What’s the worst reaction you’ve ever gotten when you made
an important presentation? Probably, it would come in
second to the one I just heard about. A woman–ironically
she was interviewing me for an article about “Knockout
Presentations”–told me the story of her disaster. It was
early in her career as a policy analyst. She was just out of
school, proud of her MBA and working in her first real job.
When her supervisor praised a report she’d done, she was
thrilled. She was less thrilled when her “reward” turned out
to be presenting the same report to their executive team.
She spent a tense week getting ready, making sure she
knew exactly what to say. She spent hours writing out her
presentation and prepared every conceivable statistic to
back up her points. It never occurred to her however, that
how she presented was as important as what she
When her turn came to deliver her report, things quickly went
downhill. Naturally, she was nervous. A lot depended on the
next few minutes. She stumbled through 200 slides, forgot
her lines, and got more and more flustered. Bored
executives weren’t sure what her point was and started
glancing at their watches, which made it even worse.
Desperate, she wanted to flee–and her audience probably
did too! When she concluded, they didn’t ask a single
question. That would have extended the already painful
Does any of this sound familiar to you? If not, great! And let’s
make sure it never does. Especially if a lot depends on how
well you do. You probably know that the higher up the
corporate ladder you go, the more important your
communication skills become. And the faster you develop
and hone your skills, the faster you’ll advance your career.
Perhaps you’re already speaking up in team meetings and
getting your ideas across effectively. If so, how do you feel
about facing a room full of senior management, or at least 5
around a board room table, all staring at you? What is
different? Well, for one thing the stakes are higher. All
business communications are important, but, with senior
management as your audience, you are in the hot seat.
They are going to accept or reject the recommendations that
you, your department, or your team have worked so hard on.
Weeks, months, maybe even years of work depend on your
few minutes. Who wouldn’t be nervous?
Don’t worry. You are human. This is a perfectly natural way
to feel. Remember, they can’t see how you feel, only how
you look and act. You want them to focus on and consider
your proposals, not your anxiety. And you’ll look cool and
collected when you follow these Frippicisms for dealing with
Seven Fripp Do’s
1. Practice. A report to senior managers is not a
conversation; however, it must sound conversational. Once
you have your notes, practice by speaking out loud to an
associate, or when you are driving to work, or on the
treadmill. Make sure you are familiar with what you intend to
say. It is not about being perfect. It is about being
personable. (Remember, rehearsal is the work;
performance is the relaxation.)
2. Open with your conclusions. Don’t make your senior level
audience wait to find out why you are there.
3. Describe the benefits if your recommendation is adopted.
Make these benefits seem vivid and obtainable.
4. Describe the costs, but frame them in a positive manner.
If possible, show how not following your recommendation
will cost even more…
5. List your specific recommendations, and keep it on target.
Wandering generalities will lose their interest. You must
focus on the bottom line. Report on the deals, not the
6. Look everyone in the eye when you talk. You will be more
persuasive and believable. (You can’t do this if you are
7. Be brief. The fewer words you can use to get your
message across, the better. Jerry Seinfeld says, “I spend an
hour taking an eight-word sentence and making it five.”
That’s because he knew it would be funnier. In your case,
shorter is more memorable and repeatable.
Three Fripp Don’ts
1. Don’t try to memorize the whole presentation. Memorize
your opening, key points and conclusion. Practice enough
so you can “forget it.” This helps retain your spontaneity.
2. Never, never read your lines–not from a script and not
from PowerPoint slides. Your audience will go to sleep.
3. Don’t wave or hop. Don’t let nervousness (or enthusiasm)
make you too animated–but don’t freeze. Don’t distract from
your own message with unnecessary movement.
Where to Start
1. What is the topic or subject you are reporting on? Be clear
with yourself so you can be clear with your audience.
2. Why is your topic important enough to be on the busy
agenda of senior level managers?
3. What questions will your audience be asking? Can you
answer them early in your presentation?
Here’s an Example
Present your conclusion: What is your central theme,
objective, or the big idea of your report? How can you
introduce it in one sentence? Suppose that you’ve been in
charge of a high-level, cross-functional team to study
whether there is a need for diversity training in your
company. You might start by saying, “Our committee has
spent three months studying diversity training programs and
whether one could benefit our company. Our conclusion is
that diversity training would be an exceptionally good
investment. We would save money, increase employee
retention, and improve company morale.”
Present your recommendations: “We recommend that the
company initiate a pilot program, starting next quarter, using
the ABC Training Company at an investment of $…. The ABC
Company has successfully implemented this program with
one of our subsidiaries, as well as many Fortune 100
companies. All 27 members of the cross-functional team
agreed with this conclusion. Our team was made up of a
real cross-section of the company–two Vice Presidents, the
Facilities Secretary, eighteen associates, some with PhDs,
and six entry-level personnel. The group includes both
long-term employees and some new hires. And all 27
members of the team are willing to be part of the evaluation
committee to study the results before a decision is made
about a complete company rollout.”
Describe what’s in it for them; Address the needs of senior
management, as well as the company. Answer the
questions they will be asking, and show them how your
recommendation can make them look good. For example,
senior management is usually charged with increasing
sales and reducing costs. What if this program means
saving money by lowering employee turnover, yet has a
relatively modest cost?
“Why is this a good idea, just when we are cutting
unnecessary spending? One of our company’s key
initiatives is to recruit and retain 20% more of the best
available talent than we did in the last fiscal year. If this
training had been in place last year, not only would morale
have been higher, but our 23% minority associates would
have rated their employee satisfaction survey higher. As you
remember, for the last three years our minority associates
traditionally rate their satisfaction 3% lower than the other
population. This training could have helped increase
satisfaction and retention. We would lower the cost of
recruiting and training new associates.
“How does this investment compare to other investments
we have already made? As a comparison, the initial cost of
the pilot for all three offices is 2% of what we spend on
maintenance agreements for our copier machines in our
Conclusion:”On behalf of the 27-member committee, thank
you for this opportunity. The friendships we have formed and
our increased company knowledge is invaluable to us all.
The entire team is committed to this project. We are asking
for your okay to start the pilot program.”
You’ll make a strong impression and increase your chances
of acceptance when you can be short, clear, and concise.
Be prepared and practiced. It’s okay to be nervous, but
nobody sees how you feel, just how you look and act.
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