I’ve been writing and presenting my entire career, so this set of learnings was definitely puzzling to acquire. But it turns out that you need a different deck for executive presentations than you do for conferences, sales, or product updates.
First, a general note for technical or academic people. There’s an attitude or tradition, perhaps based in the scientific method, of framing of what you’re not talking about before presenting what you’re talking about. “Here’s the problem, here’s all the solutions that won’t or didn’t work, here’s the new solution.” You set up the prior answers to show you understand them, then demolish them to make space for your own, better answer. This communication model is used in enterprise software companies as well. I see this all the time in engineering designs, in product requirements, in market definitions. “We can’t do foo or bar, but baz is a great option.” As a rule, executives hate this style of communication. I’ve had so… many… proposals shut down with some form of “stop telling me what won’t work”. People in executive roles are already very well familiar with what won’t work, they’ve been told why it won’t work every day of this company, and they’re looking for answers. Present the answer.
On a related note, emotional color is also forbidden. You’re not here to convince, you’re here to present. If your plan is good enough, it will convince on its own. Or more to the point, your use of adverbs and adjectives won’t carry the day. Keep it short, keep it clear, and keep your metaphorical thumb off the scale of simile.
- Thank them for their time and be ready to get started as soon as they’re ready.
- Slide 1. What is the problem that the proposal solves. Not why the problem is important. If the executive doesn’t think it’s important, why are you in the room? If you don’t know that they think it’s important, why are you giving this presentation now? Never enter a decision meeting without having prepared for a positive outcome. You’re only trying to share what domain you’re working in, you’re not trying to explain the problem. Is it possible to skip this entirely? That would be ideal. Be ready to skip or delete this slide.
- Slides 2-6. What is the proposal. Design, upfront cost estimate (CapEx and OpEx), projected costs, definition of success. That’s no more than ten minutes in your mirror, but it might be thirty or forty-five minutes with your executive if things go well.
The rest of the deck is background material that you probably won’t get to, but which the executive very probably already read before your meeting or will read after the meeting. That backup material is where you can link to engineering designs, customer feedback, analyst projections, and maybe some of the emotional color you might have wanted to use. My advice is to spend most of this space on your financial model though. Lots of product managers have technical background and subject matter expertise, and then spend the bulk of their time with engineers and technical champion customers. Preparing for this deck, you’ll need to put serious effort into understanding the finances of your company and how your proposal will affect them.
A lot of decks can be delivered with low levels of practice, coasting on your experience and skill, but this isn’t one of them. You’re asking a responsible person to pivot the company they’re responsible for.