8 Smart Strategies for Presenting to Executives…and Getting a Yes

8 Smart Strategies for Presenting to Executives…and Getting a Yes

A great idea cannot succeed on its own.

No matter how hard you’ve worked on it or how perfect it is, you will not get very far if you can’t get other people on board.

This is never more true than when you are presenting an idea at work, where you need to get buy-in from your leadership in order to move ahead. Whether you need money, time, or a team, there will come a point where the success of your idea depends on someone else’s willingness to help you make it happen.

A great idea communicated poorly may be overlooked and passed by compared to a mediocre idea communicated exceptionally well.

What do you have to say to your audience of managers, investors, executives, or board members that will bring them over from a maybe to a yes? These are important people, whose time is valuable and limited. You have to make an impact.

With today’s post, we’re sharing useful tips for how you can present your ideas to the people with the power to make your idea happen, and how to get them to say yes.

Tip #1: Craft your presentation

There are many ways to assemble a presentation. When your audience is composed of important people with limited time, focus on developing a presentation that is clear and direct.

Great advice for how to do this is to organize your presentation this way:

  • Tell your audience what you’re going to tell them
  • Tell it to them
  • Tell them what you’ve told them

If it sounds like you’re being repetitive, well, you are. But that’s the whole point.

By organizing the framework of your presentation in this way (introduction, information, summary), you’re making it super easy for your audience to follow. There’s no reason to turn your presentation into a guessing game. You should know exactly what you want the audience to take away, and hit those points clearly so they can’t miss them.

The process will also force you to simplify your ideas and lose any extra details that don’t add clear value to the audience or your idea.

Remember that these people are busy and are waiting for you to tell them why they should care.  Even the best listeners get distracted, so this approach makes it easy for them.

Use information that people can connect to, like names and numbers. This helps to give context and makes things sound more real. Be as specific as you can: how many people would be affected, how much money would the company make, etc. Be careful and avoid giving too much data, since too many numbers and details can be hard to follow. Instead, choose the most impactful figures and give them lots of context.

You can also leverage the power of storytelling to make your presentation more personal and impactful. Our brains attach to stories more than plain data; telling a story gives context and can help convey the clear value of your idea. If you’re pitching a product, for example, you could tell the story of a person with a problem that is solved by the product.

Once you have a draft, be ruthless in your editing. You want this presentation to be perfect, precise, and succinct. Here are a few questions to help you hone your speech:

  • Are there discrepancies and gaps in your argument or information?
  • How quickly do you get to the point? How long will your audience be waiting to hear how this presentation connects to them?
  • Is your goal easy to understand? Can it be explained in one sentence, without needing extra data or research?
  • Where is your idea strongest and can you drive it home even more clearly?
  • Does the information you’re presenting follow a logical, organized route from beginning to end?
  • Can you say something more efficiently, precisely, or clearly?
  • Are you saying something that is memorable? Can you give your idea a name or an acronym? Naming a product or process makes it feel more real, which makes it more likely to get support.

Tip #2: Manage stress with preparation

Even if you’re not presenting in front of a big group, sharing a big idea with important people is enough to make experienced speakers a little weak in the knees. But preparation will go a long way to reduce your outward displays of stress, if not eliminating them completely. Keeping your facade of composure and confidence will enhance your credibility, and help people to believe in you and your idea.

Controlling your breathing, checking in with your physical surroundings, and intentionally slowing down your speech will all help you calm your nerves and appear more confident outwardly.

Another important part of appearing confident is knowing your idea backwards and forwards. You should be able to field any question — even if you don’t know the exact answer, if you are well informed, you should be able to generate a response about how you would find the answer (or how the question should be reframed). The more openly you answer questions — without seeming defensive or confused — the more expert you seem.

Tip #3: See through your audience’s eyes to get a yes

One of the best ways to seem like an expert is to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. When you can predict the questions your audience will have and answer them in advance, you show a deep understanding of the issue.

The biggest way you can ensure a positive response is to communicate the value of your idea to your audience. Think about what is most important to them. Then ask how your idea helps them achieve that.

Be as concrete as you can, and always remember to tie it back to them and their goals. You might love your idea for one reason, and while that can be part of the presentation, it is more important to make them love your idea by helping them see how it will add clear, significant value to them.

As you continue to hone your speech, ask yourself:

  • What is your audience’s position and objective as it relates to your presentation?
  • What questions are they likely to have?
  • What is your audience’s background and are you speaking their language, e.g. using terminology they can follow and are familiar with?
  • What motivates the people in your audience, e.g. goals, fears, etc.?
  • Where in your presentation are you making assumptions that could cause confusion or defensiveness?

If you’re speaking to customers or potential investors, try to learn what other options they’re considering and address them; if you’re pitching a product or service, make a point during your presentation to point out where you or your idea are better than other products they already know, based on values you know are important to these specific people.

Tip #4: Visual cues

What you wear and how you look should match or slightly exceed the level of importance for the occasion. These are the visual cues you’re giving to your audience that you want to be taken professionally and seriously.

Select attire that matches what you’re saying and who you’re saying it to, which might mean ditching the jeans you normally wear to the office for a dress or blazer. What message do you want to convey through your image? Looking polished and put together will go a long way in establishing your credibility before you even start speaking.

Tip #5: Being heard

Many people talk faster and use filler words when they’re nervous. Not only does this make you seem nervous, but your audience will also have a harder time following what you’re saying. If you lose them along the way, they may not be that interested in catching up.

Practice slowing down your speech in advance, so that you know how to do it when you get in front of the crowd. It will feel unnatural, as if you’re talking too slowly in a weird, offputting way. But it won’t sound this way to your audience; all they will know is that they can hear and understand you.

As a general guideline for slowing down your speech, try pausing for a second between sentences, and wait 2-3 seconds before responding to questions. The result is that the words coming out of your mouth will be a more thoughtfully crafted answer to a question and clearer statements throughout your presentation.

Tip #6: Know what you want and be clear about why you want it

Be straightforward about what you want. Don’t expect the executives to spend any time trying to parse what you are saying. It’s not their job to interpret your request; it’s your job to be clear.

Don’t talk in a big circle when a simple, direct sentence will get you there.

And most importantly, be prepared with your “why.” Why should your listeners back your project, provide financial support, or push resources in your direction? Don’t wait for them to ask. They should know early (and often) from your presentation.

Tip #7: Practicing for success

Don’t forget to practice! Practice in front of a mirror, then take it a step further and record yourself. It’s not always a pleasant process, but it will show you any ticks you have, how you sound (are you speaking too fast or too softly?), and how you deliver your ideas.

Seek out a trusted mentor, colleague, or friend who can give you feedback as well. Get their insight or concerns and try out different ways of delivering your presentation; use different wordings, cadences, or organization to see what works best for you and your practice audience. Use this process to identify what you’re most comfortable doing and saying, including what you want to avoid.

Tip #8: Supporting material

Even if you’re presenting in a space you’re comfortable in, technology has a habit of falling short at the worst of times. Be prepared for computer problems, incompatible cords, or a failing projector. Ask in advance what technology will be available if you’re going to be in a new space; no matter what you expect to have, come prepared and plan for the possibility of delivering your presentation without the big screen as your backdrop.

If you decide to print handouts or prepare a slideshow, the information you include in this supporting material should be easy to see. Wordiness on these materials is a guaranteed way to get your audience to read rather than listen to you, and on slideshows can be distracting and hard to read.

Images or diagrams will provide visuals to your words and ultimately be more effective. And consider sending your slides in advance, especially calling attention to the most important slides or pieces of information; this shows that you are aware of your audiences time and desire to be prepared for the presentation.

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