. Don’t try to sound more intelligent by using bigger words than you’re used to. Trust me[1], it won’t make you sound smarter, especially if you mispronounce it.

In summary, you should always consider the needs of your audience and tailor your approach accordingly.

 


[1] Actually, you don’t have to trust me. Here’s a study that backs it up: http://personal.stevens.edu/~ysakamot/730/paper/simple%20writing.pdf

 

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