Book Review: Speaking Up: Surviving Executive Presentations

Frederick Gilbert’s book will show you how to make presentations to top-level executives, helping you stand out from your peers.

There may be times when you need to make presentations to top-level executives, and presentations to those in the C-Suite are very different than those to your project team. It is critical that you be well prepared for getting your message across skillfully to this distinct audience.

I recently read Speaking Up: Surviving Executive Presentations, by Frederick Gilbert, which addresses this very topic. Through a series of scenarios, Gilbert explains how to handle different situations you might encounter when delivering a presentation to an audience of executives. Additionally, he gives insight into the mindset of the top-level executive, allowing you to have a better understanding and be better prepared.

Gilbert addresses the “7 Deadly Challenges” of executive meetings:

  1. being cut short in your presentation
  2. disengaged executives:
  3. handling concerns and objections
  4. decision maker leaves
  5. audience strays off topic
  6. side talk
  7. energetic discussion
  8. Time cut – Keeping it Short

A presentation to executives needs to get right to the point. Executives have a lot of other things on their minds. Rather than going into detail on how you obtained your data, go straight for explaining the outcome of the data and what you need from the executive. Be ready to provide details about anything they might ask. Anticipate their questions and be ready with answers.

2. Disengaged Executives

In presentations to executives, it is important to keep your central message succinct and compelling. The author provides an approach to help you craft your “elevator pitch”. Additionally, being prepared with options is critical. Be ready to deliver a much shorter version of your presentation in case time is cut short.

  1. Food Fights: You Are Not the Referee

Be aware of the various concerns of those present, so that you can address them with well-prepared responses. By addressing a particular concern in detail you have a better chance of keeping the presentation focused on your main target without getting derailed. Make sure you have your sponsor’s support ahead of time.

  1. Decision-maker Leaves – Ask for a Decision

Be aware of what is going on in the room. You need to constantly assess whether the way you are presenting is hitting the target. If you are only focused on your content, you cannot assess what is going on the room at an interpersonal level. Read the room and make adjustments in real time. Gilbert gives specific language to use in the event a decision-maker needs to leave the room, giving guidance on how to handle this diplomatically and respectfully.

  1. Topic Change: Time to Improvise

If the executives change the topic and head in a different direction, you must abandon your presentation and be prepared to go with the flow, yet try to lead the discussion back to where you want it to go. However, be aware that the executives may need to follow a train of thought for awhile in order to get to a decision point.

  1. Side Talk: Keeping Your Poise

When side talk occurs during your presentation, do not directly confront those engaging in side conversations. You can gently get the side talkers attention by calling on one by name and asking for their opinion. If that doesn’t work, ask your sponsor if she thinks you are on the right track.

  1. The Energetic Discussion: Less Talking and More Listening

Energetic discussions between executives are a good sign that they are engaged. 
In this situation, active listening skills and improvisation are critical.  You don’t want to stop this conversation, but rather show that you are engaged and listening. If your audience expresses concerns, let them know you hear them and outline any next steps.

Additionally, Gilbert provides information on giving a winning presentation. Some points presented are the following:

  • When it comes to content over delivery – go for content. They want the facts and not an entertaining long story.
  • Success will be due to your “ability to deliver concise thoughtful information with clarity in a tight time window”.
  • Understand your audience and their concerns before you go into the meeting.
  • You must be able to give up your presentation if needed and improvise.
  • Understand what the executives worry about, and tailor your presentation to address their concerns.
  • Never deliver bad news without following with what you plan to do about it.
  • End with clarity about the next steps.

As you can see, the book goes beyond providing guidance on preparing a PowerPoint. Gilbert gives specific language and tactics for how to handle challenging situations, as well as insight to help you understand the perspective of the executive. I found this book to be a valuable resource. Don’t wait until your presentation to read it. You want to be well-prepared ahead of time.

Frederick Gilbert’s book can be found on Amazon

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