Speaking to the C-Suite, boards, or other high-profile audiences? Here are 5 ways to come across with professionalism, poise, and presence!
Recently, I worked with a sales person who’s a star in his industry. He’s a high-energy performer whose pitches succeed time after time. In fact, he retires his monthly quotas faster than anyone on his company's sales force.
The day we worked together, however, he wasn’t up to his usual game. In fact, he was nervous and uncertain of his abilities, and was visually and verbally anxious.
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What was going on? — Well, he was rehearsing a presentation to be delivered to a group of CEOs. He’d never spoken to the C-Suite before, and he had the idea that he was the wrong person for the job. Other people specialized in speaking at this level, he told me, and it was only by a scheduling conflict that he was being moved temporarily into this slot.
He needed to improve his abilities to present to this group, and he knew it. Fortunately, he had two factors on his side: (1) He was a knowledgeable, dedicated, and talented salesperson, and (2) There were tools available to up his game quickly to speak to such a high-level audience.
How to Launch Your Presentations Strongly
If you speak to your CEO, or if you are a CEO who speaks to boards; if you’re a lawyer who presents to panels or commissions, or you’re just the voice of your organization, you need to understand and use these tools. The 5 approaches I’ll talk about below will, in fact, serve you well whenever you present in a high-profile situation. So, assuming that you know your content cold and what you're about to say is relevant and actionable, here are those five techniques:
The first of them is launching your presentation strongly. In many ways—in terms of content, visuals, along with your verbal and vocal performance—you need to show you’re speaking for leadership in no uncertain terms, and to do it at the start of your talk.
Senior-level professionals want to understand from the moment you begin speaking that their time isn’t going to be wasted, that you have something valuable to offer. You’ll take them along that path if you clearly and concisely let them know right away where you and they are going together. You must understand, that is, not only how to grab your audience's attention at the start of your speech. You also need to preview your talk. You can do that in two ways: a) reveal the specific items you’ll be covering, and b) tell them how they’ll benefit from what they’re about to hear. Your CEO will not only be able to follow where you’re going every step of the way. His or her attention will now be fully activated because of the importance of your topic.
B-L-U-F, or Bottom Line Up Front
Want to speak with professionalism and impact for a C-Suite audience? Then be certain you practice B-L-U-F, or Bottom-Line-Up-Front.
Imagine this situation: You’re an analyst who’s been tasked with researching the feasibility of a merger between your company and a competitor. At this meeting, you’ll be delivering your recommendations to the senior management team.
Scenario A: You thank the attendees for their time, and remind them of the task they assigned to you. “So I started my research,” you say—and then present a blow-by-blow account of where you looked for the relevant data and the strategy behind your plan of attack. Eventually, you get to you recommendation.
Scenario B: You greet your listeners the same way. But as soon as you remind them that your job was to deliver a recommendation, you do that immediately. Once you’ve given the results of your research, you back up and explain that evidence and how you came to your conclusion.
If you proceeded in B-L-U-F mode, or Scenario B, you just succeeded. In fact, it’s a good thing you gave your bottom line up front. The CEO was called out of the meeting by her secretary three minutes after you started; and five minutes later, the CFO had to take an emergency phone call. If you had taken your time getting to that bottom line, they’d never have heard your recommendation until they followed up with you afterwards!
How to Use Body Language in Public Speaking
To speak as a leader when you speak to leaders, you need to use body language effectively. And once again, you set the right impression (or not) within the first minute of your presentation.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that body language means gestures and nothing else. The truth is, you’ve been making statements about yourself and your level of confidence and charisma before you ever opened your mouth!
For the purposes of your presentation, but also concerning your future at this company, your CEO or board wants to be impressed by your confidence. In fact, they want to be amazed by it. And the evidence of that self-regard starts with how you hold yourself and move.
How’s your posture? Your handshake? When you enter a room, does it look like you mean business? — Do you walk with purpose, make strong eye contact with everyone present, and compose your face so that your expression is open and receptive? Do you take a moment as you stand at the board table before you start speaking to gather the power in the room?
An interesting aspect of body language is this: What you broadcast is what your audience will receive. You don’t have to be the most confident person in the room—you just need to look the part. I don’t mean arrogance, of course. But broadcasting confidence through your posture, stance, walk, and gaze means that audiences will be more confident in you. Here are the 5 key body language techniques of public speaking you need to know. You’ll see listeners' perceived confidence in you in their own body language, which will give you a higher level of . . . confidence. It’s as elegant a positive cycle as you could desire for public speaking.
To Speak as a Leader, Command the Stage!
Now take that displayed physical confidence one step further. For the presence required to speak successfully to the C-Suite and boards, you need to command your stage.
Yes, you’ll sometimes be seated at a board table, and your displayed confidence in that case will depend upon your upper body gestures, your voice, and the pace of your remarks. But let’s assume you’ll be standing as you present—without a doubt the best situation because you’ll be able to use full-body communication skills.
As a speaker (again, as a speaker who leads), you are given a certain amount of space to speak in, and it is your job to command that space. Presenters who diminish themselves by not using the space they’re speaking in allow themselves to be controlled by that space—and it shows. “All the world’s a stage,” as Shakespeare reminded us. And if there’s ever a time you need to control that space, it’s when you’re speaking to leadership.
Use the actor’s position of “down-center” or closest to your audience to deliver your opening. Move to another part of your performance space to introduce each separate main point; and once there, gesture naturally—but don’t break up the unity of that point by moving while you’re discussing it! Then come down-center again for your strong conclusion. Think about the people you consider to be exciting speakers. Does Tony Robbins command a stage? Is Brian Tracy a poised presenter who takes center stage and ignores the lectern? Here are 12 ways to command a stage when you need to speak as a leader.
How to End a Presentation Vividly and Memorably
Now that you’ve concisely and compellingly given your CEO or board the essence of what you were there to say, and assumed command while doing it, you’re ready to seal the deal. This is the last step in your ability to speak memorably to the C-Suite, and it’s where you get to display your creative chops.
Of the parts of a presentation—greeting, grabber, main points, supporting evidence, use of visuals, building in audience interaction, etc.—the conclusion is the speech element most likely to be short-changed, or even completely neglected.
Yet it’s an absolutely necessary element to making your presentation resonate in the minds of your CEO or board. It’s not particularly difficult to make listeners pay attention while you’re speaking. But will they act on your recommendations over the coming weeks, months, or years? Will they retain the change of thinking or feelings over an issue that you’ve been working hard to make happen?
For your ideas and content to be retained by your CEO—that is, to make your talk memorable— you have to deliver more than a summation of the points you've been discussing. You need to ask yourself: “What can I say now that will make the ideas I’m advocating sticky, so that my presentation will stand out in his mind?"
Here’s where creativity comes into play: What can you say to this audience of senior leaders right now that will give your talk a little immortality? What is the reference, metaphor, story, case study, quotation, or other device that will leave them slightly in awe—perhaps even sorry that you’re finished speaking. Here are some foolproof ways to end a speech that fit this bill nicely.
As you can imagine, it was a concentrated daylong session with my salesperson client as we used these 5 ways to raise his presentation to C-Suite level. As always, videotaping became our tool for observing his progress. At this point, he may not be the most confident guy in the world when it comes to presenting to CEOs, but he can now perform competently on that stage—with a really solid quintet behind him.
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