Pull the Fire Alarm and Empty the Room

“Pull the Fire Alarm and Empty the Room” was my fallback if a presentation to senior executives (Presidents and CEOs) was going south. But it’s not really the right counsel to offer and over the years I’ve learned. And I learned from one presentation that stands out – one in which I literally woke the senior executive up. He probably wasn’t sleeping – really – but he was new to the position, crossed many time zones over the last few weeks and I think his body just needed to adjust. During the presentations before me he was getting that glassy-eyed stare of someone trying to respect you and pay attention but I could tell he was pretty close to dozing off.

I could have taken two approaches:  one was to let the poor man sleep and just deliver a presentation reminiscent of a lullaby – or do what I did. I began the presentation ‘believing’ this was really important. I watched as he literally woke up and listened. So that’s where I start in the simple steps to remember in presenting to senior executives:

1  Mindset

Own the Presentation and Know What you Want out of it.  You need to believe it’s important and your entire bearing and approach needs to say that. It doesn’t mean be aggressive or brash – but it does mean be confident.

2)  Know it

Regardless of what “any” slides look like – know your material inside and out.  You’ll get questions – particularly if it’s an issue – so know it.

3) You too have a stake in it

Tell a story that helps you get what you want or need out of the presentation. That could be as simple as not getting fired! But remember, presentations have a point to them and you need to figure out what you want to get out of it as well.

4)  But the senior executive wants something too – so get to the point quickly 

Recognize they do not have much time so your story and your slides have to tell a story fairly quickly. Some examples:

a) If you’re addressing an issue – keep it to no more than 7-8 slides

b) If you’re presenting a plan – probably no more than around 15 slides

c) Back up slides are fine – just have summary slides of key areas and make sure you can get to them quickly

4) Practice

There’s really no way around this – you need to rehearse

5) Know your audience and be prepared

Know the senior executives – know their approach, their interests, and what they’ll ask. 

Sometimes you only have 1 shot to do it right.  If not, look for the fire alarm.