How to Present to Executive Leadership

501 words, 2:30 minutes


One of the quickest ways to advance in your career is to be an expert presenter to executive leadership. There is no better opportunity to enhance your visibility, show your strengths and impress the people who could have the biggest impact on your success – other than yourself. However, these opportunities are not about showcasing your intelligence or highlighting your successes. Executives will most remember the person who made them think differently or enlightened them – in the shortest amount of time possible.

Early in my career I used to think executive leadership was ignorant.  They didn’t understand the business like I did. It took too long to explain issues to them.  They didn’t have instantaneous Solomon-like answers to my well thought-out problems. They couldn’t manage their schedules.

It turns out I was 100% correct that ignorance was the issue - mine. I struggled to understand the breadth and depth of responsibility executives held and that they could not possibly understand the daily minutiae of my particular responsibilities.  Here are a few guidelines I’ve followed to be more effective presenting to executives:

  • Prepare for full, plan for half, deliver in one. If you have a scheduled appointment or have been slotted time within a series of presentations such as a quarterly operational review you will most likely never get the time you were allotted. Prepare with enough detailed content to cover the full time, plan to present in half of that time with details in the appendix and deliver your main point immediately (first minute) in case schedules are obliterated.
  • Get to the point. In that first minute you should be able to:
  1. State the problem succinctly: “Our benefits package trails the industry.”
  2. Identify the impact of the problem: “This makes it harder to recruit good talent and employee turnover is rising. This has caused our customer service ratings to plummet.”
  3. Provide potential solutions and side effects (never go in without a solution)
  4. Request action: “I need you to approve this budget for a new benefits program.”
  • Get a “by when” date. Or at least try to get a date for when a decision will be made.  Leadership appreciates employees who have a plan AND a timeline. Also, once you leave the meeting the other 1,000 issues the executive must address that day will bury your problem.
  • Leave. Get out while you have an agreement and don’t take up any more time. Salespeople warn not to “sell past the close.” You are, essentially, selling your problem and resolution.

And be prepared to lose. There are a myriad of problems for leadership to solve. As important as you think yours is, it may not rank in the top 20 for them. But, if your interaction is organized, succinct and impactful; you will have won whether you obtained support or not. Executives remember their interactions better than they remember their decisions – and they definitely remember smart people who are efficient with their time.

Any other recommendations or tips for presenting to executives?