Influencing Decision Makers

You’ve spent countless hours thinking about how you’d do things differently in your organization if you were running the show. You work hard and dream about the day when senior management looks to you for key decisions. That day is here.

Have you heard of the saying, “Be careful of what you wish for because you just might get it?” It’s easy to feel that way when first invited to have a guest seat at the executive table in the luxurious corner office. Presenting in front of a C-suite audience doesn’t have to be so scary as long as you’re prepared for what to expect. Whether you’re pitching a new initiative or presenting a spending proposal, these pointers will help you to be taken seriously.

¯ Get to the point. Fast.

Your executive team is constantly being pulled in many different directions. Their calendars are full and their time is short. If you are given 10 minutes of their time, use it wisely. Don’t waste it. Kick off your presentation by telling them what your main points are and give a clear idea of your desired outcome. Oftentimes, they may be walking into your meeting without having had a chance to be briefed by their assistant. Don’t lose valuable time by leaving them guessing. Get to your main point quickly.

¯ Know your material inside and out.

Unlike the public speaking course you took when you were in school, executive team presentations are anything but scripted or predictable. Your executive team is not going to sit quietly until your 10 minutes in the spotlight are done. If they have a question, they will interrupt you to ask it at the moment it crosses their mind. This means you need to know your topic so well, that you can handle any possible interruption with ease. The moment they detect you aren’t confident about your subject, they won’t be as confident in your recommendation.

¯ Be prepared with solutions, not problems.

If you are presenting a concept that needs executive approval, put yourself in their shoes. If the roles were reversed, you wouldn’t want to hear someone going on and on about problems — expecting you to devise a solution. You’d want someone to present an issue, and offer a recommended solution. Focus your pitch on the solution and the financial benefit it will have on the company. Make sure it’s well thought out. Before heading into the board room, ask a colleague to play devil’s advocate by poking holes in your solution so you can make sure every angle has been covered.

¯ Be flexible.

Don’t be surprised if you’re presenting on a topic and a member of your executive audience interrupts, asking you to go back to something you already covered 10 minutes ago. Go with the flow. Resist the urge to show frustration. They may be satisfied with what you are currently covering and have some lingering questions about an earlier topic. By staying open to the direction of dialogue they need to follow in order to process all of the information, you’re ensuring they stay focused on what’s important to them. After all, they are armed with inside knowledge about what behind-the-scenes questions they need answers to in order to reach a decision. Don’t personalize their desire to skip past certain elements you’ve worked so hard to prepare. Remember, if it’s important to them, it should be important to you.

¯ Know the facts, not a script.

If there is one thing seasoned executives are good at, it’s taking stabs at testing the logic behind your ideas. Before you step in front of an executive group, make sure you have plenty of supporting data to support your statements. If you walk into your presentation with the intention of relying on a scripted delivery, you will instantly lose credibility. Your executive audience wants to be engaged in back-and-forth dialogue and they want to see if you truly know what you’re talking about. Throw the script away and rely on the knowledge you have. Of course, have some strong data to refer to also.

Perhaps most importantly, take a deep breath and have faith in what you know. You have something valuable to say, and they know it. That is why they invited you to speak.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla SPHR, SHRM-SCP is a leadership communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly 20 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, aerospace, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at