Presenting to the C-Suite? Consider These Tips

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek August 21, 2019
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​Effectively communicating your ideas to the C-suite takes more than a socko PowerPoint delivery. It's a little like learning a group's secret handshake—knowing what to do and not do can go a long way to making yourself heard.

Attendees at the recent Disability Management Employer Coalition Annual Conference got some insider tips from Sandy Callahan, senior vice president and CEO of ReedGroup, and Kevin Curry, ReedGroup's chief revenue officer. Headquartered in Westminster, Colo., ReedGroup is a medical-leave management services provider and subsidiary of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.

The main takeaway from the Callahan and Curry session: When giving your presentation to the C-suite, start with the bottom line. How will your proposal directly affect profit or loss for the company? "If we do A, it will generate B in sales, lower expenses and deliver C percent rate of return for a present value earnings of D," Callahan said as an example.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Organizational Communication]

For an idea to resonate with a CEO, according to the Harvard Business Review, it has to be useful—and in a way that grows the business.

Do's and Don'ts 

The financial statement is uppermost for the CEO and C-suite leaders, Callahan pointed out. Presentations fail when a discussion veers off track and time runs out without addressing the financial aspect of a proposal.

You are presenting a problem and suggesting a solution. Address how the proposal will impact strategic objectives for the next three years. Will it reduce expenses? Is there an investment cost? What is the potential for revenue? Include an analysis of the potential risk of not making the investment you are proposing. Be prepared to talk about areas of the organization that will be affected and the potential impact to your consumer or employees.

In-depth understanding of the business's terminology certainly helps HR executives in presentations to the C-suite, but Callahan and Curry noted that there are other things you can do to bolster your chances that your presentation will meet with approval.

Do: 

  • Find out how your CEO or other C-suite leader prefers to hear proposals. One woman at the conference recalled pulling together a PowerPoint presentation, only to learn afterward her CEO abhorred them.
  • Run your proposal past peers, get buy-in from stakeholders before making your presentation, and ask the chief financial officer (CFO) to sign off on your presentation before proceeding. 
"Incorporating the CFO in the process will help secure buy-in," Curry said, "because he or she will advise on whether [your proposal is] financially feasible," bring a different perspective and help advise on whether it meets the company's overall business priorities.

"As for how involved [the CFO should be], I think this largely depends on the type of organizational buy-in you need and ultimately, the type of budget you are requesting."

Once your presentation deck is approved, send it to the CEO and other C-suite leaders you will be addressing. This gives attendees time to review the information ahead of the meeting.

  • Have allies at the meeting. These advocates, who should represent other functions such as sales, marketing and information technology, can lend their expertise to the conversation, answer relevant questions and bring positive energy to the meeting. 
  • Check your math. Don't torpedo your proposal with faulty information.
  • Be confident and passionate about the message you are delivering, and let the leaders at the meeting raise questions that propel the discussion. 

It's OK, Curry noted, to say "I don't know, but I'll get back to you" if the CEO asks a question you can't answer.

  • Humbly accept the decision, whether your proposal is approved or not.
  • Have a plan for how the CEO or C-suite can participate in implementing your idea.
"If you've successfully received the approval of your CEO and C-suite, the next step is execution, and this is where it's critical to have either the CEO or C-suite participate," Curry said. If the initiative is focused, for example, on an absence management program to drive better business outcomes, consider asking the CEO or a member of the C-suite to be the executive sponsor, he suggested.

"This will help you unite the teams you need to put the plan in action" and get the results you want. "Otherwise, you run the risk of having internal teams not making the project or initiative a priority."

Don't:

  • Demand a decision. Not every answer can be a yes, Callahan said. What you are proposing may not fit the company's current priorities. You can always present the idea at a later date, when you have more information or have fine-tuned the presentation.
  • Give an unnecessarily long presentation. Instead, an overview of one to five main points will keep the conversation on a high and avoid getting into minutiae. 

The trick is to provide enough information so the person hearing the presenting has a baseline understanding of the issue involved but not so much that the message you want to convey is lost, Callahan said.

"There's always time [later]," she pointed out, "for a deeper dive." 




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