To enhance your credibility and avoid Peter’s fate, here are some questions to consider as you prepare—specifically—to present up the management chain.
How can you get listeners interested and on track in the first thirty seconds of your presentation?
How long do you have for the presentation?
What kind of visual support will you need?
Where will you be giving the presentation?
Who will be in your audience?
Let us take the questions one at a time and see how we can build a presentation that stimulates management’s interest and captures their attention.
1. How can you get listeners on track and interested in the first thirty seconds of the presentation?
Answer this question first: Why are you speaking to these senior managers? What will they gain as a result of listening to you for ten minutes or so? Kevin Weiss, president of Pitney Bowes Global Mailing systems, put it this way: “At my level, I can’t be an expert on everything. I must rely on and trust the presenter to be that. In fact, I am an expert on nothing.
“I rely on my managers to know the facts and be conversant with the detail. The number one question I have is, what is the objective of this meeting and what decisions have to be made?”
To Kevin Weiss, and other senior managers, you start to demonstrate your credibility (or lack of it) right up front by giving them reasons you are worth listening to.
Start the meeting with a statement of purpose. Follow up quickly with an agenda that outlines the track you will follow. After the small talk and social amenities, begin the business meeting with this statement:
The purpose of this meeting is to . . .
Here are some examples of what your statement of purpose in your presentation might sound like:
“I’m going to update you on the unprecedented results of our marketing campaign and ask you to make some decisions about what we should do next.”
“I hope to get your approval for a two-million-dollar investment in technology that I believe will get us a three-million-dollar return within the first two years of the expenditure.”
“I will explain what caused our dramatic increase in revenue this month and why we think that positive trend will continue.”
“I’m here to ‘fess up’ to our mistakes and share our plan for improvement.”
In each of these examples, you’ll notice how there are certain words that cause the ears to perk up. These words give the audience a reason for listening—words like “unprecedented,” “fess-up,” and “dramatic increase.”
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from my friend Eric Baron, who also happens to be my old boss and a wonderful speaker. He said, “Whenever you are presenting to people, the first question you need to answer is, ‘So What?’ Why should the audience care about what you say?”
By headlining your presentations with a statement that answers the question “So what?” you are teaching your senior manager how to listen to you. You are also answering Kevin Weiss’s first question, “What is the objective of this presentation and what decisions have to be made?”
2. How long do you have for the presentation?
My hope is that you are never expected to talk for more than fifteen minutes, with another five to ten minutes for questions. Although we are talking about presenting to senior managers, they are also human beings, and human beings have limited attention spans. Assume everyone in your audience has attention deficit disorder and lean toward a shorter presentation rather than a longer one. No one has ever gotten fired for saving a senior manager some time.
3. What kind of visual support will you need?
As mentioned in the last chapter, research says that 85 percent of all information stored in the human brain comes through the eye. The eye is our primary sense. Its function is to scan for news. What kind of news? Any kind. If a mouse ran across the floor, where would your eye go? To the mouse, right? And so would the eye of everyone in your audience. Not 90 percent or 99 percent but 100 percent of sighted humanity would react the same way. It’s the way we are made.
So why not use this piece of information to your advantage? Accept the fact that if you are making a presentation and there is nothing visually interesting up there, the eyes of the audience will wander. And when the eye wanders, so does the brain. But you can take advantage of this idiosyncrasy of senior managers and the rest of humanity by jazzing up your presentation with interesting visuals. Feed the eye of your listeners and you feed their brains. They will be impressed with you and your presentation.
The kind of visuals you will use will depend on what you have available to you and the size of your audience. Software such as PowerPoint can be very helpful to put information into graph and chart form, which will help the listener conceptualize, and therefore remember, the points you make.
Use a projector. Do this even with an audience of one, because if your visuals are bigger than life, you become bigger than life.
If possible, stand while you give your presentation. When you do, there is more of you to see, which is automatically more visually stimulating and more memorable. You will also speak louder if you stand. And louder is better. Three out of four presenters speak too softly. When volume is down, the excitement is down. When excitement is down, you and your presentation become less interesting. And less interesting is a synonym for forgettable!
If you are in a large room where you are forced to be fifteen to twenty feet away from the audience, use a lavaliere mike—the kind that loops around your collar or tacks to your lapel and leaves your hands free. Don’t ever risk your listeners saying, “Speak up!” or “We can’t hear you!” Your words are fragile instruments that need the power of your voice and your energy in order to come alive.
Only you can bring passion to your presentation. Don’t expect the microphone to make you more interesting. It won’t. As a matter of fact, don’t expect the mike to perform any magic at all. It will make you louder. Period. If you are dull, a microphone enlarges the dull. If you are passionate, a mike will enlarge the passion.
You must speak as forcefully with a mike as without one. The forcefulness of your voice colors the language you use and gives it greater meaning. The greater the volume (within a reasonable boundary of course), the greater the intonation, the greater the inflection, and the greater the nuances you will be able to convey.
If your office dress is business casual, make sure you err on the side of business versus casual. This gives the impression that you are more serious and committed to your work. As my grandmother used to say to my father when he was an adolescent, “Son, you need to make sure your clothes are clean and pressed when you go to work. Other people can’t see inside you, as I can, to know how beautiful and smart you really are.”
For the most part, senior management can’t see inside us to see how beautiful and smart we are either. They need to see us demonstrate it on the outside. So let’s look at the tools we have to use. In Chapter 2, we talked about voice, dress, and stance. Our two other tools are the visual words we use and the actual visual images that support our presentation.
One of my favorite bumper stickers says, “Visualize whirled peas.” I love it. It asks you to put in a picture something that one would rarely think about: little green round things whirling around in a kind of cyclone effect.
That is only half the picture. The other half is much harder to visualize: world peace. Yet every one of us can come up with some picture of how we might represent that concept.
The bumper sticker works. It causes us to change words into a picture, a concept. We remember concepts, and therefore I remember that bumper sticker.
Use analogies, charts, and pictures with word messages under them. Use three colors on your visuals. There are three things that attract the eye: action, color, and exaggeration. You can remember those three with the acronym ACE. Your body is the action, the visual has the color, and your vocal emphasis and gestures are the exaggeration. Those elements are powerful tools. Use them to make your talk interesting and compelling.
4. Where will you be giving your presentation?
Location, location, location. You’ve heard that from realtors, now you’ll hear it as it relates to a presentation. The location makes a difference. If you can adjust the location where you will be doing the presentation, you want a room:
Where you can be the center of attention when presenting.
Where your presentation will not be cramped. No tripping over wires. No crowding.
Where the senior managers will be away from their offices. The best room is in neutral space, which makes the meeting feel more important to them.
Where you have access to technical assistance in the unlikely event that you need help with the microphone, computer, or projector. (You hope it is unlikely!)
If you are setting up the meeting, by all means do it on home turf or turf that makes you comfortable. If the location helps increase your self-confidence, it’ll show through in your presentation. It also reduces the chances the senior manager will be distracted by phone messages or personal interruptions.
5. Who will be in the audience?
Make sure you are very clear on why each of the attendees is there. If you are not sure, ask beforehand. You want to fulfill each person’s needs and expectations and you can’t accomplish that without knowing who will be there and why. It sometimes happens that senior managers invite juniors from their departments in order to increase their exposure and experience.
You have every right to know who is going to attend so that you can personalize your presentation, as necessary, and greet these people warmly when they arrive.