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


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