The secrets of presenting to the boss: Off-the-wall is fine but prepare answers before you go in

Think about the business-critical questions your boss will have in mind when watching your presentation
As a former director, I recall the time when a newly appointed member of the executive team was “called in” to present to the chief executive for the first time. Needless to say, she was a little anxious, so I did my best to encourage her.
Afterwards, I asked how it went, and she responded: “Well, it felt like sitting with a gynaecologist. He was very polite, but I couldn’t help but feel that I was going to be violated.” We all know the feeling. But the good news is that it’s far easier than you think to deliver a successful presentation to your boss.


First, remember that at the forefront of their mind will be these questions: how do we grow? How do we beat the competition? How do we increase revenue and profits? How do we reduce costs? Remember these, because ensuring that the presentation is relevant to their concerns is key.


The one resource those at the top are in short supply of is time – that’s why most of us get the impression that they are impatient. So rather than resent it, help them by getting their attention.
One of my favourite TED Talks is by entrepreneur Jane Chen, where she talks about her low-cost baby incubator that can save thousands of lives in underdeveloped countries.
She gets her audience’s attention by saying the following: “Please close your eyes and open your hands. Now imagine what you could place in your hands, an apple, maybe your wallet. Now open your eyes. What about a life?”
As the audience opens their eyes, she shows a slide with an image of a tiny baby held in an adult’s hands. That may not be a typical business presentation, but we all understand why it’s powerful.


Once you’ve got their attention, get straight to the heart of your message – and don’t rely on them just “getting it”. Bring your message alive by giving some compelling examples to illustrate your point. This can be where most presenters lose their way, so don’t ramble on – tell them exactly what you want them to do now.


One of the most powerful statements I ever heard as a youngster trying to make my way up the corporate ladder was from my first boss, who told me: “The only people who need to be motivated are the people who can’t see the future”.
Anyone at the head of an organisation is spending every waking hour trying to imagine the future, so help them to imagine it, and they will be more than motivated to support you in helping to make it real.


It’s worth reiterating the time-poor nature of chief executives – and the impatience that comes with it. You can be absolutely certain that they won’t be saving questions for the end of your presentation, so do you both a favour by asking them if they have any questions early on.


The presenter’s greatest fear is that they will be asked a question to which they don’t know the answer.
It’s made manifest by the reality that most presenters don’t put anywhere near enough preparation into knowing the answers in advance.
Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. Brainstorm with colleagues every conceivable question you could possibly be asked and make sure you have an answer to it.
If you’re asked something you don’t know the answer to, stay calm and show how well you’ve prepared by at least offering a view, without making the answer up. A commitment to find the answer as soon as you can is more than sufficient.

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