Leaders at any organization have a special set of concerns. They’re constantly thinking about where the organization is and where it wants to be, while weighing the risks and rewards of moving or staying put.
When making presentations to leaders, you’ll get better results if you address their concerns and provide solutions that further their goals. Use this strategy to position yourself for the best results.
1. Start with agreement
Make a statement that aligns with leadership’s view. Begin with a non-controversial statement the audience can agree with. Keep it short. Skip the back-story and get on with the complication.
2. Add a complication
Introduce a twist—a “yes, but…” Audiences love tension and will pay attention to see how you resolve the complication.
3. Resolve the complication
Now, answer the question you raised. What are your key points? Each point should be an answer to the question. Explain the what, why, or how. For complex topics, you may need to include multiple layers of complication and resolution. For example, something is blocking us from entering the market. Our resolution is to partner with an ally who is already in the market. That introduces a new complication—which partner is the right choice? And a new resolution—the appropriate partner has excess capacity, is not a competitor, and meets specific performance criteria.
4. Make your recommendation
Make it clear which of the alternative resolutions you are recommending. Explain what you think the next step should be.
5. Support your recommendations with evidence
Back up your recommendation with the best evidence you have—use facts, expert testimony, stories, or analogy—but don’t overdo it. Never dump all your evidence on the table. Few audiences can cope with more than two or three elements. Keep the rest in reserve and share it if requested. Include your extra evidence in the appendix of your document.
6. Acknowledge exceptions before someone else brings them up
Be candid. Explain any gaps or exceptions in your evidence before you are challenged. Put gaps and exceptions in context so they don’t become a big deal.
7. Reveal what is at stake
Every audience is asking itself, “Why should I care about this?” The answer can be at an institutional level—lower risk, thwart competition, beguile customers, increase profits, etc. Individual benefits can also matter—meet new challenges, master new skills, win kudos, stimulate pride, etc.
8. Reveal the risk
Leaders are supposed to help the enterprise avoid unnecessary risk. Increase your credibility by showing you know where the risks are. Put risks in perspective by showing how similar challenges have been met in other industries, in other enterprises, or in this enterprise’s past.
9. Echo leadership’s values, strategies, and commitments
Make connections from your recommendation to broader ideas that leadership has already said are important. Even better, link to actions that have already been taken. For example, if the company has succeeded with a policy of leveraging production facilities of partners, explain that now we are going to leverage the intellectual property of a partner.
10. Start with small commitments and grow
Give leadership opportunities to approve a small-scale initial phase now. Later ask them to say yes to a larger, riskier phase. See Robert Cialdini’s Influence: Science and Practice for more about the power of escalating commitments.