When You Absolutely Have to Get Your Message Across

In our August 2021 CEO Roundtable Intensive, one CEO’s presentation marked the day they turned things around in Covid. Another told about the presentation that landed him the top job. Another talked about how she persuaded her co-owners to sell to their employees—possibly leaving millions on the table. Another heads a marketing agency who creates CEO presentations in their work.

But CEOs face unique presentation challenges: everyone yesses them, no one challenges them, few ask questions. One CEO paid $5 for a good question.

You only get one theme

“We’re All Misfits” was one CEO’s theme. A finance guy by background, he used zero numbers, just images from Toy Story. And he nailed his message that “we thrive from our diversity and disdain for being like a big corporation.”

Whether it’s the all-staff extravaganza or a weekly team meeting, you can only make one point at a time. Only one. But that One Thing can be The Thing that pulls everything together. Some other tips:

  • Pick just the right story
  • Highlight only one number
  • Get your headline just right
  • Use conflict to accentuate the issue
  • Assume people haven’t listening or reading
  • Harness the Power of Three

Strike an attitude

One Center CEO wears Star Trek costumes for his forecast presentations. CEOs must balance humility and confidence, humor and seriousness, facts and feelings. It might not be your style to be flamboyant, but even that’s a style. Presentation is like fashion: you’re making a statement whether you wear $2,000 suits or dress out of the LL Bean catalog.

But if nothing else: don’t fake the facts, don’t hide the truth and never, ever wobble in your message.

Mix it up

In a crisis, you have only one shot to sell your message. And it’s fun (and gratifying to your ego) to get a standing ovation. But a wise participant takes a drip approach: slow and steady preparation, a keynote presentation, then follow-up with a consistent, steady theme in small meetings and other communications vehicles. Not sexy, but it works.

Keith Wandell, the former CEO of Harley-Davidson said, “I estimate the time needed to get my message across. Then double that. Then double that again.” I know you think everyone’s been reading all your emails, but, well, no.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice, practice, practice. The Center’s community gives you a rehearsal audience that will tell you if your presentation stinks.

Relevant Terms

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