“I’ve got to present my new initiative to the board this Friday. All our directors are going to be there and I’ve got 20 minutes to persuade them that it’s worth pursuing.”
From our discussions here are the most important considerations:
■ Get to the point in a minute.
Senior executives are busy. Time is their most precious asset. Don’t waste it. Arrive on time, avoid lengthy openings and get to your point in the first minute.
“I’m here to present our marketing plan, we need to spend Dhs2 million on brand activation.”
“Ok, why?” the exec immediately asks.
If you don’t tell them in the first few sentences, they’ll interrupt and start to ask questions.
An idea for you – after you’ve spoken for a few minutes, ask them a question.
“I’m here to present our marketing plan. With it we’ll increase sales by 15 per cent over the next four quarters. Do you think we’re being aggressive enough?”
“Actually I was going to suggest…”
By posing a question you’re still in control of the meeting but are giving the senior execs an opportunity to voice their opinion. If you don’t, they’ll interrupt and take you off track.
Questions to ask: “Is this how you’d define success?” “How important is that to our long-term strategy?” “Do you agree that we’ve prioritised this correctly?”
■ Talk about winning in the marketplace, not today’s problems.
Leaders are always thinking three years ahead. How do we grow? How do we beat the competition? How do we defend our market position? They don’t want to talk about what’s broken today.
Focus on problems that will affect them over the next three years and how they’ll win in the market.
“Customer satisfaction is down three per cent. If we are going to grow we’re going to need to hold on to our existing customers.” “I agree. What do you recommend?” Then explain how you are going to help them: sell faster, increase customer satisfaction, defend higher margins, reach new markets, find new distribution channels. Don’t just solve today’s problems.
■ Sell a vision before discussing details
New presenters make a big mistake – they are in a hurry to talk about what they want to do before the senior exec has bought into the vision.
“We need to invest two million dirhams in PR.” “That’s a lot.” Senior execs are big picture people. They want to know why before the details.
Get them nodding at the vision. Then move into detail. “The media is ripping us apart and the sales team say it’s affecting new business. We need some of the key media on our side.” “Good thinking.” “We’ve found an agency with good contacts at all of the papers.” Now the director is ready to hear details.
■ Lead with stories, not with data
Senior execs are smart people, they respect data, but they trust their gut instincts more. They know data is often incorrect, incomplete, or biased so they listen to their own instincts when making strategic decisions.
Lead with stories that appeal to gut instincts. “Our biggest partner is doing this.” The exec thinks: “I know them, they’re smart.” And use the data to back it up. “This study shows customer interest is increasing. Perhaps we should be doing something in this space.”
■ Don’t be afraid of executives, be afraid for them.
It’s common to be afraid of senior executives. Many can be intimidating. Don’t let them be. Show how your project can protect them from the things they fear. Believe it or not they have a lot to fear: fear of failure, of being sacked, of legal action, of embarrassment, of bad investments, of loss of reputation…
Keeping their fears in the top of your mind and showing them how your project will help take those fears away will put you in a mindset that reduces your own anxiety. You are giving them answers to problems that they might not even know they have yet. They want and need to hear from you.