As an avid basketball fan, I can easily envision the final seconds of the game and the need for a player to have the fortitude to take the final shot. There are parallels between taking the last shot and having to deliver a critical presentation to a room of executive leaders. You have to be ready—physically and mentally.
You might not be playing for a crowded arena, but your work audience (i.e., co-workers, managers, and executive leaders) are on the lookout for your communication skills, intellect, and perseverance under pressure. As in sports, your talent is only one ingredient of a successful outcome. Your preparation, precision, and delivery are crucial factors.
According to a study on executive presence, your “appearance, communication, and gravitas” accounts for 26% of what is needed for a promotion. There are finite opportunities for you to convey all of this, so important meetings are the perfect time to get noticed.
Here are five keys to making your best impression in front of the most influential people sitting in the room with you.
1. Know Your Audience
Learn who the core decision makers in your organization are and what they’re looking for in this presentation. There are instances in which the final decision is not made by the person with the highest title. For example, in multiple projects that I’ve been part of, the project sponsor holds authority that trumps the senior executives. Additionally, the project manager may not have oversight over the team, but has direct impact on the timeline and execution.
In other words, you don’t want to spend the entire time making eye contact with the person who has VP in her title—only to learn that she isn’t involved in implementation.
2. Use Data to Strengthen Your Argument
Research and analysis are vital to worthwhile discussions. It doesn’t matter what department you’re in, you should share the metrics used to measure results and have supporting data to back up what you’re saying. Interpreting the numbers and being armed with a strategic solution for ROI or cost reduction can make all the difference. Just make sure your numbers are presented in a way that’s easy to comprehend.
3. Don’t Steal the Spotlight (But Prepare for it Nonetheless)
Initially, you may not be the primary presenter, however it’s vital to prepare as though you’re the point person. As a back-up basketball player for the Golden State Warriors that had not started a game all season, Andre Iguodala took advantage of his opportunity to lead the team to the 2015 NBA Championship and win the NBA Finals’ Most Valuable Player award. He earned this through practice, dedication, and the ability to perform when called upon. So, prepare for the meeting as if you were leading it. Then, when you’re asked to do that at a moment’s notice, you’ll blow everyone away.
As intuitive as it may sound, basic communication skills like listening and connecting with your audience are critical. A surprisingly easy way to distinguish yourself is by preparing counterpoints, as the audience may not be on board initially. In addition, pay close attention to questions that go unanswered within the meeting. Many people say, “I’ll get back to you with more on that,” but being someone who actually follows up will showcase your diligence.
5. Close With Confidence
Maintain the same level of energy throughout your interaction, regardless of whether it’s in a formal or informal discussion. Even if your initial presentation doesn’t go as planned, how you end the conversation—i.e., whether you emphasize your commitment to shared goals or question your entire pitch in the face of resistance—will affect how people remember your whole presentation. Know that the conversation does not end when people walk out the door. Ensure follow up on agreed upon action items and prepare your delivery for ongoing engagements.
In your career, it is important to cultivate strong relationships with key influencers within your team, department, project, or work group, and an important meeting is the perfect place to build these connections. With proper preparation, you’ll be able to make a great and lasting impression.