Presentation or Interrogation? Speaking to Senior Management

Sit in on a series of presentations to senior management in many organizations and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a courtroom or a congressional hearing.

One person after another goes to the front of the room with a carefully prepared message, gets through a few opening remarks, and then gets derailed by questions, observations or demands that they skip to slides the managers want to address immediately.

In most presentations this wouldn’t happen — at least as fast as it does with senior managers — because the audience members would be seeing the presentation for the first time. They would need to listen to it for at least a short while and get a sense of where it’s going.

But senior executives routinely get an opportunity to see slide decks before they are presented. They can look them over and decide what parts they most want to engage.

Stopping this dynamic altogether is not realistic. Senior managers are not inclined to sit quietly with their hands folded while presenters go through their material. They’re used to taking the initiative and moving right to their priorities.

So here are some tips for presenting to senior management that will increase the odds of your success:

1) Start strong with an introduction that grabs attention and establishes immediate momentum (slow, indecisive starts encourage interruptions)

2) Front load the presentation with the conclusion and promise a valuable explanation of how it was arrived at (get right to the point)

3) Answer questions before they are asked (be pre-emptive)

4) Stay out of the weeds and speak at a strategic level that matches that of the managers.

Create an ‘Executive Version’ of Your Presentation

In addition to these four wise moves, it’s also smart to create an “executive version” of your presentation. An executive version contains only the most essential slides. If the senior managers have fallen behind on their agenda and want to jump through your presentation even quicker than normal, you can maintain control by verbally noting their compressed time and going straight to your short deck.

The bonus value of using an executive deck is that it enables you to avoid the anxious rush that can come from trying to get through a longer deck in the face of senior manager impatience. With an executive deck, you can “own” the little bit of time you have been given. The result: a confident image.

About the Author:

Reprinted with permission from BRODY Professional Development, featuring presentation skills advice from senior BRODY facilitator Bill Steele. For more information on this program and other presentation skills training, visit

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