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How to present effectively to senior executives and stakeholders

Erin Gusty
January 31, 2023
Sketch of a woman giving a presentation

Anyone who has presented to a roomful of senior leadership has felt the stress. While executives’ roles and responsibilities may differ across industry and company size, there are several key commonalities:

  • Their job is to make high-stakes decisions, often quickly
  • They require a 360° understanding of the business at the individual, team, and organizational level
  • … and they are incredibly, incredibly busy

Thus, using your allotted time with them effectively requires delicate, purposeful navigation and starts with thorough preparation.

6 tips to deliver clear, effective, and successful presentations

1. Set a clear structure: Maintain a clear and repeatable presentation structure so you and your executives always know what to expect. After each presentation, incorporate any feedback into future versions. For example, if you’re presenting a marketing campaign plan, you’ll want to set up your presentation to clearly address the following:

  • Introduction and summary: Open with a high-level description of what you’re presenting so your audience knows what to expect. Then (and this may feel counterintuitive), lead with a summary of your most salient, important points (findings, proposal, recommendation). This immediately captures your audience’s attention and helps them focus on any supporting materials to come.
  • Campaign overview: What is the campaign, activation, or launch you are proposing? Be sure to provide important details about the project such as audience, partners, and timeline.
  • Goals: What business goals do you expect to achieve through this initiative? Is it brand awareness, lead generation, app engagement, or something else?
  • KPIs: What needs to happen for this project to be a success? Be sure to include key business metrics like ad spend, new customer growth, and expected ROI.
  • Priority: How urgent is this activation to the marketing team’s overall success? Does it require the company to shift priorities? What is the expected timeline for execution and delivery?
  • Budget: How much budget needs to be allocated to your project? Do you need to pull resources from other projects?

2. Understand your audience: Are you presenting to your Chief Brand Officer? Or the VP of Finance? The former might be most interested in the creative while the latter will be laser-focused on your budget. Knowing the mindset and priorities of your audience helps you tailor your presentation and ensure you’re able to address everyone’s primary concerns.

3. Know your material: It's okay if you don't have all the answers to questions that come up, but you should feel extremely comfortable with your project plan and be able to anticipate questions that your executives might ask. Ask for advice and feedback from someone else who has successfully gotten executive buy-in, and be sure to do a few practice runs (ideally in front of a group) so you're confident come presentation day.

4. Be mindful of format: The majority of the population are visual learners, meaning they need to see information in order to retain it.

While there’s no expectation to become a professional graphic designer if you aren’t one, you should still strive for a well-designed, legible, and clear presentation. Ask your teammates if there are existing company decks or past presentation templates that you can repurpose. Think about incorporating charts, graphs, and images in your presentation to clearly depict your plans and relevant data.

Sometimes, a deck isn’t the right format at all. If you’re presenting a budget, it might be more helpful to pull up Excel so you and your executives can adjust calculations on the fly. Reviewing team headcount and hiring roadmap? Maybe open up your recruiting project in Airtable. Reviewing a marketing plan or customer journey? Try a Plot prototype instead of a static deck.

5. Plan for Q&A: Executives are on tight schedules and might not be able to stay past your allotted meeting time, so be sure to keep your presentation brief and leave time for discussion and Q&A. Keep an eye on the clock before and during your presentation to ensure your meeting starts and ends on time.

6. Give them homework: If appropriate, circulate the agenda and share your presentation with meeting attendees in advance. If they’re able to review materials ahead of time, you can more effectively utilize the synchronous meeting time. In your pre-meeting email, be sure to also include relevant links like a creative brief, P&L, timeline, or key design files. Of course, keep it succinct and clear, utilize bullet points, and (sparingly) bold important information.

With practice and experience, effective presentation will become a powerful skill in your toolkit and influential higher ups will become impactful advocates for your ideas and work.

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