As I work with more executives and managers who present to Senior Management and Boards, I see an issue get raised repeatedly that I want to address in this article. The issue is ultimately about strategically sequencing the information that is sent/presented, although it rarely gets raised that way.
Often I am asked if sending your presentation in advance to the attendees at these meetings is a good idea. In my opinion, sending a pre-read is a good idea, but your presentation is not the pre-read for two reasons. First, it tends to make the presenter put way too much information in their presentation as they try to give the background to the issues they will be discussing. Second, when the executives have read the pre-read, they don’t need you to present it, and often stop the presenter after only a few slides, making for an awkward situation. If this is familiar to you, let me explain a more strategic approach to this dilemma.
I think there are three opportunities to communicate with a senior level audience when you are scheduled to present to them. First is the pre-read. This is sent in advance and should not be your presentation. The pre-read gives the audience context for the issue you will be discussing. It gives them the background and analysis that prepares them for the discussion you will be having at the meeting and the decisions you are asking them to make. You may choose to create this document in PowerPoint, but it is a document, not a presentation.
The second time you communicate is during the actual presentation at the meeting. You assume that everyone has read and considered the pre-read and has come prepared to the meeting. Your presentation reviews the key points so that the discussion can take place and the decisions can be made. You can have some backup information in hidden slides if you feel it will be easier than asking people to refer to the pre-read. The presentation is not detail heavy, it is focused on the purpose of the meeting, which is making a decision.
The third opportunity to communicate is after the meeting. This is when you can make supplemental information available, usually online. This could be additional details that were requested, records of discussion, or documentation of decisions taken. In some cases this supplemental information is required for legal or regulatory purposes. Typically you will post this on the organization’s Intranet or SharePoint site that can only be accessed by the attendees of the meeting.
When presenters realize that they have three opportunities to communicate with the audience, they free themselves from including every possible item in the presentation. The presentation becomes focused because the presentation plays a specific role in the overall communication strategy. For many organizations this will require a cultural change, as the presentation is often seen as the only opportunity to communicate with this senior level audience.
If you have found yourself sending your presentation as a pre-read, packing details in your presentations to senior management, or being stopped only a few slides into your presentation to the Board, use the strategies in this article to take advantage of the three opportunities you have when communicating with top leaders.