One of the key roles for independent consultants is business development - and often the road to new business goes through the C-suite. Presenting proposals to executives is unlike presenting to peers. Below are a few tips to help you develop your content and approach for executive presentations.
Before you write or deliver your proposal, invest the time to learn more about your audience and their business.
The previous roles and areas of expertise of executives can help you to gain a better understanding of how much they know about your solution. It can also help you to anticipate questions. Use LinkedIn to research your audience and discover shared connections. Review their social media presence to learn more about their interests and style.
Tip: The company website often has a link to branded social media profiles.
Prior to your executive presentation you will want to find out more about the company. What challenges are they facing? How are they positioned in the market? Have they expanded or launched a new product/service. Review the company's website, press releases, blog and even job opportunities to understand their current environment. For publicly traded companies search EDGAR for the company's 10-k and 10-Q forms which can provide a depth of information on financials, directors, market and more.
Finally, use your inside contacts to ask questions. You will want to find out the company's top priorities and what motivates the executives? Are there hot button issues you should address or avoid? Do the executives have any presentation pet peeves or preferences?
With multiple demands on their time, executives are looking for the bottom line. A study that asked top executives at several large companies how people could present more effectively to them, revealed that presentations should be shorter and more candid. Training and development expert, Dave Underhill emphasizes the importance of a strong start, "Show executives that you have a plan for the presentation and will use their time effectively." Dave advises that in the first 30-60 seconds independent consultants should cover:
Maintain that focus throughout your presentation. Remove information that is not essential to keep their attention. Follow up a strong start with a strong finish. You may be given an hour to present, but ending early is sure to win the room. Your efficiency and respect of time can reinforce the kind of job you will do for the company. Ending early also provides time for additional questions and discussion.
Executives must maintain a big picture, long term focus. Decisions are not made based on solving the problems of the day but on the vision for the future. Underhill advises independent consultants to sell executives on the vision or the big picture before diving into the details. "Executives have a broad view of the organization so it is important to show them how your topic fits with larger strategic initiatives such as revenue growth, cost cutting or productivity."
Your preparation prior to the presentation will help you to engage your executive audience with smart questions. Use questions to open up a dialog and demonstrate your focus on the business vision rather than on just your solution.
Honesty about the risks and results of your solution are also part of big picture thinking. Underwood says, "There are risks and problems with every project, so show that you know what they are and have a plan for addressing them. As you review the results forecasted clearly articulate the key assumptions that are not backed by data and need to be proven."
Presenting proposals to executives requires preparation and a change in perspective. Your content and approach should be driven by the unique needs of an executive. By focusing on what is most important to them you will win their attention and the business.
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