How to make a compelling case to the CEO


Maurice DeCastro, director at Mindful Presenter, offers five tips to make your presentation to the CEO more effective

As a former director of large organisations, I recall the time when a newly appointed member of the executive team was called in to present to the CEO for the first time.

Needless to say she was anxious, so I did my best to encourage and support her. After her presentation I asked how it went. This was her response:

“Well, it felt like sitting with my gynaecologist. He was polite and charming as I began my presentation, but I couldn’t help having this uneasy feeling that I was going to be violated at any moment.”

The good news is that presenting is far easier than you think when you know exactly how your audience thinks and you understand what to do.

Remember that at the forefront of the CEO’s mind – and those of fellow senior directors –will be these questions:

  • How do we grow?
  • How do we beat the competition?
  • How do we increase revenue and profits?
  • How do we reduce costs?

Now you know what’s on their mind, here are five tips to take control of your presentation and win them over to your way of thinking.

1. Get to the point quickly

Chief executives are short of time; there will never be enough hours in the day. That’s why we often think that they are impatient. So rather than resent this, help them instead. The most effective way to do this is to present using these simple but potent steps:

Attention: One of my favourite TED talks is by Ted fellow Jane Chen, where she speaks about a low-cost incubator that can save thousands of lives in underdeveloped countries. Here is how she got her audience’s undivided attention:

“Please close your eyes and open your hands. Now imagine what you could place in your hands, an apple, maybe your wallet. Now open your eyes. What about a life?”

As the audience opens their eyes, she shows a slide with an image of a tiny baby held in an adult’s hands. That may not be a typical business presentation, but I hope you understand what I mean.

Relevancy: Tell the CEO and senior directors that what you have to say will:

  • Help the business grow
  • Help them to beat the competition
  • Increase revenue and profits
  • Reduce costs

Tell them what they need to know, and don’t save the punchline for the end.

Message: Now you’ve got their attention, get straight to the heart of your message.

Examples: Don’t rely on them just ‘getting it’. Bring your message alive by giving compelling examples to illustrate your point.

Action: Don’t ramble – tell them exactly what you want them to do now.

2. Sell the CEO a vision

As a young leader, my first boss told me: “The only people who need to be motivated are those who can’t see the future.”

CEOs spend every waking hour trying to imagine the future, so help them to see what it could be like and they will be more than motivated to support you in helping to make it real.

3. Invite questions early

You can be certain that CEOs won’t be saving questions for the end of your presentation, so do them a favour as well as yourself by inviting them to ask questions early.

4. Don’t be afraid

Emotionally intelligent CEOs understand that many people feel intimidated when having to present. What most presenters don’t know is that what the best CEOs want more than anything else is to see people be themselves.

Remember that the one thing they need more than anything is help and you have a brilliant opportunity to allow them to be less afraid of the future by sharing your valuable idea.

Most CEOs find presentations packed with data, jargon and solemnity tedious and find it refreshing to simply have a conversation.

5. Have all of the answers

The greatest fear for presenters is that the CEO will ask a question they cannot answer. It’s a genuine worry, but most don’t put anywhere near enough preparation into finding the answers in advance.

So how do you ease that fear? Simply put yourself in the CEO’s shoes.

Brainstorm with colleagues who understand the CEO every conceivable question you could be asked – and make sure you can answer them.

However exhaustively you prepare, though, it is likely the CEO will still find a question you can’t answer.

When that happens, stay calm and show them how well you’ve prepared by at least offering a view without making up an answer. A commitment to finding the solution as soon as you can is more than sufficient for most.

The best advice I can offer you is to craft and deliver your presentation in a way that will help CEOs sleep better at night and help them to see the future more clearly.

Maurice DeCastro is director at Mindful Presenter and a member of IoD London





About author

Maurice DeCastro

Maurice DeCastro

Maurice DeCastro is director at skills training specialists Mindful Presenter and a consultant with over 20 years' experience in driving organisational growth and success for companies across diverse industries

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