How to Communicate with Executives: Part III

April 17, 2014    |    Steve Mandel

The two-part blog series on How to Communicate with Executives was so well-received, I wanted to write a third and final bonus post. Not to mention, Fortune 500 executives have shared so many invaluable tips with me with over the years, that it's difficult for me not to want to share them all. 

So, this week I'll conclude the series by focusing on (1) the use of slides when presenting to executives and (2) how to manage push back when interacting with executives.

“The more slides that you have, the more opportunity there is for it to go horribly wrong.  Keep it simple. Get to the point. Don’t go sideways.”

Excellent advice! I hear so many complaints from executives about presentation decks that are nothing more than huge data dumps.  Too often, presenters use too many slides and try to relay too much data on each slide. Most executives really dislike this approach.  

While dumping data may be a well-intentioned effort to prove to executives how knowledgeable you are, it only frustrates and confuses them.

Instead, after first providing a concise executive summary up front that includes your “ask”, tell executives that you can drill down into specific areas if they'd like to hear more.  In other words, let them tell you where they want or need more information. Don’t force it on them!

“Be ready to get push back that allows you to demonstrate your conviction or commitment to an idea.”

Executives may test and challenge an idea that you've presented.  Often, their goal in doing so is to see if your idea is sound and if you have strength in your convictions. 

Of course, if the idea won’t stand up under pressure, then it might not be a viable one.  And, if you don't stand up under pressure—that is, if you appear to lack confidence in your presentation—then that will affect an executive's perception of you as credible or trustworthy. 

Anytime you present, be prepared to defend your ideas with thoughtful responses and communicate those responses with poise and confidence.

You may be wondering, "But isn't the value of my idea or solution what matters most?"
How you say something is just as important as what you say. And, even superb ideas, if poorly presented, can lose.


Do you struggle to create succinct and compelling slides that you feel confident presenting to executives? Learn about the 5+1 Slide Strategy for Executive-Level Presentations by watching the video Slide Strategy Best Practices, produced with Harvard Business Publishing. Watch Mandel's Brad Holst talk about how to use the 5+1 strategy to improve the quality and outcomes of your presentations to senior executives.