08April 2024

Public Speaking Tips for Presenting to Senior Managers

Many people struggle when they have to present to their managers or senior leaders at work.
On the one hand, there is the anxiety of presenting to someone who, at least in work terms, is your superior, and on the other hand there is a sense of inversion as on a normal day they are telling you and now you are telling them!
Much of the anxiety will be removed if you have properly understood your role in presenting and the purpose of your presentation.
And most of the rest of the anxiety should be further reduced if you prepare properly for the task.
When working with Civil Servants I ask them what is the point of their presentation and often they answer that their role is not to provide a presentation with a conclusion – as it is the Minister’s job to reach a conclusion – the civil servant's role is to provide the background information to enable the Minister to come to that conclusion.
Even so, a presentation will always have a purpose.
In this case, the point of the presentation is simply ‘to provide you with the background and context so that you can come to your own conclusion.’
This type of presentation is not aiming to persuade, educate, or inform to lead the listener to your point of view, it is simply to offer a service so that they can come to their own conclusion.

Therefore the key to delivering a successful presentation to a manager is to understand the context and the purpose of the presentation.

10 tips for presenting to managers

  1. Why are you presenting?

If a senior leadership team has asked you to present to them, there will be a reason and a good starting place for you is the same starting place that I would recommend for any considered presentation:
‘Who is my audience?  What do they want?’
You may have been asked because you have a level of specific knowledge that they do not have.
In this case, you are speaking as the acknowledged expert.
For instance, the company is thinking about opening an office in Rome and since you have lived and worked in Rome in a previous role, you are well placed to offer some insight.
They are not asking your advice on how to run the business, they just want some insight into the culture and the practicalities of opening an office in Rome.
On the other hand, they might be considering opening a European office and the current choices are between Rome, Paris, and Berlin and they have asked you to do a little research on each of those cities to help them make the best decision, in which case your role is to provide data, rather than a perspective.

If they want advice on how to run the business, they will ask you, but in each of the above cases, the purpose of the presentation is very specific and you are merely required to provide insights and information on a subject where you have some knowledge already or because you have been asked to do some of the groundwork and gain the knowledge that they would otherwise not have time to do.

  1. Draw a clear circle around your presentation

This is one way of avoiding any sense that you might be overreaching your status.  If you have been asked to research three European cities in terms of their infrastructure, cost of living, closeness to a major airport, and social environment, let the audience know from the beginning of the presentation that is all you intend to do:
‘Today I would like to give you some overview of the lifestyle and the working advantages and disadvantages of living and working in these three cities, to help you as you decide which would make the best strategic or business sense for the company.’

  1. Know your place

In the end, we are always presenting to people and some of our audiences are more status-conscious and sensitive than others.
I know that frequently when I am delivering presentation training to a team within an organisation, I might have participants at different levels of authority sitting together on the same programme.
On occasions I have had a very candid team leader who has told me straightaway:
‘I am probably going to be the worst public speaker in the room today.’
Their ability to present well is not an issue in terms of their authority and standing in the team,
in which case I can be quite clear in offering the same level of feedback to everyone, ‘without fear or favour’.
On other occasions, I have become aware that the manager of the team is a little prickly and self-conscious about their position in the team and I need to be very sensitive to ‘not showing them up’ in front of their team.

Therefore, similarly, in a presentation to your managers, you may be lucky enough to have a very relaxed open relationship with them or they have made it clear that for the next few minutes, you are in charge and you should say it as you see it.
On the other hand, you might sense that they are self-conscious about being talked to by one of their ‘juniors’ and you should make sure that they understand that you are not going to abuse the privilege and ‘get above your station.’

Then, if you behave in a way that makes them feel comfortable and unchallenged by you, they will be much more inclined to give you more space to open out and share your opinion – should you even wish to!

  1. Every presentation to management is a Job Interview

If you present well, and show yourself to be clear, reliable, and to the point, that will make a lasting impression.  It may not be relevant on the day, but a good presentation has a way of lodging itself in the memory, so that sometime later – even if it is long in the future – you will be remembered positively. 

  1. Be specific

The more specific you are about the scope and purpose of the presentation, the easier it is to avoid ’mission creep’.  If they want you to offer some insights into the infrastructure of three European cities, then that is all you need to do.  You may have your own opinion about which is best – and why(!), but if you have not been asked to share it, you probably should not.  However, if they feel, based on the impressive quality of your research that your opinion is worth hearing, it would be a shame not to be able to take advantage of that opportunity

  1. Be concise.

‘Be brief, be brilliant, be gone.’
This is a quote attributed to US President Woodrow Wilson.
Therefore following on from Tip #4 ‘Every presentation is a job interview’, being brief and brilliant will make the best impression.
A common mistake is because you see the presentation as a chance to shine, you may focus too much on yourself.
Managers by definition are busy people and being concise, not only makes the message easier for them to understand, it shows you are respecting their time.
Richard Branson was said to sometimes turn up just before a business presentation, as the presenter is setting up, and say:
‘I was intending to come to this meeting, but I have just been called away. 
Can you tell me in 30 seconds why I need to buy whatever you are selling?’
And part of his purpose was to find out whether they could be brief, brilliant, and gone!

  1. Look the part

Whether you want to or not, you are making an impression whenever you present.
Therefore it is worth taking care of all aspects.
And that could range from how you are dressed, whether you have cut your fingernails and whether your shoes are clean to making sure your slides or notes are in order and you are looking calm.

  1. Be clear and unhurried

Yes - ‘Be brief, be brilliant, be gone’, but don’t appear rushed.
Fewer words spoken clearly and slowly will make a better impression than lots of words spoken fast and gabbled.  Your clear and concise presentation shows you respect their time, but you also matter and what you say matters, so make sure you are not rushed into delivery.  A rushed presentation implies that either it has not been very well prepared, or that the content is not important enough to take time over.

  1. Prepare for Questions

If you can deliver a presentation that meets the scope of what the managers have asked for, you will have made a good impression, which makes it more likely that they may have some further questions for you.
So don’t risk ruining that good impression by not being able to answer their follow-up questions.
Most employees can do what they have been asked, but someone who seems to be able to think further will stand out.

  1. Practice

We usually end here!
You can do a great job all year and barely be noticed and then one 10-minute presentation, well delivered, and suddenly you are seen.  Pareto’s 80 – 20 rule may be applied in many contexts, but a public presentation definitely fits into the 20% category of importance so it is worth dedicating 80% of the time to it.
Focus particularly on your opening and ending.
The opening will make much of the impression of your presentation and the ending will contain the take-away message so to take Pareto even further, spend 80% of your preparation time on the 20% that is the opening and ending and you will make that great impression and all your anxiety in presenting to senior leadership will be worth it!

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Michael's superb training style is underpinned by an incredible depth of knowledge and experience. Like all true experts, he delivers what he knows with ease and simplicity, exampling the skills he is teaching as he does so.

Very informative and great anecdotes which illustrated points and provided visual markers.

The most interesting training that I have ever taken part in! Experience + Wisdom + Perfect teaching approach.

The training was spot on. He really listened to us and customised his responses throughout.

Loved the creation of visual examples through the use of body and how relating the experience really helps demonstrate the message.

Very approachable and motivational. So much information, brilliantly delivered.

Loads of great analogies and stories - very friendly and helpful.

Very approachable and knowledgeable and good use of examples to simplify the material.

In just one day Michael was able to teach a class of children how to craft their own personal stories and experiences into powerful and engaging speeches that resonate with an adult audience as well as with a younger audience. It is a marvellous way to help them increase self-confidence and in the process - almost without them even realising it - become natural speakers and excellent communicators.

Michael has a style of speaking which draws the audience into his world, captivates them and leaves them with lasting memories of some of the descriptive phrases he has used and the information he has included. He also has the ability to pass the skills he uses in his own speaking on to those he trains.

Very good rapport, attention to detail, individual support, positive atmosphere and encouragement - a great place for learning.

• Very great example; how to express yourself, how to be engaging and how to match body language with what is said.