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Executive Presentations: Achieving the Outcomes You Want

When it comes to executive presentations, focus on the outcome and audience, not what you want to say

Written by: Deb Liu

Learning to present to executives is a critical part of career growth and success. Your ability to articulate what you and your team do, and how that aligns with the long-term mission and goals of your company, can mean the difference between support and resources and the depreciation of your product or team.  

I have been on both sides of the table, as a presenter and an executive. I started out in consulting at Boston Consulting Group, where I learned to craft presentations that were shared with senior executives and boards. I spent time in Corporate Strategy, where I worked on strategies and decks for the CEO of PayPal. I have pitched dozens of products, from PayPal Integration with eBay to Games, Facebook Credits, and Facebook Marketplace.  I also helped to craft the Ancestry new vision and strategy for our board. On the executive side, I have sat through hundreds of presentations in my operating roles, during my time in board service, and now as the CEO of Ancestry.  

This is a compilation of the best practices for any team preparing for an executive review.  

Know the purpose of your meeting

If you don’t know what outcome you’re looking for, you will likely leave dissatisfied with the outcome you get. 

Here are a few ways of categorizing your meeting.

  • Decision-making meeting: The goal of a decision-making meeting is to make the final call during the discussion (or, if necessary, shortly thereafter). It is critical that you frame each question in the context of the following: 
    1. Clear options
    2. Stakeholders’ opinions on those options
    3. The pros and cons weighed against the decision criteria
  • Brainstorming meeting: Early in product development or idea generation, some executives will host brainstorming meetings to get initial ideas on the table. This is also often done for new innovation and areas of exploration.
  • Resource ask meeting: Amazon has a well-known type of six-pager meeting dedicated to requesting resources for a specific product. Other companies have periods where new ideas or incremental asks are entertained during budgeting time.  
  • Approval meeting: These meetings are often considered “green light” meetings, where a product or initiative is ready to ship and the team is requesting final approval to proceed. Prepare with a press release, positioning statement, and rollout plans. 
  • Update meeting: Ask yourself before having an update meeting, “Could this have been an email?” Many executive update meetings are more for the team than the executives, so if you are invited to a meeting of this type, ensure that you leverage it to ask your questions and garner support.   

Write a quality pre-read before Executive Presentations

Pre-reads ensure that the content has a separate space from the conversation, benefitting both. 

Pre-reads give those attending the meeting the chance to get context and ask questions ahead of time. The best practice is to send the pre-read at least 24 hours before the meeting. It is challenging in a live 30- to 60-minute meeting to both set context and discuss key points. Focus the education portion on the pre-read and use your time in the room for a guided discussion. The pre-read should stand on its own without additional live commentary, and it should clearly list out everything that will be discussed during the meeting.  

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