The Delicate Art of Presenting to the CEO

By Sue Hershkowitz-Coore

The CEO agreed to see me for 15 minutes. I’ve had good byes that last longer than that but I was still thrilled.  I was getting a one-to-one. But what could I say (in 15 minutes, no less) that would not only create a great impression but would persuade him to want to further engage my services?

What Not to Do

I worked on a slide deck showing what we had accomplished with his team so far. I don’t use bullets in my deck so I created a  flourish of fabulous photos to demonstrate his company’s success. It was a strong deck and if I was making a one hour presentation to a group of department heads — and I used the 15 minute deck to kick off the discussion — it would have been perfect.

But I wasn’t talking to managers; I was talking to “the man” and I was guessing that he didn’t want to see my fancy photos or even be talked to. Scratch the deck.

What to Do

I decided that the only thing that was important to him was future success. Instead of regaling him with what we had accomplished (truly, if he hadn’t thought I had value, he wouldn’t be seeing me — the same is true for you, too), I tucked my computer away, prepared to talk about any of the past details but more determined just to hear what he had to say and what vision he had for me.

There were two other things that I considered before walking in.

1. The CEO is no different from anyone else who holds a job. He is fearful. He is fearful of the same things that I’m frightened of (except maybe much more so). He doesn’t want to:

a) Fail, personally or organizationally
b) Be embarrassed (see above) or
c) Make bad choices (above again)

2. He wants what every sales person wants. He looks for ways to:

–Sell more, more easily, at a better margin
–Make customers happy, happier, happiest
–Beat out the competition in everything – including their existing customers

I walked in, thanked him for his time, and spoke my truth: I have a slide deck prepared to show you what we’ve accomplished. But with the 15 minutes that we have together, it may be a more valuable use of your time if I can learn from you. Where would you like to go with this initiative?

Then I shut up.

And for the next 12 minutes, he talked about ideas to grow the project.

I recapped, thanked him for his time, and told him he could count on me to work with his team to get it done.

Sell Better by Selling Less

If you are trying to persuade your own C-level to buy into an idea you have, make sure you’re fully prepared. But also:

•State your purpose, your project goal (be specific!) and ask how that relates to the future s/he envisions for the company.

•Then, speak your truth – the question you truly are wondering about. Ask: Does this align with your plans to take this company into the next decade? Is this goal the right priority? Am I headed in the right direction? Would it be helpful if I provided background on my thinking?

What would be most helpful at this point… may I ask your initial thoughts or would you prefer to see a few minutes of the deck I’ve prepared?

•Be quick! Create the deck to help solidify the ideas in your mind – not expand them. Someone once said, If your idea doesn’t fit on the back of your business card, you don’t have an idea.

•Spend as much time thinking about the questions you’ll ask as you do on creating the perfect PowerPoint deck.

People, including C-levels, tell us everything we need to know if we just ask.

About the Author:

Sue Hershkowitz-Coore is a corporate consultant, communications specialist and internationally recognized professional speaker. For more information, visit


Emergency Surgery: How to Cut (or Stretch) Your Speech at the Last Minute

By Laura Stack

You’ve prepared for weeks to dazzle an audience with your brilliant 45-minute speech at a big conference…and then, 30 minutes before show time, an apologetic organizer approaches you. He explains that because they got a late start and an earlier speaker went on longer than expected (Mortal Speaker Sin), they can only spare you 20 minutes—so you’ll have to cut your speech short. What do you do now?

You can’t just toss your note cards in the air and stomp out.  Obviously, you have no choice but to remain professional, smile, and reply pleasantly, “Don’t worry—leave it to me.” And then conduct some emergency speech surgery! On exceptional occasions (though rarely, in my experience), the opposite may occur: An organizer may ask you to stretch your speech further than expected to fill a time gap. Again, not an easy task; you have to fill the time with relevant information, not just fluff.

Since you can’t predict in advance the fate of any given speech, always be prepared to cut or stretch it—especially if you find yourself at or near the end of a session lineup. Here are a few tips to keep in mind for both cases. Let’s start with stretching a talk, since it represents the rarer of the two possibilities.

Stretching Tips

1. Over-prepare. If the organizers have promised you 30 minutes, don’t just do the minimum amount of research and preparation necessary. Prepare to speak as much as 25 percent longer than expected, just in case. Leave the least important points, extra stories and examples, and summing up for the end of the speech. If you don’t need to stretch, you can easily cut from the bottom up without decreasing the impact of your presentation.

2. Add some extras. Have some reserve stats, quotes, anecdotes, and examples on hand, so you can drop them into the flow of your speech as necessary. Make sure they fit the topic and back up your points—don’t use just any old story to stretch your length. If you picked up anything during your pre-speech mingling that seems relevant, use it.

3. Take questions during the speech. Before you begin, state your willingness to answer questions during the speech rather than just afterward. Let the audience do some of your stretching for you!

4. Speak more deliberately. If you absolutely must, slow down your talking speed slightly and spend more time making eye contact with individual audience members. But don’t speak so slowly that you feel awkward, or your listeners might focus on that instead of your message.

Cutting Tips

1. Start cutting right away. As soon as you get the news, accept that you can’t say everything you wanted to. In your head or on note cards (if you have them), start weeding out less important points, graphics, slides (if applicable), examples, and stories. At the very least, keep your opening and closing statements and emphasize your core message.

You might only have time to open, make one really solid point, and close.

2. Don’t panic. Just present your most relevant points in the time allowed. If you get the two-minute warning before you expect to, segue into your closing and wrap it up. Never just stop in the middle of your speech, or that’s what people will remember later—not your takeaway message.

3. Don’t force it. I’ve seen speakers kick it into overdrive and click frantically through their visuals in an attempt to cram the original speech into the time provided. Don’t be tempted to try this even for a second! You may get in too much of a hurry and flub it; and even if you don’t, you still need to speak slowly enough and remain coherent enough for listeners to absorb your message. Always cut rather than cram.

If you’re running your slide show, you can simply type in the number of the slide you want to “jump” to and press enter (you don’t have to click through them). So always print an outline of your slides!

4. Maintain your professionalism. Do your best with what you have. No matter how angry or frustrated you feel, accept the situation gracefully. Don’t become defensive, and never ever complain or make snide comments to the audience about the organizers’ poor planning if you ever want to be asked to speak there again.

5. Ask the audience to hold all questions until the end. If any Q&A was planned, I’d cut it out altogether and invite the audience members to come up front to chat with you afterward, as you don’t want to leave out any important points. You can even provide your social media coordinates or contact information for later follow-up.

The Bottom Line

Whether you end up cutting or stretching your speech, strive to do so without damaging its effectiveness—either by diluting its impact with extras or by trimming it too much. Exercise flexibility and always have a Plan B ready. Use this unexpected situation as an opportunity to show how well-prepared and professional you are. The organizers will be both grateful and impressed, and if you do it right, your audience will never know your talk didn’t go precisely as planned.

About the Author:

Laura Stack is an expert in productivity, and for more than 20 years her speeches have helped entrepreneurs, leaders, teams, and organizations improve output, lower stress, and save time at work and in life. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides time management workshops around the globe that help attendees achieve maximum results in minimum time. Reprinted from Training Magazine


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