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The 7 most important things CEOs need to know about presenting

I’ve learned a great deal from my many years in the boardroom and leading as an executive but by far the most important lesson is that the most compelling CEOs use every speaking opportunity to influence, inspire and connect with people.

CEOs are recruited for their intellectual rigor and creativity to formulate and execute winning strategies to build and sustain superior organisations. The most effective ones are those who are mindful of their need to connect and lead each time they speak.

One of my favourite leadership books, ‘The Leadership Challenge’ by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner shares the findings of some extensive research which surveyed thousands of people asking what they wanted most from their leaders. Over a span of 20 years thousands of people across 6 continents consistently said the same thing:





That was my personal experience as well both in and out of the boardroom.

These characteristics should be lived and highly visible in every interaction. When CEOs take to the platform to present, these attributes are amongst the first their audience’s will look for but are not always conveyed as effectively as they could be. In fact, often, despite best intentions the lack of knowledge as to how to best communicate these values can do more harm than good.

I was recently asked to attend a senior management conference of a $750M company with a view to supporting them in their aspirations to achieve $1Bn in the next 2 years. Scores of senior managers were flown to London from every part of the globe to be inspired and motivated by the executive to help the company achieve its goal.

The CEO spoke first, then the vice-chairman, then a number of other execs.

After several hours of bullet points, complex charts, graphs and images that were largely unintelligible and supported by monotone dictatorial deliveries the audience crawled out of the auditorium desperate to hit the bar. The executive fluffed their feathers having followed their scripts and shared their ill prepared slides under the naïve belief that they had completely inspired a global management team when nothing could have been further from the truth.

They hadn’t, people were left confused, demoralised and demotivated.

Sadly, that example is neither exaggerated nor uncommon; we see it all too often.

It’s not only completely avoidable but it’s critical that all CEOs and executives present the 4 attributes; honest, forward looking, inspiring and competent each time they speak, especially when presenting. At Mindful Presenter we believe that the 7 most important things every CEO and leader needs to achieve that when they present are:

1. Put yourself in their shoes

Having led global brands from the front and the top it’s my experience and belief that empathy is the most important requirement for leadership success. I believe the modern term for it is Emotional Quotient or EQ. That means preparing and delivering your presentation with a thorough understanding of:

  • Who your audience really is and the challenges they personally face.
  • What their hopes and aspirations are and what problems and difficulties they have.
  • How you would feel if you were in their position listening to you.
  • How your message will help or hinder them and why they should listen and care.

Don’t make the mistake that many leaders do and give a generic presentation that they’ve given before to a different audience.

2. Open with an emotional connection

Whatever you have to say it’s likely they have probably heard something similar before possibly even delivered in a very similar environment in the same way. As your audience take their seats to listen to you some may be thinking:

  • Oh no, here we go again, what is it this time?
  • I don’t have time for this doesn’t he know how busy we are?
  • I hope this doesn’t take long I have a deadline to meet, report to write, target to reach.

Your priority is to grab their attention by changing their emotional state making them both interested in and curious about what you have to say.

Tell them a story – relevant stories are one of the most powerful and compelling ways to establish rapport and make an emotional connection with your audience. Stories draw us in help to bring our message to life and can engage, connect and inspire our audience in a way that nothing else comes close.

Make sure that it’s a story that they can relate to and get them to think and feel differently to the way they did the moment they walked in.

3. Get to the point

We’ve all been there and know the feeling when the CEO rambles on and on for what seems like a lifetime before finally telling us why we have been called together. Don’t put them through that pain by saving the punchline for the end, give it to them up front and as you do make sure your message is simple and crystal clear so that you can explain it in a way that an 8 year old can understand.

Just because you haven’t taken the time or gone to the trouble of having spoken to them for a while don’t save everything up that you’ve wanted to say for months to suddenly drop into their laps. People like things in 3’s so however much you have to share with them whatever you do condense it down to no more than 3 messages. Any more and they simply won’t remember them.

4. Be the boss but be human

The CEO is someone who people want to look up to, admire, respect and trust. Everyone wants to feel inspired by the CEO and some even aspire to hold the coveted position themselves one day and therefore model themselves on the current incumbent’s performance.

That means that when the CEO speaks people want to see not just the boss but the real person beneath the title. The best way to do that is to show them something of the real you. Don’t be afraid to be a little vulnerable and let them into your world by disclosing information about the real you, the husband, father, son, and friend. Instead of presenting to them focus on having a conversation with your audience in the same way you would with someone you care about.

5. Don’t just stand there

Movement is energy and every audience needs and feeds off of energy. When speakers move they also stimulate their audience’s visual senses and keep their attention. Don’t just stand there, especially behind a lectern if you can help it, be energetic, enthusiastic and move.

Use your hands to animate your story and key points, use your personality to move and gesture in a way that demonstrates to them you are not just reciting a script but living a message that you believe in. That movement extends to your face too, don’t forget to smile.

6. Use your voice

Your voice is the best speaking tool you have and the most inspiring CEOs use theirs to their fullest when presenting. Even though you’re having a conversation when you are speaking to large groups it’s not enough to speak the way you may normally speak in the board room. The best speakers know how to project their voice powerfully and utilise the full vocal range.

For each of us our vocal range is far greater than our normal speaking voice and to present with impact the CEO needs to practice using her voice to vary her volume, tone, pitch and pace to frame her personality and articulate her message powerfully.

7. Make it memorable

When you’re the CEO you’ve tasked everyone in the company to do a job and to do so at the best of their ability. It’s also your job to help them do that.

When the CEO speaks, whether he likes it or not his listeners are looking for words of inspiration that influence, connect and engage. Everyone understands that the CEO is there to inspire action and change and when they are listening to the CEO speak to them as part of a larger audience they want it to be memorable.

The end of your presentation is as important as your opening and it has to be positive, focused and memorable so that people will leave on a high with absolute clarity of why they were there in the first place and what you expect them to think, feel of do.

If every CEO presented with these 7 pieces of advice at the forefront of their mind I believe that the return they would see on their investment of crafting an audience focused presentation would be substantial.

Written by  Maurice De Castro.

Maurice De Castro is a former corporate executive of some of the UK’s best loved brands. Maurice believes that the route to success in any organisation lies squarely in its ability to really connect with people. That’s why he left the boardroom to create a business helping leaders to do exactly that.

Mindful Presenter is a team of  world class presentation skills training specialists using their expertise to help  organisations to lead change, win business, influence and persuade stakeholders, build teams and enhance relationships. Follow Mindful Presenter on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Linkedin.

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Featured Columnists at the CEOWORLD Magazine is a team of experts led by Camilla O'Donnell, James Reed, Amarendra Bhushan, and Amanda Millar. The CEOWORLD Magazine is the worlds leading business and technology magazine for CEOs (chief executives) and top-level management professionals.
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